Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal on Monday said the ordinance against rape represented a step forward, but fell short of a national consensus for a comprehensive constitutional initiative on the issue.
"The government had surprisingly chosen to turn a blind eye to the recommendations of the J S Verma panel and women's organisations and advice of well-meaning eminent social activists and jurists in favour of stringent provisions on all gender offences," Badal said in a statement here.
He said the timing of the ordinance also raised questions, as the prosecution had already "absolved" one of the most serious offenders in the Delhi gangrape case on grounds of juvenile crime.
"It sounds strange that the government first seeks the opinions of all the Chief Ministers and then dithers on their recommendations regarding lowering the upper age limit for 'minors' in rape cases," he said.
"I was personally of the view that lowering of upper age limit for adult franchise from 21 to 18 years had provided the rationale for a similar reduction in the definition of a juvenile in rape cases," he said.
"The government not only chose to ignore recommendations of the state governments but even allowed the FIR in the Delhi case to be presented in a manner that would clearly allow one of the most brutal crimes against women to go unpunished. This is strange. The government's intentions are not clear," said the Chief Minister. Badal said he advocated bold constitutional amendments through a comprehensive legislation on the issue, aimed not just at pre-empting and punishing crimes against women but also at empowering women in many other ways.
"You cannot segregate gender offences against women from their general plight in society. A sweeping social up-scaling of women's status in society is badly needed. In the absence of such empowerment, no other law will have meaning or be fully effective," he added.
"Few issues had moved national conscience the way the Delhi gangrape had. A girl had paid with her honour and life but in the process an opportunity had come for society and the nation to address the critical issues of safety, equality and empowerment of nearly half the population of the country represented by women," he said. "But the government had shown its insensitivity by getting bogged down in legal and political hair-splitting instead of taking courageous steps forward," Badal said.