Shakti Bill: Does It Downline Justice in Sexual Assault Cases?

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On Monday, two bills which are being called as the Shakti Bill was presented before the Maharastra State Assembly.

Not so long ago, the passing of Disha Act (almost a year ago) by the Andhra Pradesh received a major outcry from Women’s Rights Groups and Activists and Lawyers. These groups claimed that Bill negated the very definition of Rape by giving the accused a chance of using consent plea to avoid Prosecution. The bill also described punishment for one who has/had presented the court with false cases.

While women argued that this provision will end up discouraging a woman from lodging complaints, the state argued that a stronger deterrent than Capital Punishment would be a timely investigation of the same.

Brief Facts of the Shakti Bill:

On Monday, two bills were presented by the Maharashtra Government in front of the State Assembly, namely, Maharashtra Shakti Criminal Law (Maharashtra Amendment) Act, 2020 and Special Court and Machinery for Implementation of Maharashtra Shakti Criminal Law, 2020. As the name suggests, both of these bills which were presented revolve around one law, the Maharashtra Shakti Criminal Law. According to the state, the bill, if passed, would reduce the Crime rate against Women tremendously in the state.

However, similar to the Disha Act of Andhra Pradesh, the introduction of this bill enticed a major outcry from the women’s committee across the state, and even country. Some 92 women’s activists, lawyers, organizations and even academicians signed a letter, naming the bill as “A Draconian Legislation” and asked for the withdrawal of the same.

The Signatories include Senior Advocate Indira Jaising, and lawyers as Veena Gowda and Susan Abraham, Child Rights Activists and Lawyer Mahrukh Adenwalla, Ulka Mahajan, lawyer and Professor Dr Asha Bajpai and other members of TISS (Tata Institute of Social Sciences).

The procedure of making of the Bill

The Shakti bill in talks also proposes a few amendments to the Indian penal Code, 1860, Code of Procedure, 1972 and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012.

Anil Deshmukh, the Maharashtra Home Minister, paid a visit to Hyderabad earlier this year in order to study and understand the Disha Act. The Maharashtra Shakti Law has been in talks and under discussion amongst the leaders for almost a year now. A committee was formed, headed by the director of Maharashtra Police Academy, Ashwathi Dorje, was formed in order to prepare a draft of the Bill, following up by a formation of another committee which was headed by Ashok Chavan, the Public works Department Minister, which was set up to finalize the drafts of the Bill.

What are the objections to Shakti Bill?

The Bill proposes an amendment to s. 375 which defines Rape, which directs the Parliament to add an ‘explanation’ that states that a presumption of consent will be made in case both the parties involved are adults and there is a suggestion of ‘direct or implied consent’. According to the activists,

“The amendment will feed into the patriarchal Construct of consent and Conduct of women”.

One of the famous defences used by the accused in sexual assault cases is ‘Consensual Sexual Intercourse’. If such an explanation is included in the Law, proving rape will become almost impossible.

Another amendment which the Bill proposes is in s.12 of The Special Courts and Machinery for the Implementation of Shakti act, 2020, which punishes the Filing of false complaints. This section of the act, as per the signatories, “perpetuates the patriarchal notions of viewing women with suspicion, as unworthy of being believed” and it will deter the victims from filing official complaints regarding Sexual Offence.

According to the Signatories, the pre-existing laws cover offences such as intimidation of women through e-media and sexual abuse and also punishes government Servants who fail to do their job and provide proper relief by assisting investigations regarding the offences. But the sections provided in the Maharashtra Shakti Law, 2020, are only good enough to make political statements, but are nugatory and would be ineffective for ‘Rape’.


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