New Delhi, Dec 24 (IANS) Expressing anger over the gang-rape of a woman in moving bus here, women's groups Monday sought fast track courts to punish the accused in rapes and other crimes against women within six months but opposed death penalty for the culprits.
Addressing a press conference, activists said that Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2012 had serious loopholes and should not be passed in its current form.
The activists expressed concern over the low conviction rate in rape cases and called for long-term rehabilitation measures for survivors of sexual assault.
A statement issued by a large number of women groups and activists said that wheels of justice should turn not only towards cases such as the Delhi gang-rape but the "epidemic of sexual violence that threatens all of us".
Calling for deterrent punishment in cases of sexual assault, the activists said that justice meted out could not bypass complex socio-political questions of violence against women by punishing rapists by death.
"Death penalty is often used to distract attention away from the real issue - it changes nothing but becomes a tool in the hands of the state to further exert its power over citizens," the statement said.
The statement said there was no data to suggest that death penalty acted as a deterrent to rape.
Referring to public outcry in different parts of the country over the Dec 16 gang-rape, they said that their demands for justice had been strengthened by the countless others who shared the anger.
Human rights activist and lawyer Vrinda Grover said the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2012 bill was "extremely faulty and flawed legislation" as the identity of the prepetrator and accused has been made gender neutral.
She said that the law had retained words like modesty of woman whereas the issue was about a woman's dignity.
"We have very low conviction rateinvestigation is faulty, it is difficult to get a FIR (first information report) lodged. There is lack of forensic laboratories in this city," she said and added that public prosecutors being appointed by the government often did not have the "feminist insight".
Referring to the committee set up by the government to review laws for speedy justice and enhanced punishment in cases of aggravated sexual assault, she said that it did not have representation from women's groups.
"The government needs to engage with us officially," she said and added that systemic changes were required but "nobody was committed to change the system".
Anita Ghai of Jesus and Mary College said that women with disabilities even find it difficult to reach NGOs.
Kalpana Viswanath of Jagori said that there had been an eruption of concern over the gang-rape and the government needed to make cities safer for women by providing well-lit pavements and bus stops and helplines and emergency services.
Deepti from Saheli said legal, medical, financial and psychological assistance and long-term rehabilitation measures must be provided to survivors of sexual assault.
The activists said that silent witnesses to everyday forms of sexual assault such as "leering, groping, passing comments, stalking and whistling were equally responsible for rape being embedded in our culture".
Rejecting voices ready to "imprison and control women and girls under the garb of safety", they said that state governments should operationalise fast track courts on priority and hand down punishment within in six months.
The activists accused National Commission of Women of not being able to fulfill its mandate of addressing issues of violence against women.