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!