Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Varma Commission report on women

SreeNair | 11:13 PM | |

The waves of violence on women continue unabated in the national capital and elsewhere in the country-from female fetus to even not sparing older women.The lurid narratives are disgusting and nerve racking with its shear scale and the savageness of its methods. Little children are abused by near relatives.Young girls are hurled in to brothels from the protection homes over threats. New and innovative methods are contrived to exploit women sexually.The mobile phone and internet are increasingly becoming handy tools for the perpetrators.The trials and tribulations for the women are aplenty.

Stalkers are on the prowl with the secret camera, recording the private moments in toilets and bathrooms.The victims are caught unawares and are ensnared by the blackmailing thereafter.The sex merchants are adroitly banking in the new media engaged on the potholes in love-affairs.The legal security vehicles are increasingly ascertaining its vulnerability to effectively play their roll as deterrents.The legal system is stuck in limbo and is toothless. . We have a plethora of new as well as old laws on sexual assaults at work places. The misery and morass to which the Indian women are put make a mockery of these laws.

The plight of the Delhi girl and the nationwide dither and uproar it engendered points to the sad commentary on the deplorable frailties of the laws when it comes to the safety of women. The incident shook the nation in its shoes and triggered a nationwide debate on the need for deterrents. It is in this backdrop that the central Govt was constrained to form a 3 member committee to suggest its recommendations to arrest the atrocities on women.The committee chaired by Retired Chief Justice of SC J.S. Verma, and retired Justice Leila Seth and Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium as members , was constituted on December 23, 2012, to look into the criminal laws related to sexual violence against women. The committee interacted with many rape victims and children who were victims of exploitation.It was deeply moved by the victim-hood narratives of the horrible tale of a girl who appeared before them that they gave her about Rs 1.5 lakh. The Indian Express quotes Justice Subramanium: "Do you know that not only had she been sexually exploited repeatedly, she had also not been paid any wages by the people at whose home she was working? Where is our sense of justice? What about her rights?" Wide range of recommendations poured in from political parties,social activists and interest groups.The committee examined 80,000 recommendations in 29 days.The bottom-line was on protecting the right to dignity, autonomy and freedom of victims of sexual assault and rape.The committee suggested across the board,definitive reforms in electoral laws, policing, criminal laws and the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958.

The committee observes that "In our tradition bound society, structured on the basis of conservative values, when a woman is subjected to sexual assault in any form, it translates into a multiple crime. She is raped at home (literally and figuratively) and in public, followed by demeaning medical examination, examination and cross-examination by the police . In sum, the victim suffers intermittent rape in full public glare and in court, in salacious media reports, and in the insensitive response of society, including family and acquaintances."

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The report makes it clear that the circumstances leading to the Delhi incident points finger at the unpardonable laxity in the administration of law and order. It patted the spontaneous show of feelings that followed.The scope of the report said: "We 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". It further cautions the Govt," if such protests and if such engagements are discarded by the arrogance of power, or the assumption of authority, the political class may itself find its existence deeply imperilled".

The report elucidated the necessity of conducting the trial with in a time frame by women justices. It chaffed at the bureaucracy saying that the rules are for enforcement while suggesting a constitutional institution for the administration of laws pertaining to the security of women. It defined sexual assault as “intentional touching of another person when such act of touching is of a sexual nature and is without the recipient’s consent” and also “using words, acts or gestures towards or in the presence of another person which create an unwelcome threat of a sexual nature or result in an unwelcome advance.”It is the triumph of women’s movements in this country.

the Justice Verma Committee has clearly redefined 'Rape' as including all forms of non-consensual penetration of sexual nature (p.111). Not only has it elaborated what a sexual assault is, but also brought unambiguous definitions for voyeurism, stalking,disrobing and acid attacks and suggested the quantum of punishments for the above acts. A person convicted of stalking will get a jail term of not less than one year which may extend to three years, and will also be liable to fine.For voyeurism, the panel had recommended imprisonment of 1-3 years with fine on first conviction and 3-7 years for subsequent conviction. whoever assaults or uses criminal force to any woman or abets such act with the intention of disrobing or compelling her to be naked in any public place, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than three years, but which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine.In case of a person voluntarily causes grievous hurt through use of acid, he will be punished with rigorous 10-year imprisonment, which may extend to life. He will also be liable to pay compensation to the victim, adequate to meet at least the medical expenses incurred by the victim. And in case of voluntarily throwing or attempting to throw acid, the accused will face rigorous imprisonment for a term of 5-7 years, besides paying compensation to the victim.

The committee in no uncertain terms disavowed the marital-rape-exception theory which goes against the recognition of women’s right to autonomy and physical integrity. Marriage is not a matter of consent and it cannot be a mitigating factor in rape cases.

It recommended comprehensive institutional reform in children’s institutions and did not favor lowering of the age in juvenile delinquencies.

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The Union government will now send the Justice Verma Committee report to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs for consideration. Law Minister Ashwani Kumar hinted that it would not be possible to implement all recommendations, particularly on review of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and disqualification of tainted lawmakers. The Minister disagreed with the panel’s recommendations to disqualify politicians from contesting polls once a court takes cognizance of cases against them.

The parliamentary committee, headed by Bharatiya Janata Party leader M. Venkaiah Naidu, last week asked the MHA to send the Verma Committee report to it so that it could study it and make necessary amendments to the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 2012.

Welcoming the report of Justice Verma Committee on Amendments,in a statement, the CPI(M) suggested the setting up a multi-ministerial committee with a time-bound mandate of one month to look into the other recommendations concerning different agencies such as on police reform, on bringing armed forces personnel under the purview of the criminal laws and withdrawing protection under the AFSPA, changes in The Representation of the People Act, on khap panchayats, on improvement of conditions in juvenile homes, and on specific facilities for disabled women.

The All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) also welcomed the committee recommendations. It said these were wide ranging suggestions including proposals to tackle the multiple sources of discrimination and inequality affecting women.“A longstanding demand of the women’s organizations that has been accepted by the committee is that marital rape should be recognized as rape." it said.

The bucks for the UPA Govt does not stop here.It has the responsibility to implement the recommendations of the Varma Commission.The amendments are investments which yields dividends and are to be implemented unwatered and in a phased manner.The police reforms posited by the commission need be examined by a committee including the different ministries concerned.The committee which has submitted its report in a record time has accessed the problems with a purpose.The complacency in this regard not only create another 'DELHI' but it shall ferment uproar and anger in unprecedented scale through out the country.

Pointing out that there was a need for sensitizing in the society, Justice Verma said: “We have all the laws; what is needed is sensitivity. It is equally shocking that a large number of people passed by where the girl and her companion lay completely disrobed and injured and no one offered help. It was total apathy….”


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