Justice Verma Committee: Tasks
On 23rd, January 2013 the Justice Verma Committee on amendments to Criminal Law, was constituted to look into possible amendments of the Criminal Law to provide for quicker trial and enhanced punishment for criminals committing sexual assault of extreme nature against women. It was constituted a few days after the brutal gang rape in Delhi on December 16, 2012. The urgency of the matter impelled the Committee to undertake the performance of the assigned task within the short span of 30 days, so the Committee has been facilitated in the task by an overwhelming response to the Public Notice, an oral consultation with the women’s social action groups and experts in the field and the help of a group of young lawyers, law graduates and academics. In the performance of its task, the Committee adopted the commendable method of inviting suggestions from all stakeholders through a public notice.
The Committee has been reassured that strict observance and faithful implementation of the constitutional mandate and the existing laws by a competent machinery is sufficient to prevent and to punish any sexual harassment or assault. To await the improvement need in the laws is no excuse for impairment of the rule of law. There are many recommendations of expert bodies and judicial decisions, but they remain unimplemented:
– the Law Commission’s 84th Report in 1980 and its 172nd report of 2000 relating to this subject;
– the National Police Commission Reports and the Supreme Court’s judgment of 2006 in Prakash Singh’s case giving certain directions for the autonomy and improving the quality of the police force, remained implemented too.
Really important for the Committee is
– to improve the work culture in the institutions of governance;
– in civil society to improve the social norms for realizing the constitutional promise of “equality” in all spheres for the womenfolk.
In this blog we will examine some issues of the report: at first Indian laws on rape and sexual assault (Section 375 IPC, marital rape and others) and then, sexual harassment at the workplace and other issues related to the Report.
Reaction of People to Rape’s Cases
POLITICS: The Committee highlights how it is shocking to note that even after the recent horrific incident of gang rape, many political leaders and eminent persons have been making statements reinforcing the gender bias. Some have even blamed the victim for having facilitated the rape by her own behaviour.
CONSERVATORISM: The Committee asserts that the Indian State functions at two levels. One, which comprises those who are affluent and who have access to the Constitution and its machinery, and the other comprising those who live in the silent domination of the superior will of tradition, customs and practices which are derogatory to women. There is a vast disconnect between equality and respect and the obligations of those who administer the law.
In the Bhanwari Devi case, the Supreme Court of India in a PIL defined «sexual harassment at workplace» as a suggestion, expressed in any form, for sexual favour. Despite this the offenders were not punished for their behaviour cause they was “respectable persons”.
For the Committee, education of society and mindset of judiciary to correct gender bias has to be a part of this exercise. A holistic view of the entire issue has to be taken. Education as to begin at birth in home, in formal education, personal behaviour, social interaction.
YOUTH: As reported in the media, the Supreme Court has, on January 11, 2013, taken cognizance of a PIL file seeking directions in respect of women’s safety in Delhi. (Nipun Saxena & Anr. v. Union of India & Ors., Writ Petition (C) No. 565/2012). In the view of the Committee, the protest are clearly a call to modern India to renounce old ways of looking. The Committee would like to state that it is the youth of India who actually by their extraordinary protest have reinforced reason, and have attempted to confront the state and political elite, to what is modern reality in the context of the Constitution. The solidarity which cut across caste, creed, sex, religion and community shows that the protest was dictated entirely by secular and rational considerations.
FAST FORWARD: To achieve this reality, stages of change do not have to be mere steps in evolution but can be fast forwarded by fundamental changes of attitude.
– “aggravated sexual assault” must include all stages of affront to human dignity, beginning with any act with a sexual overtone;
– “criminal law” must include all gender related laws: criminal, civil or electoral;
– “speedier justice” must include all institutions of the justice delivery system, which are meant to provide speedy justice to enforce the right to life dignity (Art. 21 of the Constitution).