Amidst continuing public rage against sexual crime against women, India's ruling Congress party has decided to propose chemical castration of rapists, among other strict measures.
After a 23-year-old girl was raped by six men in a moving bus in Delhi last month, young men and women launched protest rallies across the country.
When the Indian girl died of her injuries in a Singapore hospital two weeks after the attack, the mass outrage turned more virulent, with protesters demanding the death penalty for the six rapists and seeking stricter deterrents against growing violence against women in the country.
As news of more sexual attacks against women in different parts of the country fueled the protests, the situation put the ruling Congress party under immense pressure.
This week it came to light that the party was readying a draft bill to propose a tougher law to punish sexual attackers. Press Trust of India has reported that, for rape convicts, prison sentences of up to 30 years are to be proposed. The bill also includes a proposal for chemical castration of convicted rapists, in rare cases.
In India it often takes years or even decades for a court to decide legal cases, including rape cases. The bill would propose to fast-track all rape cases so that they are settled within 3 months.
One of the six accused in the Delhi case is possibly a juvenile, being less than 18 years old. Although he reportedly inflicted the most fatal injuries on the girl, as a juvenile, he is likely to be let off with a mild punishment. The bill would also seek to reduce the age limit of those legally called "juveniles" from 18 to 15.
Committee set to report
Soon after the gang-rape took place in Delhi on December 16, and the demonstrators charged that the country's law and order situation was too weak, the government set up a three-member committee seeking suggestions to tackle the growing sexual crime against women. Headed by former Chief Justice of India, J S Verma, the committee was tasked to review existing laws and make recommendations of changes in the existing anti-rape laws.
The Congress is expected to submit the final draft of its bill to the committee soon.
India's Women and Child Development Ministry has also held discussions with legal experts and is ready to submit the Committee this week another set of proposals that could help curb sexual crime against women.
By March 25 the Committee is set to submit its recommendations to the Indian government, which is considering the possibility of an amendment of existing anti-rape laws.
It is believed that the government is acting with a sense of urgency because the chairperson of India's ruling United Progressive Alliance has been very upset with the Delhi gang-rape and the following widespread protests across the country
Although she did not make any statement in the media, party insiders disclosed that Mrs Gandhi personally met legal experts seeking their views and that they spoke of chemical castration and longer imprisonment of rape convicts, among other suggestions. She also spoke to others.
"She met senior party leaders and made it clear that she wanted more effective laws to deal with crime against women so that more stringent punishment could be meted out swiftly to perpetrators of such crime," said Congress general secretary Janardan Dwivedi.
Opposition gives its backing
The Congress' consideration on chemical castration of convicted rapists has found support from the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
"There should be maximum punishment to the rapists, death penalty or emasculation (chemical castration)," said senior BJP leader Venkiah Naidu.
India's National Commission for Women chairperson Mamta Sharma said the rapists should not be given the death penalty.
"They should be sent to jail for the rest of their lives. And they should also be chemically castrated so that they stay alive with a vital part of their body dead," she said.
"We really seek stricter laws which would act as a deterrent so that such crimes are not repeated."
'The best way to punish a rapist'
The demand of chemical castration of rapists has found a strong echo among the anti-rape protesters who have been on the street through the past fortnight.
"Rapists should be chemically castrated. And after the castrations their photos along with the details of their identity and offence should be published in the media," Neeta Sharma, an anti-rape protester student in Kolkata said to DW.
"That's the best way to punish a rapist."
Referring to the fact that out of 2,649 rape cases which were reported in last five years in Delhi, only 190 men faced conviction, Social scientist Ranjana Kumari, director of Delhi's Centre for Social Research said effective prosecution was as important as changes to sentencing.
"People are extremely outraged because the raped girl has died. So, in angry emotion they are calling for the death penalty or chemical castration of the rapists. In a democratic country we should not be driven by a retributive an-eye-for-an-eye passion," said Ms Kumari.
"Our emphasis should be on the increase in rate of convictions, and not just only the severity of punishment."