Think all angles, then make comment, Mr CM

jasleen

Jasleen Kaur | November 22, 2012



Sometimes it becomes a tad risky to open your mouth without realising the consequences, especially if they are of the legal kind. Two things happen in such a scenario: you land in a fix, and end up with your foot right in your mouth.

Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan must be feeling a little of both now. Barely a couple of days after the CM tried to win over women to his side by declaring that men found involved in cases of sexual harassment (the word primarily used in India is still ‘eve-teasing’, which sounds like a bit of gentle and harmless leg-pulling than the serious criminal offence sexual harassment actually is) would not be given driving licence, passport, character certificate and other government facilities, legal experts have pooh-poohed his position.

While many women, and women’s rights activists, supported Chouhan’s intention, taking the statement at face value, former solicitor general of India Harish Salve, along with most legal experts Governance Now spoke to, said the right to a passport or driving licence is part of one’s personal liberty and cannot be withheld that easily.

Addressing a function at the Gwalior trade fair on November 20, Chouhan had said that a database of “eve-teasers” and those involved in similar offences would be prepared and appropriate action would be taken against them. A toll-free telephone number would also be made up and running soon, enabling victims to register complaints of sexual harassment and misbehaviour, he had said.

Over to the experts:
Harish Salve, former solicitor general of India: “Passport or driving licence cannot be denied unless you are disqualified by law. Even if you amend the law to introduce this clause, there is no connection between issuing of a driving licence and eve-teasing. The chief minister might be angry and I respect his sentiments, but you cannot overlook democracy.”

Barnali Basak, Supreme Court lawyer: “Licence cannot be denied (to a person) unless there is an amendment in the Motor Vehicles Act. The Act does not mention any such provision, so it cannot be introduced unless it is amended and this clause is included.”

Manoj Kumar, Supreme Court lawyer: “A right to passport is a right to identity guaranteed under the Constitution. It comes under the (jurisdiction of) Centre. Besides, if any state government wants to restrict issuing of driving licence, it can be done through statute. The chief minister cannot implement it just by issuing a statement.”

Shweta Bharti, Supreme Court lawyer: “There is no legal basis to the statement (of chief minister Chouhan). Even if a person has a criminal record, the right to equality is still available to him. Driving licence comes under the Motor Vehicles Act, while passport comes under a different law — all these need to be amended to include such a thing (restriction). But then anyone can make an allegation about eve-teasing against any other person, and the latter can lose his licence without even the crime being proved.”

Rama Chary, senior lawyer dealing with matters related to Motor Vehicles Act in Andhra Pradesh High Court: “Eve-teasing is an irrelevant factor to be considered while granting a licence. An applicant may approach the human rights commission if his/her licence is denied on this ground.”

Shweta Punj, co-founder, Whypoll, an NGO working on women’s rights and safety: “It (CM’s announcement) is an innovative initiative and a step in the right direction. It will be interesting to see how it works. Not giving them (accused) licence will work. But will the state impound licence of those (accused and convict) who already have them? Besides, people who do not own vehicles are also involved in such crimes. What will the government do to punish them? We’ll have to wait and see how it is implemented.”

Ranjana Kumari, social activist, women’s rights activist: “Such offenders need to be seriously punished — more than just been being deprived of access to driving licence or passport. First, there is nothing called eve-teasing, it is actually sexual harassment. And second, it (sexual harassment) is the beginning of serious offences, so the punishment should be more severe.

“An adult who knows driving has the right to get licence. So just giving a statement in public won’t change the situation. There should be more sensitivity towards the issues related to women and severe punishment for such crimes.”

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