Harish Jharia

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24 January 2013

Justice Verma Panel Recommends Many Tougher Penalties for Sex Crimes in India: A Review


© Harish Jharia 

Justice Verma Committee’s recommendations about Comprehensive changes in criminal laws as published in the press:

New offences have been specified and stiffer punishments have been suggested for rapists who rape and render the victim to a vegetative state. These crimes include disrobing a woman स्त्री को नग्न करना, voyeurism छिप कर देखना, stalking पीछा करना and trafficking नारी तस्करी. Sexual misconduct also includes intentional touching, spoken words and gestures made as sexual advances. The present law provides for punishment to rapists’ imprisonment ranging from seven years to life in jail. For the first time, the minimum punishment as recommended by the committee is raised to 20 years in some cases. 
Our comment: The recommendation is welcome.

The demand for reducing the age bar for juvenile offenders has not found favor with the Justice J S Verma panel, which has cited the Convention on Rights of Child that disagrees with capital punishment or life sentence for those below 18 years, as well as the "neurological state of the adolescent brain" to support its view. "We are of the view that the material before us is sufficient to reach the conclusion that the age of juveniles ought not to be reduced to 16 years.
"Our comment: We do not agree with the recommendation. Men and women of 17 years cannot be called ‘children’ because, biologically, they attain puberty around 12 to 13 years. Eventually, they become capable of sexual reproduction at around 17 years of age. Therefore, the men and women of 17 years of age do not deserve protection specified for children, because they themselves are capable of reproducing children. There are millions of 17 year old parents in the world having children reproduced by them. 

"Neurological state of the adolescent brain" is a vague argument and needs fresh and thorough study by physiologists and medical scientists. The committee also negotiated various areas, seeking disqualification of MPs and MLAs charged with heinous crimes like rape. They also suggested measures to check Khap Panchayats and trial security forces personnel under general criminal laws rather than trying them under Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).
Our comment: The recommendation is welcome.

Addressing a press conference, Justice Verma came down heavily on Union home secretary RK Singh for appreciating the role of  Delhi Police commissioner after the Delhi gang rape, instead of coming out with an apology. The committee also condemned Delhi Police for the lathicharge on young demonstrators in the capital after the heinous crime, which it said had scarred the image of Indian democracy.
Our comment: The recommendation is welcome.

Releasing the report, Justice Verma told a news conference that the committee has not suggested death penalty for rapist because there was overwhelming suggestions from the women organizations against it. The committee did not recommend death penalty for rape because it was a "regressive step" and it "may not have a deterrent effect"."We have not recommended death penalty as we had overwhelming suggestions against it. The women groups unanimously were against death penalty and that is why we thought that is a strong reason to respect that view particularly in view of the modern trend also," Justice Verma said.
Our comment: We do not agree with the recommendation. The suggestions from women organizations and human rights activists appear to be biased and prejudiced with the age-old cultural intolerance and humanitarian diktats. There should have been strong recommendations from Verma committee for death sentence in case of rape followed by the death / murder of the victim. 

The committee recommended various amendments to various laws and enhancement of punishments to the offenders. Nevertheless, it is concluded that the existing laws, if faithfully and effectively implemented by trustworthy law enforcement agencies, would be adequate to protect the well-being and dignity of people particularly the modesty of women.The committee also said speedy justice was necessary for right to life with dignity and recommended that systemic changes would reduce the burden of pending cases in courts. The vacancies of judges should be filled by new recruitment or by ad-hock appointments. In addition to that, new vacancies of judges should be created, in order to increase number of courts for hearing pending cases. 
Our comment: The recommendation is welcome.

Taking note of the brutality committed in the Delhi gang-rape incident, the committee suggested replacement of Section 375 defining rape by defining specific unnatural acts.
Our comment: No comment offered, as the recommendation is not understood in absence of details. 

Deliberate touching the body of women will constitute the offence of sexual assault for which punishment will be a maximum of five years rigorous imprisonment or fine or both. 
Our comment: The recommendation is welcome.

Use of words, gestures against women, which create unwelcome threats of sexual nature or advances, would invite a maximum punishment of one year imprisonment or fine or both. Our comment: The recommendation is welcome. Causing grievous hurt through throwing acid on women shall also be punished with rigorous imprisonment for not less than 10 years but could go up-to life.Our comment: The recommendation is welcome.
The following points appear to be missing in the recommendations published in the press?

What specific punishments are recommended for the rapists who sexually molest innocent children and mentally retarded girls and women who do not know as to what all goes on with them during molestation? Recommendation about this aspect has not been published in the press.

What punishments are recommended for sexual molestation of small boys and mentally retarded male victims? Recommendation about this aspect has not been published in the press.
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Click Here for the original full Report:
Justice Verma’s report on recommendations for amendments to criminal law against sexual molestation of women
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