Justice Verma Committee was constituted to recommend amendments to the Criminal Law so as to provide for quicker trial and enhanced punishment for criminals accused of committing sexual assault against women. The Committee submitted its report on January 23, 2013. But unfortunately, not much implementation is seen at the ground level. In the following paragraphs, I will discuss in short the guidelines that were recommended, which are indeed ground breaking and much needed.
The other members on the Committee were Justice Leila Seth, former judge of the High Court and Gopal Subramanium, former Solicitor General of India. It made recommendations on laws related to rape, sexual harassment, trafficking, child sexual abuse, medical examination of victims, police, electoral and educational reforms.
1. The Committee was of the view that rape and sexual assault are not merely crimes of passion but an expression of power. Rape should be retained as a separate offence and it should not be limited to penetration of the vagina, mouth or anus.
2. The IPC differentiates between rape within marriage and outside marriage. Under the IPC sexual intercourse without consent is prohibited. However, an exception to the offence of rape exists in relation to un-consented sexual intercourse by a husband upon a wife. The Committee recommended that the exception to marital rape should be removed.
3. The term outraging the modesty of a woman is not defined in the IPC. Thus, where penetration cannot be proved, the offence is categorized as defined under Section 354 of the IPC. The Committee recommended that non-penetrative forms of sexual contact should be regarded as sexual assault. The offence of sexual assault should be defined so as to include all forms of non-consensual non-penetrative touching of a sexual nature.
4. The Committee opined that acid attack offence should not be clubbed under the provisions of grievous hurt which is punishable with 7 years imprisonment under the IPC.
5. Special commissioners should be appointed in conflict areas to monitor and prosecute for sexual offences. Training of armed personnel should be reoriented to emphasise strict observance of orders in this regard by armed personnel.
6. The Committee noted that the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act, 1956 did not define trafficking comprehensively since it only criminalised trafficking for the purpose of prostitution. It recommended that the provisions of the IPC on slavery be amended to criminalise trafficking by threat, force or inducement. It also recommended criminalising employment of a trafficked person.
7. The Committee rejected the proposal for chemical castration as it fails to treat the social foundations of rape. It opined that death penalty should not be awarded for the offence of rape as there was considerable evidence that death penalty was not a deterrence to serious crimes. It recommended life imprisonment for rape.
8. The Committee has recommended the discontinuation of the two-finger test which is conducted to determine the laxity of the vaginal muscles. And that the previous sexual experience of the victim should not be relied upon for determining the consent or quality of consent given by the victim.
9. The Committee has recommended certain steps to reform the police. These include establishment of State Security Commissions to ensure that state governments do not exercise influence on the state police.
10. A Rape Crisis Cell should be set up. The Cell should be immediately notified when an FIR in relation to sexual assault is made. The Cell must provide legal assistance to the victim. The police should be trained to deal with sexual offences appropriately.
11. The Committee recommended the amendment of the Representation of People Act, 1951. Currently, the Act provides for disqualification of candidates for crimes related to terrorism, untouchability, secularism, fairness of elections, sati and dowry.
12. The Committee has recommended that children’s experiences should not be gendered. It has recommended that sexuality education should be imparted to children.
One of the members of the committee, hon’ble Justice Leila Seth had said that this report by the commission is a “21st century charter for women”. There are new laws but the number of reported rape and sexual assault cases is up. Misogyny remains on blatant public display, often from elected representatives themselves. Hence, change is needed at the earliest and these reforms must be implemented soon.
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