Shakti Act 2020 concerns

Context – The Maharashtra Shakti Bill, 2020, and the Special Court and Machinery for Implementation of Maharashtra Shakti Criminal Law, 2020 have been criticized by prominent women’s rights advocates for being “draconian.

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The two interconnected bills are the Maharashtra Shakti Criminal Law (Maharashtra Amendment) Act 2020 and the Special Court and Machinery for Implementation of Maharashtra Shakti Criminal Law 2020.

  • The Bill is proposed to be enacted as Shakti Act, 2020.

What does the draft bill proposes?

  1. The draft Bill proposes to make changes to the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.
  2. The changes are proposed in existing sections of rape, sexual harassment, acid attack and child sexual abuse.
  • The death penalty is proposed in cases which are heinous in nature and where adequate conclusive evidence is available and circumstances warrant exemplary punishment.
  • The media is not allowed to report the name of a rape victim.
  • The draft Bill proposes an additional law to deal with abuse of women on social media.
  1. Provisions for “false” information – The Bill proposes punishment in cases of false complaints and acts of providing false information regarding sexual and other offences against women with the intention to humiliate, extort and defame.

What are the concerns related to new laws?

  1. Patriarchal conception [Control by men] – The new will punish the filing of false complaints. This, according to the signatories, “perpetuates the patriarchal notions of viewing women with suspicion, as unworthy of being believed”
  • This will only deter victims from reporting sexual offences.
  1. Improper investigation and trial– The 15 days’ time-frame will not be sufficient for gathering all evidence and will become an excuse for police to not conduct a proper investigation.
  • A hurried investigation and trial, they said, is likely to lead to miscarriage of justice.
  • Lacking in infrastructure required for effective implementation – Neither the police nor the courts have the infrastructure to comply with these timeframes. There are not enough prosecutors at trial courts and in high courts.
  1. The general perception is that since the laws have been made more stringent, so the rapists resort to extreme measures in a bid to destroy the evidence.
  • The death penalty in the new law reduces both the reporting of sexual offences and of conviction rates.
  1. No clarity of ‘heinous in nature’ cases– The proposed bills does not define what cases would qualify as being “heinous in nature”, thus leaving it open to the interpretation of courts.

Way forward-

  • The Bills’ content reflects the absence of a larger consultative process and lack of understanding of existing criminal laws.
  • The Maharashtra government should focus on improving infrastructure.
  • The two Bills should have been discussed with lawyers, activists, and academics working on women’s issues before they were passed by the state Cabinet.
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