To have come up with a 631-page report is nothing short of amazing given that it was done within the 30-day timeframe set by the Union government. The Justice JS Verma Committee report, which was released on January 23, a day before the National Girl Child Day, is a seminal document. As was expected, the three legal luminaries of the team — Justice JS Verma, Justice Leila Seth and former Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium — have not only delivered some key recommendations to stem the rising violence against women but have also efficiently joined the dots (read: the causes) that are behind the problem. The central government had formed the three-member Justice Verma panel on December 23 after the December 16 gang rape of a 23-year-old in Delhi, to suggest amendments to criminal laws to provide for “quicker trial and enhanced punishment” for those committing “sexual assault of extreme nature against women”.
Even though there is a strong public demand for the death penalty for rapists, chemical castration and changes in the Juvenile Justice Act, the panel has not suggested these changes but yet has made a strong case for extending the legal framework of what constitutes an ‘attack’ on women. It has sought full life term in prison for rapists and has also brought other issues like stalking, marital rape, intentional touching without consent and the use of obscene words in to the offences list. If these recommendations are accepted by the government, it will be a huge step forward since many attacks against women go unreported, as we have been reading in the Hindustan Times’ ‘Wake Up India’ series. In other words, the Justice Verma panel has made an important point: no attack on women, be it verbal or physical, big or small, should go unpunished. Such deterrents are necessary to ensure that horrifying cases like the December 16 gang rape don’t happen again. The panel has also talked of the need to review the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act to ensure the safety of women in states where the law is applicable and the need to check extra-constitutional authorities like the khaps, which unfortunately have the endorsement of many of our political leaders.
The team did not mince any words in saying that the reason behind the unsafe environment is the failure of good governance and that there were enough laws to tackle the crisis but that these need to be implemented by the authorities in letter and spirit. For example, the Law Commission’s 84th Report in 1980, its 172nd Report of 2000 relating to law and order and the National Police Commission Reports recommending autonomy and improvement in the quality of the police force are yet to be implemented, thanks to the apathy of successive political dispensations. The Verma panel, which had to sift through 80,000 proposals from the legal fraternity as well as civil society, has now provided a strong legal framework. It is now for the political class to build on it.