Most, if not all reviews of the Justice Verma Committee Report on Amendments to Criminal Law in the context of gender-related safety and sexual offences, declare it to have seized the moment in proposing changes that could have far reaching impact if implemented. It is indeed a hopeful sign for all those of us who have fretted and worried, stood in protest, and hoped to hell something will happen of the momentum of activism and sheer anger that our nation’s citizens unleashed post the Delhi gang rape.
To sum up the report’s positives, rape is now defined within the context of sexual crimes as any act of non-consensual penetration, while sexual assault includes all forms of non-consensual non-penetrative touching of sexual nature. Marital rape is very much recommended to be within the purview of this criminal offense. The committee recommends that marriage cannot be offered as defense and is not relevant to the matter of rape. A huge step forward for the country this would be, if implemented.
Much praise has come in for the committee’s inclusion of people of all sexual orientations in its recommendations. This broader view of dealing with sexual crime as perpetrated against any citizen regardless of gender or sexual orientation, in my opinion, is really relevant in making this issue universally relevant and not just about women’s safety. For the inclusion of a gendered perspective in our society is necessary so that we all evolve to be more sensitive citizens and so that we deter criminals of all types.
Further, the recommendations of increasing the punishment terms of rapists from a minimum of 10 years to a maximum of life imprisonment is a balanced one; the report rules out both the death penalty as well as castration and this too sends out the right signals about India’s position as a humanitarian democracy. I have been really disturbed about the baying for blood that has been a strong strain in protests post the Delhi gang rape and am heartened by the Verma Committee recommendations.
Police reforms and the amendment of AFSPA, in which sexual offences in conflict zones are specifically addressed, are other positives that deserve mention.
Of course, we can take the cynical view and despair about whether these would be implemented. However, this is precisely the reason why the activism must continue. Not just women’s groups, but all concerned citizens must speak out for the need for legislation to prevent sexual exploitation. This, along with physical planning measures to increase safety in public spaces as well as support groups to help victims speak out and tackle sexual crime in their lives, are the way forward, certainly. For once, I would think the Opposition wouldn’t really have objections to most of these recommendations.
So friends, don’t let the fire die out. Speak, protest, write, do what you have to do and we can together hope for a safer India!
This was a strong strain at THiNK2012. Shoma Chaudhry at one point actually said the audience had been complaining about it! We aren’t really comfortable with feminism are we? Well, I am, and increasingly so. That does not mean I think women must become like men, nor does it mean that men must defer to women, though most sensible ones do for obvious reasons!
For starters, I think we misunderstand feminism considerably and have a fuzzy idea of what it entails. The fact is that like any other movement, feminism has evolved over the decades. In its current form, the movement rejects absolute definitions of what being a feminist is, and includes the experiences of women from diverse racial, ethnic and class backgrounds.
I had a chat with Mona Eltahawy, a prominent figure in the activism related to restoring democracy in Egypt, a feminist and a grassroots leader. The experiences she shared silenced the audience into a hush. She was herself a subject of brutal sexual assault and threatened gang rape by the Egyptian police in the wake of the Tahrir Square liberation. She told us that women activists were picked up en masse and assaulted, raped, beaten into silence. And this continues. Horrifying? Well, just as horrifying as the rapes in Haryana, which aren’t political, but born out a deep sense of male superiority. Apparently it is fine to believe that women can be beaten and raped into silence.
I agree with Mona’s appeal that women must speak out and I admire her bravery for being able to do so again and again. I was rivetted when she declared “The shame was that of my assaulters, not mine!” It is terribly hard for women to believe that, but we must if we are to lead dignified lives.
I was also struck by the parallels between what is happening in Egypt and in the part of India where I live. The constituent assembly in Egypt, which is rewriting the country’s constitution, has suggested bringing down the marriageable age for women to, hold your breath, nine! Thos violates all child rights norms, conventions, treaties and is downright inhuman. Like many khap panchayat leaders in Haryana, these guys seem to not have heard of marital rape. To think that a woman can only exist under the protection of a man is regressive and reprehensible. Women must speak, write and stand up against it. For starters, those of us who consider ourselves liberated must stop thinking and living within this disgusting framework (yes we do, we all still do in some ways). Perhaps if we can negotiate our own balance, we could dream of a world in which women are respected and treated as equals.