The Justice Verma panel appointed to look into punishments for rape on Wednesday rejected the popular demand for the death penalty or chemical castration for the offence, recommending a life sentence, and advised making a range of offences like stalking and marital rape punishable under criminal law.
The panel, set up in the wake of the brutal gang rape of a 23-year-old woman in Delhi on December 16, also indicted the authorities both for allowing the rape to take place and for mishandling the protests that followed.
The panel, headed by former chief justice of India JS Verma and whose other members are former high court chief justice Leila Seth and former solicitor general Gopal Subramanium, recommended that rapists who cause the death of the victim or inflict serious injuries be punished with not less than 20 years imprisonment, "which shall mean for the rest of the convict’s natural life".
Rape attracts a sentence of seven years to 10 years. There is no provision for stiffer punishment when rapists inflict serious
injuries. The life imprisonment for cases where rape leads to death is often commuted to 14 years in jail.
The report took a swing at the authorities, whose response to the December 16 incident has been criticised as slow initially and then heavy-handed.
“Failure of good governance is there for all to see. Why was an incident of such magnitude required for them to wake up?” justice Verma said unveiling the report at a press conference.
The report came down hard on the Delhi Police for their failures and chief minister Sheila Dikshit for repeatedly citing helplessness. It pulled up union home secretary RK Singh for praising the Delhi police chief soon after the incident.
In its 630-page report, the panel also recommended creation of new offences in the criminal law, which include stalking, disrobing a woman, trafficking, voyeurism and marital rape. These acts, and the use of words and gestures which create a threat of sexual nature, could invite jail for three to five years.
The panel concluded that existing anti-rape laws were sufficient if they were properly implemented, and rejected another demand, to reduce the age of juveniles from 18 to 16.
The most brutal of the six attackers of the young woman has claimed to be a juvenile, a claim one of the other five has also been reported to have made recently. The emphasis of the report is on empowering women and the panel has recommended a new law to guarantee women rights, titled Bill of Rights.