Ayurin
Vol 5 Issue 15, Apr 11 - 17, 2014
    Citizen Reporters      |   | Submit Story
Green WarriorsSocial EntrepreneursUnsung Heroes

Justice Verma Committee report and the road ahead

   By  Pamela Philipose
   Delhi
21 Apr 2014
Posted 31-Jan-2013
Vol 4 Issue 4

If the gang rape of a 23-year-old student on a Delhi bus on December 16, 2012, led to a sense of both outrage over and despair about the entrenched violence women experience in India, the report of the Justice Verma Committee – emerging exactly five weeks after that incident – came as a heartening glimmer of hope for reform and justice.

The response of women’s activists to the Report was unanimous: It is, potentially, a game-changer and transforms the manner in which the issue has been framed thus far. Human rights lawyer Vrinda Grover puts it this way, “It marks a major paradigm shift in the understanding of violence against women in the country. It is quite rightly termed a women’s bill of rights and roots violence firmly within the framework of inequality.”

Women activists see the Verma Committee Report as a game-changer (Photo: Vibhuti Patel)

Many of the arguments made in the Report had been voiced by the Indian women’s movement. Both Sudha Sundaraman, General Secretary, All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), and Suneeta Dhar, director of the women’s resource centre, Jagori, see it as a reflection of the concerted work done over decades.

Observes Sundaraman, “Women across the country have spoken out on this concern. Take just one issue we have fought against – the general refusal of the police to register cases and their overall gender insensitivity, which translates into the low conviction rate. We are, therefore, delighted that the Verma Committee Report lambasts the police for its failure to prevent such violence and makes the non-registration of FIRs (first information reports) a punitive offence.”

Dhar points out how women’s activists have routinely been portrayed in the most negative way – as home-breakers and westernised harridans. “But what we were fighting for all along was really for our constitutional equality – something that has just been reiterated by the Verma Commission,” she says.

She points to the systematic way in which women’s activists, academics and lawyers last year had suggested changes in The Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2012 and made representations to the Justice Verma Committee. Reveals Dhar, “We argued that the everyday violence women faced was part of a continuum, ranging from harassment to aggravated sexual assault and the close attention the Verma Committee paid to the submission we made before it recently was truly heartening.”

The rising graph of crimes against women, perceived internationally as a blot against India, arises out of a culture of impunity and apathy within the system. The Justice Verma Committee Report recognised this when it observed: “While we acknowledge and greatly applaud the concerns of feminists and various persons who have spoken in support of women, we still feel distressed to say that all organs of the State have, in varying degrees, failed to fulfil the promise of equality in favour of women.”

Farah Naqvi, women’s activist and member of the National Advisory Committee, believes that what makes this Report unique is the language it adopts, “It is one of the most progressive reports to emanate from the government system. It sees the crime of rape and sexual assault, not as driven by lust but as part of an exercise of power and control. The spotlight is on masculinity and the social construction of masculinity in India.”

Nothing short of a thorough reform of the criminal justice system has been envisaged in the Report. Not only has it recommended the discontinuation of anachronistic and deeply offensive practices like the two finger test, it has broadened the definition of sexual assault to include hitherto unrecognised crimes like stripping and stalking.

Marital rape – a demand first raised by women activists in the Eighties – is also deemed a crime for the first time. “It was sheer joy to hear Justice Leila Seth reading out that section of the report. It marked a fundamental shift in the recognition of a woman’s right to her bodily integrity,” remarks Grover.

Justice Verma Committee has also voiced the concern that “systematic or isolated sexual violence, in the process of Internal Security duties, is being legitimised by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which is in force in large parts of our country” and recommends wide-ranging measures to address this reality.

This stance is of utmost significance given the tragic history of assaults on women by members of the armed forces. No justice has been done in the 1991 Kunan Poshpora incident in Kashmir’s Kupwara district, where 36 women were allegedly gang raped by the 4 Raj Rifles.

It is also difficult to forget the desperate protest that a group of Manipur women staged in 2004 against the alleged rape and murder of Thangjam Manorama by personnel of the Assam Rifles, when they stripped in front of the Kangla Fort in Manipur, holding up a banner that read, ‘Indian Army Rape Us’. As Sundaraman puts it, “Greater accountability from the armed forces has been a long standing demand and we are extremely reassured to learn that the Verma Committee has also taken note of it.”

Precisely because the Justice Verma Committee Report is a path-breaker there is disquiet over its silences. Says Asha Kowtal, General Secretary, All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch, “The Report holds up hope of change so it is disappointing that dalit women again find that they don’t figure in the recommendations. We had hoped crimes against dalit women would figure in the section on aggravated sexual assault. Have we been left out because we are deemed to come under the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act?”

Naqvi agrees this is a major oversight, “The absence of communal and caste violence as a category of aggravated sexual assault under Section 376, is very troubling.”

Muralidharan, Assistant Convener, National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled, is similarly disappointed to find that sexual assault against physically or mentally disabled women has not been classified as an ‘aggravated sexual assault’, a crime that invites a more rigorous sentence.

There are other concerns, too. According to Grover, the use of the term ‘person’, with reference to the victim of rape, could camouflage the issue of violence against women. She says, “Victims should have been clearly disaggregated into categories of women, men and transgenders. This is important given the specificity and intensity of the violence that visits women. I also find it difficult to understand why the Report has made stalkers gender neutral when all evidence suggests that it is women who are stalked by men in India.”

Even as women activists savour this moment of achievement – some in Delhi even gathered for a celebratory picnic to mark it – they know that the gains spelt out in the Justice Verma Committee Report could prove elusive unless the political system takes ownership of its recommendations and translates them into laws, policies and practices.

Ayesha Kidwai, Associate Professor, Centre for Linguistics, of Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University and a long-time women’s activist, was categorical, “We know that our struggle cannot end with this Report. We will now take it to every political leader in the country and to every party and state government.”

The message from the women’s movement is clear: On this long and tortuous road to a violence free future for women, there can be no turning back. - Women's Feature Service


 



Print  |  Email  | 
 Share   

You might also like:

Triumph of love

Just like any Hollywood movie, a graduation ceremony in the US turned unforgettable for a young girl when her boyfriend of four years proposed marriage on stage as she collected her degree

Read More

A vision for future

He is an ophthalmologist with a vision. ‘Change today, change tomorrow’ is the motto of his organization run with over 300 volunteers. Amar Naik meets the doctor who wants to start a school

Read More

Stephen Cars
FPJs Meet Vidyaakar
adyar bakery
 
TWL Campaign



Popular Stories

Pet project

‘Rickshaw Bank’ is a project that helps rickshaw pullers. It was born out of a conversation Pradip Kumar Sarmah, a veterinarian, who had taken animal health care to rural areas in Assam, had with a rickshaw puller, says Souzeina S Mushtaq

Read More

Power of waste

Namakkal in Tamil Nadu is known for poultry, among other things. But not many know of a poultry owner generating electricity from chicken droppings, whose disposal was once a headache. P C Vinoj Kumar explains the innovation and the business

Read More

Action cop

His was a career dedicated to fight graft, through unconventional methods. Now the former cop is advisor to the anti-corruption cell of Aam Aadmi Party. Souzeina S Mushtaq profiles N Dilip Kumar, called as ‘action hero’ by a news magazine

Read More

Natives’ return

The return of Sabbah Haji and her family to their hometown in Kashmir’s Doda district has helped local children as the school started in 2009 is still growing. Afsana Rashid finds the school running with the help of volunteers from outside

Read More

Short and strong

Joby Mathew stands 3 feet, 5 inches tall. But he has beaten men taller than him in arm wrestling and won even the world championship. Kavita Kanan Chandra finds that hard work, discipline and determination are the secrets behind his success

Read More

At the grassroots

A group of social workers in the temple town of Kanchipuram meet every week to chart their down to earth projects. All of them teetotalers, not by scheme, they work at the grassroots level but seek no external aid. P C Vinoj Kumar meets them

Read More

Bangalore 15

Besides being a cosmopolitan city, which is a bustling IT hub, also known for fine weather, Bangalore has more for a visitor, says Sudha Narasimhachar, giving a list of 15 must visit places

Read More

Mountain girl

In the chilly heights of Ladakh, Thinlas Chorol stands out as a social entrepreneur, trekking guide, ice hockey player and a writer rolled into one. Her remarkable role is changing the face of tourism up there, says Kavita Kanan Chandra

Read More

Water Wheel

Fetching water takes such considerable time for rural women that they expend most of their time and energy on that. But ‘Water Wheel’, a recent innovation, is ushering a change in the lives of women in some villages, says Souzeina S Mushtaq

Read More

Heart for Artisans

Young social entrepreneur Medhavi Gandhi works with artisans from around the country, helping them to innovate and design better products to keep pace with the market needs, says Afsana Rashid

Read More
 
Kudos image

"The Weekend Leader not only gives a glimpse of the better things happening around us but also tells stories of people who made it possible.”

Ajay Chaturvedi, Entrepreneur More Kudos
 
Archives  |   Columns  |   About Us  |   Contact Us  |   Feedback  |   Response  |     |   Cheers!  |   Support Us  |   Friends of Positive Journalism
© Copyright The Weekend Leader.com, 2010. All rights reserved.