A Revisit to the Justice Verma Committee Report
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.
In 2013, the prosecution in the matter of Mukesh v. State (NCT of Delhi) [i] prayed that there should not be mercy for merciless convicts. The infamous case caused a global uproar and witnessed nationwide protests. Referring to the facts of this case – on a December night, Jyoti Singh and her friend Awindra Pandey rode a bus after watching a movie. The events that unfolded took a drastic turn. There were six men on the bus –– one of them was a minor –– who were the perpetrators. They assaulted Pandey with an iron rod, leaving him injured. The same iron rod was then used to harm Jyoti, mutilating her body parts and inflicting the most gruesome levels of hurt on her body. The men threw them from the bus and fled. Jyoti succumbed to her death a few weeks later.
The trial court, the Delhi High Court, and subsequently the Supreme Court of India awarded the death penalty citing the reason that this case belonged to the rarest of the rare category. As per the judgment, four of the six convicts were hung to death with no legal recourse left available to them. Along with international coverage, it commenced a feminist movement in the country and pushed the formation of the Justice Verma Committee to amend the rape laws in the country.
ABOUT THE COMMITTEE
A GOI (Government of India) notification was released on December 23rd to constitute a committee that could offer possible changes to the criminal law system. Within a month owing to the urgency of the matter, a report was published under the chairmanship of Justice J. S. Verma.[ii] Being the former Chief Justice of India, the jurisprudence of law and its link with the Indian patriarchal society was carefully detailed. A highly educated team of lawyers, academics and students, along with help from political parties, eminent persons from the medical field, social organizations, etc. prepared the report. The Committee received suggestions from almost 70,000 people from the civil society. The report was drafted taking into account recommendations of the Law Commissions over the years and tried to bring about their quick implementation. Acting as a self-sustained piece of literature, it has been the motivation for several sections to be amended in the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2013.
At the outset, the report points out the need for new laws is secondary to the need for good governance. Even the perfect laws would not be effective if there is no efficient implementation. It places the roots of sexual assault/abuse cases on the inherent value of patriarchy and the prejudice against women embedded in the Indian society since time immemorial. It has emphasized many remarks made by men in political positions bashing the idea of basic feminism, promoting victim shaming and thereby creating an environment of discomfort. Specific laws on acid attacks, medico-legal changes, expanding the scope of sexual offences, etc. were few of the amendments that were made to the Indian Penal Code (1860) and the Code of Criminal Procedure (1973) based on the report. But it is of public knowledge that not all the recommendations were regarded.
NOTABLE YET OVERLOOKED SUGGESTIONS IN THE REPORT
i. Marital Rape
The archaic practise of marital rape is not criminalised. While rape is recognized as a crime as per Section 375 of the IPC, an exception clause does not recognize rape as a crime if performed by a husband on his wife (not being under fifteen years of age). The Committee recommended the removal of Exception 2 of Section 375.[iii]
The age of consent raised to eighteen years poses an inconsistency in the existing laws. If the age of consent is eighteen years, why doesn’t a married woman between the ages of fifteen and eighteen years have the same rights?
This also highlights the matter of child marriages in India despite their illegality. Our country’s stance on marital rape was clear in a 2017 landmark case, Independent Thought v. Union of India.[iv] The Court held that rape is a crime irrespective of the person being married or of a particular age. It also claimed that Section 375 was violative of a girl’s rights and outside the ambit of fair, just and reasonable.
The respondents claimed the sanctity of marriage will be ruined by the criminalisation of marital rape; these arguments were dubbed to be highly discriminatory. However, in March 2021, a judge provided marriage as a solution to a rape victim. The same judge wondered if a woman raped by the husband, however brutal, can be termed rape.[v] The gravity of the issue still persists.
ii. Gender Equality
The Committee strongly opined the need to discourage gender bias. It suggested changes within the school level itself, wherein the concept of masculinity and femininity is enforced. Training and sensitization of the teachers in sexual/personal education is recommended. Moreover, it advocated for the usage of the word ‘whoever’ in the amended sections with the indication of gender neutrality. This was ignored since the sections related to rape and other offences are gender-specific. The gender justice that is blissfully ignored in the country was a specific chapter in the report in order to strengthen its significance and importance.
As of February 2021, a French woman was raped by another woman in Goa under the pretence of being a shaman performing rituals. The accused could not be booked under Section 375 as the current legislation is gender-specific and does not recognize the criminal act of rape by a woman.[vi]
iii. Death Penalty
The death penalty is awarded in the rarest of rare cases. When the particular case satisfied that criteria, then death penalty is the final punishment. As per the IPC, the death penalty is conferred upon those who commit offences under Section 376A (the victim after being raped dies or is in a state of coma)[vii] or under Section 376E (punishment for repeat offenders).[viii]
The doctrine has been applied many times since the Bachchan Singh v. State of Punjab case.[ix] However, the report suggested that the death penalty should be abolished as it is seen as a regressive step in the sphere of reformation and the report recommended life imprisonment instead. Cases, both national and international, that have given enough pursuance to life imprisonment were also quoted. A report published by Project39A[x] stated that four executions took place in 2020 (after a gap of four years), but 400 prisoners still remain on death row making it a contemporary topic of debate.
The inclusion of sections, the alteration of the language to avoid misinterpretation, stricter and specific punishments for crimes with the idea of deterrence has laid the foundation for change in a misogynistic and politically-fuelled country. This requires the participation of the citizens, the police system and the administration. There needs to be an adhesive movement among the people to protect the vulnerable.
The author firmly expresses that the overlooked suggestions would have yielded significant results in today’s time. India is brimming with socio-legal obscurities, but slowly taking one step forward at a time. These suggestions gave hope to the citizens that the justice system will thrive to protect and preserve. The country is evolving, people are educating themselves every day, social norms and stereotypes are breaking; however, it is to be humbly noted that, at present, we have only achieved a small fraction of the changes that this country deserves.
ENDNOTES [i] Mukesh v. State (NCT Of Delhi), (2017) 6 SCC 1 (India). [ii] Justice J.S. Verma, Report of the Committee on Amendments to Criminal Law, PRS INDIA, (Jan. 23, 2013), https://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Justice%20verma%20committee/js%20verma%20committe%20report.pdf. [iii] Indian Penal Code, 1860, Act No. 45, Acts of Parliament, § 375 (India). [iv] Independent Thought v. Union of India, (2018) CRI.L.J. 3541. [v] Geeta Pandey, India Supreme Court: Calls for Justice Sharad Bobde to quit over rape remarks, BBC News Delhi (Mar. 04, 2021), https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-56263990. [vi] Mohua Das, Goa police book Delhi woman for sexual assault on French woman, The Times of India, (March 3rd, 2021, 10:01 IST), http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/81300736.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst. [vii] Indian Penal Code, 1860, Act No. 45, Acts of Parliament, § 376A (India). [viii] Indian Penal Code, 1860, Act No. 45, Acts of Parliament, § 376E (India). [ix] Bachchan Singh v. State of Punjab, (1980) 2 SCC 684 (India). [x] Annual Statistic Report 2020, DEATH PENALTY IN INDIA, Project 39A, National Law University (Delhi, 2021).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR This blog has been authored by Isabel Roy, who is a 2nd Year B.B.A., LL.B. student at Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies, Bengaluru.
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