Rape that leads to death of the victim or leaving her in a vegetative state can now attract death penalty under an ordinance cleared by the Union Cabinet on Friday night in a bid to fast-track stringent amendments to the criminal laws to check crime against women.
The ordinance, based on the recommendations of the Justice J S Verma Committee and going beyond, proposes to replace the word 'rape' with 'sexual assault' to expand the definition of all types sexual crimes against women.
It also proposes enhanced punishment for other crimes against women like stalking, voyeurism, acid attacks, indecent gestures such as words and inappropriate touch and brings into its ambit 'marital rape'.
The Union Cabinet, at a specially-convened meeting just three weeks ahead of the Budget Session of Parliament, went beyond the Verma Committee's recommendation by providing for capital punishment in the cases where rape leads to death of the victim or leaves her in ‘persistent vegetative state’.
In such cases, the minimum punishment will be 20 years in jail which can be extended to the natural life of the convict or death, sources said, adding discretion will be with the court.
Being brought against the backdrop of the gang-rape and brutal assault of a 23-year-old girl in Delhi in December, the ordinance entails changes in the criminal law by amending the Indian Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure and the Evidence Act.
The government will now recommend to President Pranab Mukherjee to promulgate the ordinance with immediate effect.
"We believe that this is a progressive piece of legislation and is consistent with felt sensitivities of the nation in the aftermath of outrageous gang-rape in Delhi," Law Minister Ashwani Kumar said.