“Young people are the real hope,” said Justice JS Verma in its report on rape cases, “they have taught the older generation”. Justice Vera committee was assigned to review the laws for sexual crimes. Now the committee has submitted the report. According to panel they received 80,000 suggestions from India and abroad after setting January 5 as a deadline for comments from jurists, women’s groups and other forums to revamp existing legislation to deal with sex offenders.
According to the panel “Failure of good governance is the obvious root cause for the current unsafe environment, eroding the rule of law and not the want of knee-jerk legislation”.The Justice Verma recommended the strict enforcement of sexual assault laws, faster rape trials and changes to the country’s antiquated penal code to protect women.
Some of the highlights of the report:
- New offenses have been created and stiffer punishment has been suggested by the panel. The new offenses include disrobing a woman, voyeurism, stalking and trafficking.
- It has recommended enhancing the duration of punishment to up to 20 years in jail for rape leading to death or the victim being reduced to a vegetative state and life for gang rape. In case of gang rape leading to death, the person should be imprisoned for life. The present law provides for imprisonment to rapists ranging from seven years to life.
- The panel sought amendments to Section 100 of the Indian Penal Code dealing with the right of private defense, which extends to causing death.
- The committee rejected the suggestion of chemical castration of rapists as it considered handing down such a punishment would violate human rights and that mutilation of the body is not permitted under the Constitution.
- The committee has also touched upon marital rape and safety of women in conflict zones suggesting a review of the Armed Forces Special Protection Act (AFSPA) that can be used by the forces for exploiting women in areas of conflict.
- According to the report the judiciary has the primary responsibility of ensuring fundamental rights through constitutional remedies. The CJI can take suo motu cognizance; social activists should assist the court. The Chief Justice of the high court of every state should device appropriate machinery for administration and supervision of these juvenile homes in consultation with experts in the field.
- All marriages in the country — irrespective of the personal laws under which such marriages are solemnized — should mandatorily be registered in the presence of a magistrate and the magistrate will ensure that the marriage has been solemnized without any demand for dowry having been made and that the marriage has taken place with the full and free consent of both partners.
- Medical examination of victims of sexual assault which were prepared on the basis of the best practices advised by global experts in the field of gynaecology and psychology.
- Trafficking of minor children must be made a serious offense. Trafficking must be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than seven years, but which may also extend to 10 years.
- There is also a suggestion to bar elected representatives from holding office or for candidates to file nomination for election if a court has taken cognizance of the charge-sheet filed by the investigating agency.
- The panel also recommended for Scraping ‘two-finger test’ for rape victims.
But interestingly, in the matter of death penalty that has occupied much of media and political discourse in the past month, the panel has rejected such move. According to them they avoided it because of the arbitrariness of using it and the fact that rarest of the rare took care of the need to use it. Its good that Verma committee came up with many suggestions and laudable is that they came up with these recomendations in just 29 days but I doubt whether it is going to change things drastically. Earlier also there are 103 reports on police reforms, and same has been said many times by different Law Commissions. But it all depends now on implementing agencies. The truth is that road-map is there (from long time), what is lacking is the political will.