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India’s bishops call for new laws to ensure safety of women


THRISSUR (Agencies): In the wake of the national outcry over the gang rape and death of a medical student and reports of rapes from across the country, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India called for “comprehensive laws and effective measures to ensure the security and safety of women,” according to Catholic News Service. 

In a January 23 statement, the bishops said, “Instances of sexual violence against women and children have increased (at) an alarming rate, the most shockingly being the sexual gang rape and murder of a young medical student in the capital city of Delhi.” They said, “This dastardly act of violence had evoked unprecedented protest ... cutting across all barriers.” 

The 23-year old victim died on 29 December 2012 in a Singapore hospital to which she had been airlifted when her condition worsened. She was raped and tortured on December 16 by five men and a juvenile in a private bus. 

The young woman and her boyfriend had boarded the bus after they were offered a lift at a bus stop. The incident triggered massive protests in New Delhi and other cities. 

“This is not an isolated incident. Hundreds of rape cases are being reported every day across the nation… This is indeed a very alarming situation,” said the bishops. 

“This (increasing sexual violence) shows that (the) essence of humanity has eroded badly in our country,” said the secretary-general of the bishops’ conference, Bishop Albert D’Souza of Agra, on January 24.

“Social norms are being eroded under the commercialisation of media that (presents women) as a commodity,” he said. 

While welcoming the strong and stringent measures the Indian government has initiated to curb the violence against women and children, the bishops cautioned that “this awakening should not be momentary.” 

A judicial commission appointed by the federal government to reform rape laws emphasised the role of values education through family, school and religions. 

The three-member commission, headed by retired justice, J. S. Verma, came out against the death penalty, according to a UCA News article on January 24. Verma explained that there had been overwhelming recommendations against it.

The article also noted that Caritas India, in submitting its suggestions to the commission, opposed the death penalty and advocated a gender-sensitive curriculum in schools.

The judicial commission’s 630-page report recommended that the maximum sentence for gang rape be raised to life in prison from the present seven-year maximum and  the minimum punishment to 20 years. 

According to UCA News, the report recommended that the minimum sentence for rape be raised to 10 years, up from seven years, to a maximum of life imprisonment.

The report also said castration of rapists—a punishment that has gained support in the wake of December’s shocking crime—would be unconstitutional.

The commission also recommended against immunity for armed forces in conflict areas and called for a review of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 

Catholic News Service reported that the Syro-Malabar Catholic Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly has begun offering sex education as part of catechism classes. An archdiocesan official said that several other dioceses expressed an interest and asked for information about the module that was introduced to eighth-grade students this year. 

Bishop D’Souza said that the “Church should not miss opportunities to educate adolescent groups on sex.” He stressed that, “The family should be first classroom for this. The parents have a big duty to educate the children on sex and conjugal life.”


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