The Indian Parliament’s lower house passed a landmark law Tuesday that sets tougher penalties for rapists and police who refuse to file a woman’s complaint of rape, as well as criminalizing sexual offenses such as stalking, voyeurism and acid attacks.
The amendments to the existing law incorporate some of the sweeping changes that were demanded after the fatal gang rape of a young paramedical student in New Delhi in December, an incident that sparked a nationwide outcry against the lack of safety for women.
Despite the unprecedented protests that galvanized tens of thousands of Indians, the number of incidents of sexual assault has not diminished.
Those convicted of sexual assault in India will now face the death penalty in cases where their victim(s) dies or is left in a permanently vegetative state, and mandatory minimum sentences have been raised to 20 years in prison (formerly 7-10 years). Government approval will no longer be needed to pursue charges against policemen, government officials, politicians, or judges either; however, the legislation fails to address cases of marital rape or sex crimes committed by members of the Indian military. Still, it’s pretty hard not to look at today’s changes as signs of progress.