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Updated: January 28, 2013 00:53 IST

Insightful and path-breaking

Brinda Karat
Comment (14)   ·   print   ·   T  T  

Although it has left some crucial questions unanswered, the Verma Committee report is a big step forward in the struggle for women’s rights

The UPA government has perhaps got more than what it bargained for from the committee it set up, headed by the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice J.S. Verma, in the wake of the public outrage following the horrific Delhi gang rape. The government had decided on only limited terms of reference for the committee (whose other members were an equally eminent former Supreme Court judge, Justice Leila Seth, and former Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam) but fortunately the members, in their words, interpreted it “expansively.”

Through the over 600 pages of this path-breaking, insightful report, with the marshalling of irrefutable evidence, what emerges is a strong indictment of the governments at the Centre and the States for their criminal callousness in ignoring the earlier recommendations of measures to prevent sexual violence against women. In section after section, the committee quotes reports — from 1980 — of Law Commissions, earlier judgments and directions of the Supreme Court, and notifications and circulars of the Home Ministry, which were never implemented.

Critical of governments

It blasts governments for the lack of accountability of public servants, stressing the importance of making dereliction of duty a punishable offence. In the context of the Centre’s refusal to act against Delhi’s top police officials, including the Police Commissioner, the committee’s proposal is particularly relevant. It also proposes to include the concept of command responsibility in the law, holding superior officers responsible for the acts of their juniors when the circumstances show that the crime could have been prevented had the superior acted.

Full text of Justice Verma's report (PDF)

In fact, the Parliamentary Select Committee headed by the present Union Law Minister set up several years ago to re-examine the flawed official bill against torture discussed this issue in detail and recommended the inclusion of command responsibility. But the committee’s recommendations have remained in cold storage. Similarly, the Parliamentary Committee on Women’s Empowerment made a strong recommendation to bring the armed forces and the para-military forces under the purview of criminal law, but the aggressive opposition of Defence Service Chiefs was a convenient reason for not accepting it.

The Verma Committee takes this forward by recommending a concrete amendment to the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act to prevent it from being used as a shield to protect criminals in uniform. Significantly, it suggests the appointment of Special Commissioners in conflict zones to monitor women’s security. It is well known how women, in Chhattisgarh and elsewhere, become targets, caught between militants and the security forces.

The recommendations on the state’s culpability on a range of issues pinpointed in the report are most welcome but it is not because these recommendations were not made earlier that the situation is as it is, but because of the lack of political will.

The report locates violence against women and children in a broader framework of violation of constitutional guarantees, demolishing self-serving arguments that governments cannot be held responsible for individual acts of violence. At a time when market based ideologies so close to the hearts and minds of those in power promote the government’s retreat from its fundamental social responsibilities, the report reminds governments of their primary responsibility to ensure through preventive and deterrent measures a secure environment for its citizens. The report says: “The failure of good governance is the obvious root cause for the current unsafe environment eroding the rule of law…” Indeed the direction of governance in the last decade or so has been dominated by a promotion of corporate led growth, the “unleashing of animal spirits in the economy” with no concern for its impact on increasing social inequalities and subverting the constitutional and fundamental rights of people.

The statistics of increasing violence against women tell their own story. In 2011 alone, there were 24,206 registered cases of rape of which 2,579 were registered in the 89 listed cities. There were as many as 51, 538 cases of sexual harassment of which around 25 per cent took place in cities. Thus a majority of rape and sexual harassment victims are from the rural and mofussil areas, of whom substantial numbers are poorer sections of women and children who live and work in insecure environments. All child rape cases in Haryana in the last few months, for example, occurred because there was no crèche or safe place where the working mother could leave the child.

Vulnerable sections

The changing nature of labour contracts, from permanent workers to casual or contract daily workers, makes women workers, particularly migrant women, vulnerable to the exploitation of employers, landlords, contractors and supervisors. The privatisation of essential services has resulted in a lack of accountability in public transport, lack of electricity, absence of public toilets, all of which are directly related to government policies creating insecurity for women. The report comments “We believe that fundamental rights must not be ignored by the state on a specious argument of paucity of resources when the rich continue to thrive and the wasteful expenditure of public monies is more then evident.”

The report also mentions critical issues such as food security and malnutrition. These are welcome as they do take into account the experience of millions of poor women across the country who face sexual harassment on a daily basis arising out of their economic conditions, worsening by the day. It is, therefore, inexplicable that the committee’s recommendations for amendments to the criminal laws omit crucial clauses concerning economically and socially exploited women — in other words, the class and caste aspects of sexual violence. For example, the long pending demand to consider sexual crimes on the basis of caste against Dalit and Adivasi women or against women on the basis of communal considerations as aggravated sexual assault, inviting enhanced punishment, is unaddressed.

It is well documented how women face intense insecurity because of dominant caste hostility or communal violence. Further, because of the increasing number of cases of rape by powerful and politically connected men, women’s organisations had successfully ensured the inclusion of a clause in the official Bill of amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code introduced in Parliament that when rape is committed by a man “being in a position of economic, social or political dominance,” there should be enhanced punishment. But this does not find a place in the committee's recommendations.

In this context, there is an important demand made by rape survivors from economically and socially exploited sections for a comprehensive rehabilitation package. Some have mocked this as compensation for rape. In fact, it is virtually impossible for a rape survivor who belongs to the working class or the rural poor to bear the expenses of the legal process. It is not enough for the state to provide a lawyer. The question of loss of work, of sometimes having to shift residence, of frequent consultations with lawyers and trips to the court, incurring expenses and losing a day’s income are critical issues in the decision of whether or not to fight for justice. It is puzzling that the report does not mention a mandatory rehabilitation package or did not review the existing schemes of rehabilitation. The only mention is that the perpetrator should pay for the victim’s medical expenses. The victim might find that abhorrent and demeaning and, in any case, what if the accused proves that he has no funds? If the court wishes to fine the accused, there is a legal provision for that and hefty fines can and should be imposed. But it is the state which must take the responsibility for medical expenses and rehabilitation.

Disappointing

One of the most widely supported demands of the nationwide protests was time-bound procedure in cases of rape. Today, a rape victim, including a child, may have to wait even 10 years or more for the judgment. The report recognises the large number of pending cases with courts and calls for an end to frequent adjournments in rape cases. It suggests as a way out recruitment of retired judges, extending the age of retirement of judges at the lower levels and so on. But disappointingly, there is no concrete recommendation regarding a time-bound procedure for cases of rape or the setting up of fast track courts. The three months’ time frame suggested by a large number of organisations could have been accepted, as lengthy judicial procedures lead to gross injustice for rape victims.

The committee must be congratulated on its multidimensional report which constitutes a big step forward in the struggle for women’s rights. Its recommendations can be converted into longstanding gains if the present struggles are linked to political interventions that force the government to act on them. It cannot be allowed to meet the same fate as the 15-year-old Women’s Reservation Bill which remains an ornament to be dusted and displayed before every election.

(Brinda Karat is a member of the Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India – Marxist.)

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I am a doctor and I have seen female and child patients fall victim to sexual exploitation and violence to the extent of being on death beds after illegal abortions turning into septic abortions.
No will on the part of the poor families to fight the root cause as they cannot even identify what is plaguing them, they simply suffer and die accepting it as their fate.But as we claim to be a society and we have a constitution which guarantees some rights and remedies it must be addressed in right spirit.Animal spirit in markets may be the only way to employ our masses but the power of the animaly and financially rich has to be checked.It must be a duty of every person to respect other's basic rights,including the right to be not threatened in any way, this must be sensitized to our law enforcing authorities to ensure on ground.there is plenty in this world to live for all,if Tripura CM can function with least assets so can many other politicians, he is not poorest CM but the richest.

from:  Dr TK Haricharan
Posted on: Jan 29, 2013 at 15:44 IST

Ms Karat's suggestion that the punishment be proportionate to the wealth of the perpetrator or the caste difference between the perpetrator and the victim is an abject and appalling attempt at politicising the debate along vote bank lines.

Punishment must be proportionate to the crime committed. That is the basis of the Indian legal system, which she is trying to subvert.

The expectation from someone representing the political class for as long as she has is to first affirm to the people that positive action will be taken, and secondly, an apology for not fulfilling her constitutional duty.

from:  Akanksh
Posted on: Jan 29, 2013 at 12:33 IST

A genuine sign of positive change offering hope for justice, as the committee recommendations can be seen as a comprehensive framework for curbing crimes against women and ensuring justice.
But one also wonders on the point of AFSPA! Justice verma's committee recommending a concrete amendment to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is indeed strange; strange because he was a part of the Supreme court Bench which upheld the validity of AFSPA few years ago, it was Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights vs Union of India case in 1997.
Also the much acclaimed 600 page report and its engagement with the sexual torture by armed forces on Kashmiri women and men is also nullified. The author has also ignored to raise such an issue in this article. should have received a mention at least.

from:  Ubaid Mushtaq
Posted on: Jan 29, 2013 at 12:27 IST

The basic issue in the whole exercise is the effect of crony capitalism with influence of movies on mindset of population deeply divided by caste groups.Rape and molestation will continue to happen as in most of the cases, the fear of punishment does not arise in the minds of culprit, when they attempt.

from:  atis
Posted on: Jan 29, 2013 at 06:31 IST

Indian bourgeois are Fetish about GDP numbers, they are only concerned about India's Growth, Increase in their salaries, having cars, second homes, luxurious holidays..etc. They dont understant that GDP growth will tell only of quantity and not Quality. One thing that is lacking is socio-economic growth. India is growing only in numbers and not in social values. we still lack attitude of faster growing developing country. There are N number of cases which proves the argument I stated. The most recent one is the banning of Kaman Hasan' new movie "vishwaroopam". Though supreme court has ordered that if the movie has passed through the censor board, it will not be banned by any state of govt authorities. Violating that, Tamil Nadu and karnataka govt has banned its release in theaters. Its a strangling of "Freedom of Expression". If Indian needs to grow in quality also then some strong steps need to be taken. Recommendation by Justice J S Verma's committee should be passed by the govt ASAP

from:  Rahul RG
Posted on: Jan 28, 2013 at 20:14 IST


While everyone is free to express his/or her views on a
disturbing topics, Verma panel should be congratulated for bringing a
precise report addressing the atrocities committed on women whose
complaint remain unattended.There are many side issues remain
unreported and unsolved for years. But what has happened now in Delhi
on 26th Dec 2012 cannot be wished away. It is a classic case of
negligence on security and indifference to look into such cases by
the powers that be. Even after appointing a fast track court to
examine the Delhi episode, it is not moving as fast as we like it to
be.The sufferings of women , rich and poor,of different castes and
communities are numerous, the Man mohan government should take up
this single issue as top most priority and take measures necessary to
remove their suffering.

from:  E.Sivasankaran
Posted on: Jan 28, 2013 at 20:06 IST

The committee could not have so well transmuted the pain and grief
Indian citizenry into roadmap for the future.It exploited the
opportunity well and researched every past flaws by the centre and
every future dimension which deserved well attention.

It's wide coverage of the vulnerable sections of women in far flung
corners of the country who are most of the times lower strata of the
society economically and socially is quite commendable. It has made
clear that whether the accused are military men or someone in a
position of economic, social or political dominance or the better half
of the victim ; they all deserve punishment of equal quantum which is
quite praiseworthy.

from:  mohit kumar
Posted on: Jan 28, 2013 at 18:54 IST

Recommendation of Verma Committee regarding senior officer
accountability for a junior committing heinous act of rape can not be
justified.It is individual act of the person concerned and in no way
connected with his being a policeman.Similarly the recommendation
regarding domestic rape also need be tread cautiously(not talking of
minor spouse).We have seen misuse of dowry act.Vengeance is strange
creature and shall harm once unleashed.Family is about caring and
sharing procreation and conjugal relationship.Divorce law
exists.Platonic love is possibly not part of family relationship.

from:  Kailash Singh
Posted on: Jan 28, 2013 at 17:59 IST

There is a saying that goes like "Where there's a will there's a way".
The crux of the Justice Verma Committee Report is 'Political will'.
Government is never serious on solving the issues like crimes against
women, removing inequalities, honour killings, dowry, child marriage
etc. It is not difficult for them to make law on these issues like
there are laws made on issues where there were large protest like bill
for use of nuclear energy, laws on reservation quota, FDI in retail,
but government did its best to make sure that these bills are passed
where as there is no progress on the issues mention above. There is a
clear evidence that there is a lack of political will.

from:  Akshay Dhadda
Posted on: Jan 28, 2013 at 15:48 IST

I AM a Singapore citizen of Indian descent who has always been gratified by India's singular contribution to the world, and that is its moral clarity and courage.
India has always held a virtue the world is the better for in emulating; that is, its innate social and cultural goodness underscored by a non-negotiable intolerance of evil.
India has, forever it seems, truly been a living, breathing example of the triumph of good over evil. This heroic India no longer exists because of what the rape and murder of an innocent, educated young woman by animals masquerading as humans has unravelled; which is, a systemic rottenness of its moral core.
Earlier this month, a local Singapore television station aired a documentary which illustrated the terrifying, overarching national tragedy which the rape and murder of the young woman in New Delhi has heightened to the world.
The documentary described two horrifying accounts. First, three men entered the home of a 13-year-old girl and raped her. When the father lodged a report, the police reprimanded him. Second, a seven-year-old (yes, seven), was abducted from school and forced into prostitution. When police rescued her, the perpetrators re-abducted her in school and returned her to sexual servitude.
Both incidents happened in the same town and they illustrate the underbelly of the incredible India that must be stopped. The raped and dying young woman was sent out of India, to Singapore, ostensibly as a last-ditch attempt to save her life. The closer truth is that she was dispatched to Singapore to take the heat off the Indian authorities.
I never imagined I would be posting a view about this India: morally upturned - and rotting. I am saddened and ashamed by what is happening in the country of my forefathers which does not in the land of my birth.
The super economic progress India has and is achieving is meaningless without a corresponding achievement in credible law and order; in fact, India seems to be regressing towards moral decreptitude as a consequence.
The powers that be in India must bring back that heroic India of moral certainty which the world has drawn upon to show the way to a better world where right beats wrong. Start small: sack the police chief. Then, reform the police force.
Bringing the criminals to justice is only half the solution.
The police, surely, are accomplices to the crime; and as much the problem standing in the way of the way back for an India where right triumphs over wrong, good over evil; where might should protect the meek and not maul them. If the newest vice-president of the Congress Party wants to energise a brave, new India, he only needs to do what the India of his namesake Mahatma Gandhi unfailingly did regardless of the current reality of the day: do the right thing and stop the moral rot that has infected India in a far more destructive way than its material corruption.
Otherwise, India will have nothing of value with which to redeem itself or share with the world because it would have lost its greatest possession: its soul.


from:  RAVI A G
Posted on: Jan 28, 2013 at 13:26 IST

System with deliberate disconnect sows the seed of unsafe society for
gender and stands manifested as bad corrupt rule in day to day
life.Terming Justice Verma Report by the writer as path breaking can
put the system as a republic tree with roots as the corporate driven
governance and the trunk of the tree as the political class.Unleashing
of animal spirits in the economy separates the hidden corporate
corporate class that fails to provide dignified social security and
jobs to footloose migrants.If the good work of a collective team say
the army is represented by Commanding officer why the concept of
command responsibility in the law, holding superior officers
responsible for the acts of their juniors during crime is shifted
again and again ? Real triumph for gender equality shall come when
such insightful reports get transformed into legal and social pedagogy
with equal code of conduct for both men and women.

from:  Rakesh Manchanda
Posted on: Jan 28, 2013 at 09:45 IST

Justice Verma and his colleagues on the Committee are to be complemented and thanked
for producing a comprehensive and clear-headed report on a complex but fundamental issue
in such a short time with little cooperation, as Justice Verma says, from those who asked for
the report in the first place. All we can hope is that it will make some impression on those
"painted and dented" persons in a position to do something about it. Time has come that
constitutional guarantees of fundamental rights for all citizens meant something.

from:  Virendra Gupta
Posted on: Jan 28, 2013 at 09:29 IST

Thanks to Ms Karat for the review of the report and thanks to Justice Verma for such
a comprehensive report and to The Hindu for this article.
Accountability has to come from the Prime Minister.

from:  Raghuram
Posted on: Jan 28, 2013 at 06:50 IST

Your interpretation of the very thoughtful report of the Verma Commission that the the instances of misgovernance associated with violence against women are realted to a policy shift towards a greater role for the market in the economy is a nonsequitur. You have not provided any sound empirical evidence for the assertion of a causal relation between the policy shift and the instances of misgovernance rightly deplored by the Verma commission. One does not have to be an enthusiast of the need for a policy shift away from Licence-Permit-Raj to greater role for the market to recognise a non-sequitur for what it is.

from:  T.N. Srinivasan
Posted on: Jan 28, 2013 at 06:49 IST
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