New Delhi: In the wake of the recent case of the most brutal rape-murder of a woman veterinarian in Hyderabad, attacked and killed when returning home after work, the question of the safety of women in India has yet again generated heated debate. In 2013, the Justice Verma Committee recommended better street lighting, 24/7 public transport, more alert and gender-sensitive policing, an end to victim blaming, and changes in law.
Now, six years later, is there away this outrage of citizens actually compels the government to implement the Justice Verma Committee’s recommendations?
It is time one revisits the Justice Verma Committee report that was submitted after the Delhi gang rape case of 2012. Public debate, confined as it is to momentary responses on twitter and Facebook rarely go below the surface. For instance, it is not widely known that not all recommendations of the report were implemented though the criminal law was amended.
Some other key recommendations made in the report regarding improvement of safety measures to prevent such crimes from happening, would, if they had been effectively implemented, prevented the loss of life and such a brutal dual crime in Hyderabad.
Parliament, social media and the streets, India has, just like in 2012 with the Nirbhaya case, burst forth in anger: #JusticeForRapeVictims Trending hastags and statements by parliamentarians urging authorities to come down on the criminals with an iron-fisted approach have hogged headlines. Apart from the rape-murder of the Hyderabad vet last Friday, a series of 5 deadly rape cases were reported from different corners of the country in a period of two days – all pointing to violent crimes against women and girls on the rise across India.
Tamil Nadu: A 32-year-old widow, from Neyveli in Cuddalore, Tamil Nadu, was gangraped by five men on her way home from grocery shopping, on Thursday, a day before the Hyderabad crime. One of the five accused was killed by the other rapists, after he got into a fight with them over his turn to rape the victim.
Tamil Nadu: A twenty-year-old Dalit woman, Roja, was raped and murdered in Kancheepuram. The body of a 20-year-old was found in the bushes in Kancheepuram in Tamil Nadu by shepherds who saw her carcass on the evening of 26th November. They alerted the village administration and the police came to recover her body – but it was completely decomposed by the time any action was taken.
Punjab: An auto-rickshaw driver was arrested for kidnapping and raping an 11-year-old girl who was abandoned by her aunt at Chandigarh Railway Station, Punjab Police said on November 29. Urmila Devi, Sub-Inspector of the Government Railway Police (GRP), told ANI, “A girl was allegedly abandoned by her aunt on Chandigarh Railway Station. A case has been registered under POSCO Act.
Gujarat: On the night of November 28, a 14-year-old girl who was out with her 16-year-old male friend, was raped by two men near Navlakhi Compound, Vadodara. The two rapists approached the pair of friends posing as policemen and picked a fight with them. When the victim and her friend began moving away, the rapists thrashed the boy and dragged the girl into a compound, asking her if she had any valuables such as gold ornaments or an expensive mobile phone. When she refused, they took turns to rape her. The girl’s friend informed the police immediately and they found her lying on a cricket ground located near the western end of Navlakhi Compound. The medical examination confirmed that she was sexually assaulted several times and bore injuries on her private parts. The rapist duo is still absconding.
Jharkhand: A 25-year-old law student was abducted and gang raped by 12 men at gunpoint at a brick kiln near Ranchi’s high-security zone this week. According to a report, all 12 accused have confessed to the crime. As per the FIR lodged by the victim at Kanke police station, the incident happened at around 5.30 pm on November 26 when she was with a friend in the city outskirts.
Maharashtra: A 35-year-old man was paraded naked on Sunday evening by people for trying to rape a four-year-old girl at her house in Pardi area of Nagpur in Maharashtra, the Asian Age reported. The police said that the accused, Jawahar Vaidya, a daily cash collection agent for a co-operative society bank, was thrashed, had his hands tied by a rope and paraded naked on the streets before being handed over to them.
About the Committee and the report
The Justice Verma Committee was constituted through a Government of India Notification dated December 23, 2012 to look into possible amendments of the Criminal Law to provide for quicker trial and enhanced punishment for criminals committing sexual assault of extreme nature against women. This was on the back of the nationwide outrage over the December 16, 2012 Nirbhaya gang rape in Delhi.
The Committee submitted the report within 30 days of its constitution, on January 23, 2012. The urgency of the report was that the Committee was formed in the aftermath of the brutal case of gang rape in Delhi in December 2012. The Committee was headed by Justice J.S. Verma (Retd) and had two other members, namely, Justice Leila Seth (Retd) and Mr. Gopal Subramanium.
The report started with a quote of Mahatma Gandhi which is pertinent to be noted here,
“Woman is the companion of man, gifted with equal mental capacities. She has the right to participate in the minutest details in the activities of man, and she has an equal right of freedom and liberty with him. She is entitled to a supreme place in her own sphere of activity as man is in his. This ought to be the natural condition of things and not as a result only of learning to read and write. By sheer force of a vicious custom, even the most ignorant and worthless men have been enjoying a superiority over woman which they do not deserve and ought not to have. Many of our movements stop half way because of the condition of our women”
The Verma Committee report is a comprehensive document on the issue of rape, sexual assault, trafficking of women and children, child sexual abuse and honour killings, especially in terms of definition, references made from international conventions as well as international case laws.
The report notes that, “even though a government may enjoy popular public will, unless and until its actions are informed by constitutionalism, it will be unable to discharge the obligations towards citizens which are guaranteed under the Constitution. The way in which these rights are made visible in life, society, and on a practical and continual basis, is the obligation of the State. This cannot be more telling in the context of women, their rights and their empowerment.”
The Justice Verma Committee recommendations
There are some extremely crucial recommendations that were made in the report apart from definitions and prescription of punishments. The Report had also made some suggestions with respect to safety measures that will play a precautionary role, which will altogether prevent such crimes from occurring in the first place. The report held, “Apart from having an efficient and honest law and order machinery, it is necessary that certain basic measures regarding provision of civic amenities be undertaken by the State, so as to minimise opportunities for the perpetrators of the crimes.”
Some recommendations made in the report pertaining to safety measures:
- State should undertake the task of providing well-lit roads, streets and other common spaces to the citizens.
- At night women have to get out of their houses to use sanitation facilities and these moments are abused by anti-social element and hence issue of provision of adequate sanitation facilities in villages and urban areas has to be considered urgently.
- Directions given by the Supreme Court in respect of use of dark film on car windows need to be implemented strictly as the use of black films upon the vehicles gives immunity to the violators in committing a crime and is used as a tool of criminality, considerably increasing criminal activities.
- The central government had issued a memorandum dated September 4, 2009 to all state governments titled “Advisory on Crime against Women” which include some pertinent points, gender sensitization of the police personnel, adopting appropriate measures for swift and salutary punishment to public servants found guilty of custodial violence against women, minimizing delays in investigations of murder, rape and torture of women and improving its quality, setting up a ‘crime against women cell’ in districts where they do not exist, providing adequate counselling centres and shelter homes for women who have been victimized, setting up of special women courts, and improving the effectiveness of schemes developed for the welfare and rehabilitation of women who are victimized with greater emphasis on income generation to make the women more independent and self-reliant.
- The Advisory also asked concerned state departments to take suitable steps to increase number of beat constables specially on sensitive roads, increase number of police help booth/kiosks specially in remote and lonely stretches, increase police patrolling specially during the night, increase in number of women police officers in mobile police vans, set up telephone booths for easy access to police, install people friendly street lights on all roads, ensure street lights are working.
- All public transport, after 5.30 pm until 7.30 am must have a security person, they must be well-lit, they must have drivers who are security vetted by local road transport authority and they must have a good character certificate from two known persons in the city.
- Make it mandatory for the bus owners (or State Road Transport Corporations) to display, in good light, the bus numbers as well as the name, age and address of the drivers along with their photographs and contact numbers. It should be displayed within the bus and should always be visible on the outside of the bus as well.
- All buses to have CCTV cameras in Metro cities
- All buses to be fitted with tamper-proof GPS systems.
- There should be downloadable mobile phone applications so that citizens can, with one click or touch, send distress signals to the police.
About well-lit roads, the report said that it is nothing but common sense that crime hides in darkness and eradication of darkness is an easy way to eradicate crime. The Committee also expressed its despair that the central and the state governments were unable to even implement most basic safety measures with any amount of efficacy.
Adoption of the recommendations
Whenever a Committee is formed under the instructions of the government, the Committee makes a comprehensive report with recommendations. Albeit, these recommendations are not binding on the government and it is at liberty only consider a few of the suggestions, modify the same and use the report as a guiding document. Hence, although the Justice Verma Committee report, a well-researched document, is available with the government, it is now gathering dust and the recommendations made therein which still remain relevant even after 6 years, the same have not been implemented. The price, however, is being paid by the women of this country, as the government, the administration, the executive have all failed to safeguard them despite of having a list of “things to-do”.
Maybe it’s time the government realises that having a fast track court hear the Hyderabad case is only a piecemeal approach being used to pacify public furore and what it needs to do is dust off the Justice Verma Report and issue strict and time-bound advisories to state governments for implementing some of the most relevant recommendations which will go a long way in ensuring women safety in India.
The Complete report may be read here (click here).