A committee has advised against death penalty and chemical castration for rapists and recommended the inclusion of marital rape in the list of offences. The report, which proposed changes that permit jail for the full life term, was submitted by Justice J.S. Verma, former Chief Justice of India; Justice Leila Seth, former Himachal Pradesh High Court chief justice; and Gopal Subramaniam, former solicitor-general. The following are 12 key recommendations and the reaction of Rebecca John, a trial court lawyer in Delhi.
Panel No death penalty. Life imprisonment of not less than 20 years or for the rest of the life of rapists causing death or a persistent vegetative stateJohn: Over-emphasis on penalty makes me nervous. The committee’s recommendations are composite measures, comprising many things like the manner in which police have to act, medical protocol for rape victims, the way society should deal with such cases and steps for improvement of women’s conditions.
The committee has said life sentence means imprisonment for natural period of life. At present, the sentence review board in each prison is able to grant pardon to lifers after a specific period, taking into consideration the positive changes in his conduct.
But the committee has suggested withdrawing that power from the prison authorities for rape convicts. The report is path-breaking and should be welcomed
Panel Demand for reduction of juvenile age from 18 years to 16 years not recommended
John: The existing juvenile age in India sticks to the international practice.
Second, there is hardly any reformative action for juveniles in conflict.
Reducing the age is no solution. You must not make law as reaction to one particular incident.
Let us not get hysterical about it. Even more heinous offences have happened in this country
Panel All marriages to be registered in the presence of a magistrate who will ensure marriage is solemnised without dowry and with consent of both partners
John: This is one of many recommendations. Maybe it is a long-term measure
Panel Armed forces and police personnel should not be given protection under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, in force in several places in the Northeast and Kashmir, if the men in uniform commit sexual offences against women
John: A huge victory for civil liberty groups. It will be a great thing if the offenders are tried under the general criminal law
Panel Recognise voyeurism, eve-teasing and stalking as offences
John: The committee has covered a whole range of offences. In fact, seemingly less serious offences go unpunished. So grave offences get societal approval gradually. The less serious offences should be dealt with strongly. The committee has defined the less grievous offences in a positive way
Panel Marital rape not to be exempt
John: At present, in the name of a relationship, marital rapes escape the definition of crime. The committee says it should be considered a crime
Panel Amend law to recognise possibility of sexual assault on men, and homosexual, transgender and transsexual rape
John: The committee felt that the victims could be gender neutral. A man can be a victim also. The Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2012, says perpetrators should also be gender neutral. But the committee said the perpetrators should be men only
Panel Reforms needed in Representation of the People Act to deal with criminalisation of politics. Members of Parliament and state legislatures with criminal cases pending in heinous cases should vacate their seats.
John: A good suggestion. Nobody wants rapists to sit in Parliament. This depends on the will of the political class for implementation
Panel Every complaint of rape must be registered by police
John: Police at times do not register cases. The committee is of the view that if the police do not register FIR, the officials concerned should be penalised. For that, the Indian Penal Code should be amended also
Panel No condoning of political interference in performance of police duty — police to understand their accountability only to the law
John: This depends on police reforms, which is a long-term measure. But I am hoping that government will implement the workable recommendations immediately
Panel Encourage community policing, street lighting everywhere for safety of citizens, encourage street vending to make bus stops and footpaths safe for communities and pedestrians and provide street food for common man
John: These can be implemented with immediate effect. These are standard security measures
Panel Create an auditor-general for education, non-discrimination in respect of women and children on the lines of the comptroller and auditor-general
John: Again a long-term measure. If implemented, it will have good dividends.