Justice Verma Com. Report Revolutionary Roadmap to Gender Justice
- From: karmayog - tanya
Revolutionary Roadmap to Gender Justice
Revati Laul on why the Justice Verma Committee Report is a paradigm shift
January 24, 2013, Issue 5 Volume 10
IF THE people of India needed tactile evidence that the ground beneath their
feet has shifted on gender issues, then on 23 January, it arrived. Exactly
one month after Justice JS Verma was asked by the government to look at the
gaping holes in our criminal justice system to deal with rape, he delivered
a 657-page report that is really a roadmap to dismantling patriarchy across
all our institutions.
The report begins by signposting the misogyny in our law - in "outraging of
modesty" and "honour" of a rape victim - and recommending that these be
scrapped. It goes on to ask the framers of our law in Parliament to consider
a contemporary definition of sexuality as their starting point. "A sexual
field of multiple and fluid identities." Crimes of sex must include those
against the transgenders, homosexuals and lesbians.
Rape is re-defined as any form of non-consensual penetration. And possibly
for the first time, marital rape is discussed at length as an essential part
of the crime. The relationship of the victim with the perpetrator should be
of no consequence, says the report. It also takes on board the views of
activists like Irom Sharmila of Manipur, in recommending that people in the
armed forces are not doing their duty when they rape women and should
therefore not be immune from trial under the common law. Apart from rape,
various forms of sexual assault - from sexual harassment at the workplace to
groping, teasing and touching a woman or a child in ways they find
inappropriate - need to be punished as serious offences.
There are entire chapters explaining how the police must conduct itself. The
report suggests police officers should be put in jail for a year if they don't
register a rape case. Each layer of the horrors a victim currently faces is
addressed squarely - the "two-finger test" being one. In fact, the report
says what lawyers like Vrinda Grover have been asking for: that doctors
cannot decide whether a victim has been raped or not. They can only examine
her for bruises and treat those accordingly. The emphasis on the medical
certificate as the "evidence" on which a case rests has got to go, the
report firmly asserts.
Punishments should start with 10 years as the minimum, going up to the
imposition of a life sentence. The consistently liberal view on gender
rights goes across the report, which states clearly they are on the side of
women's groups in thinking of the death penalty and chemical castration as
regressive and unnecessary. The question of lowering the age of juveniles
from 18 to 16 would also be to absolve the State of its essential duty to
turn homes for juveniles into the space they're meant to be - correctional
facilities where the mind of the juvenile is intensively worked on.
The report also asks for the missing pieces in our institutional framework
to be put in place if any of the suggestions are to have meaning. Women's
cells need to be set up, police reforms are urgently needed and the
government needs to open its eyes to all the provisions already sitting in
various ministries from as far back as 1939. Since none of these are in
place and women are victims of this abject apathy, the commission puts out a
Bill of Rights for women.
Women's rights activists like Suneeta Dhar of Jagori says this is definitely
a paradigm shift. "It's brilliant to have gone in there and to have finally
For Mihira Sood, a lawyer who worked with the Justice Verma Committee, this
shouldn't even have had to be the outcome of the recent outrage. "All these
issues are no longer radical. This, for us, is now common sense and its
counter intuitive that this is not provided for."
What is basic and essential to half of India is now finally on paper. But if
the government's reaction time is anything to go by, going forward from here
won't be easy. Justice Verma began his address to the press by saying that
the government only sent in their suggestions on the last day. And the
police commissioners didn't send in any. The committee worked at a maddening
pace, sifting through nearly 80,000 suggestions to present a report in 29
days. Only so these can be looked at by our MPs in time for the next
Parliament session. Which is where Brinda Karat of the the CPM asked the
obvious: "Whether the government has the will to implement these
recommendations is the real question."
Revati Laul is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.
--A. Thiagarajan98490 22573