Sir — The Justice J.S. Verma committee, set up in the wake of the gruesome gang rape of the 23-year-old paramedic student in Delhi and headed by the former Chief Justice of India, should be congratulated for submitting its report, all of 630 pages, in 29 days. The members of the committee were allotted two months’ time to submit a report on ways to make rape laws stronger in the country but they managed to submit it in half that time. It is shocking that not even one director general of police from any state sent any recommendation, even as the committee received almost 80,000 well-meaning suggestions from the country and abroad. Now the aam admi can hope that the government, with its resources and power, will act fast to implement the laws to ensure women’s safety.
In the report, the committee has desisted from recommending death or chemical castration for rapists or from reducing the age limit for juvenile offenders. Instead, it recommended increasing the term of imprisonment for gang rape and imprisonment for life if rape is followed by murder of the victim (“Lucid vision”, Jan 25). It also suggested that marital rape be recognized separately by the law.
The committee’s suggestions for a review of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act for which Irom Sharmila has been protesting for almost 13 years, is a positive and long-awaited step in the right direction.
The committee has come down heavily on khap panchayats. The report said, “Women have the right to choose whom they want to marry and not khaps.” Verma said that khap panchayats, found mostly in Haryana, take overarching decisions on matters relating to the community and lay down guidelines. He said that khap panchayats do not enjoy the sanction of law and are merely “self- styled bodies.”
According to Verma, it was “shocking” that the Union home secretary praised the Delhi police chief for prompt action in catching the six men involved in the gang rape of the young woman who died 13 days later in a Singapore hospital. The insensitivity with which the police deal with rape victims is well known. The police respect a patriarchal form of society and are unable to handle extraordinary cases.
Bidyut Kumar Chatterjee, Faridabad
Sir — The Justice Verma committee managed to finish the sizeable task of drafting the report in just 29 days, a month short of the assigned period. It is now time for Parliament to follow the committee’s example by legislating strict laws on sexual crimes at the earliest. The Delhi police commissioner and the Union home secretary, whose words drew flak from the people and the committee, should be brought under the scanner immediately.
However, one feels that there was a need for reducing the age of juvenile immunity to 16 years, keeping in mind the changing times. Immediate steps to upgrade and maintain correctional homes are necessary.
Madhu Agrawal, Dariba, Delhi
Sir — The recommendations of the Justice Verma committee report, presented by J.S. Verma, Leila Seth and Gopal Subramaniam, should be considered seriously. In India, it is quite usual to handle grave issues lightly. The editorial, “Lucid vision”, has rightly said, “India is not short of laws; it is their proper implementation that is urgent.”
The government should see to it that this report does not meet the fate of several other reports, which have been gathering dust. Verma has echoed the same statement at the time of presenting his report, when he said that the response of government departments, agencies and the police to the committee’s request to send in suggestions was dismal.
The report — which is a tribute to the Delhi rape victim and other women who have suffered sexual assault — recommends a number of far-reaching changes including punishment for marital rape.
On January 23, the committee submitted its recommendations seeking a minimum of 20 years’ imprisonment for gang rape and life-term for rape and murder. The editorial correctly observed that the “law enforcement system has received almost as much attention as the offences. Accepting each complaint under a first information report is as important as the immediate medical testing of a survivor”. The callousness with which the police usually respond to rape cases is probably one of the reasons why the perpetrators are getting bolder.
New offences have also been taken note of by the committee and stiffer punishment has been suggested for disrobing a woman, voyeurism, stalking and trafficking.
The report also hits out at political and religious leaders for making controversial comments on women. It recommended laws to disqualify politicians who issue statements “reinforcing gender bias”.
Strict laws will ensure harsh punishment for the perpetrators. But an overall change in mindset is necessary for men to respect women and accept them as their equals.
S. Kamat, Bardez, Goa