Set up to review current laws on aggravated sexual assault following the brutal gang rape of a young girl in Delhi on December 16 last year, the Justice JS Verma Commission will submit its report to the government tomorrow. It will also make the report public.
The Home Ministry, while notifying the commission on December 24, 2012, had given it a month for the job. The committee has taken less than a month to scan hundreds of representations on the issue agitating the country. Before finalising the report, the committee comprising former Chief Justice of India JS Verma, Justice Leila Seth (former Chief Justice of Himachal HC) and Gopal Subramanian (former Solicitor General) met over 100 women’s representatives from across India.
Importantly, the commission expanded its area beyond the terms of reference the government set for it. The Home Ministry notification had asked it to “review the present laws to provide speedier justice and enhanced punishment in cases of aggravated sexual assault.” But the committee has looked at the context of sexual assault, including issues of human trafficking, missing children and beggary as factors behind crimes.
It is set to recommend a comprehensive criminal law amendment Bill that defines sexual assault to address penetrative assault as well as non-penetrative sexual offences such as molestation, stalking and stripping. Marital rape is also likely to be recommended for inclusion in the sexual assault law for the first time. Currently, marital rape is legal.
The panel is also expected to seek repeal of Sections 354 and 509 of the IPC which contain archaic notions of outraging the modesty of women and recommend their replacement with a clear gradation of non-penetrative sexual offences along with punishments depending on the violation of women’s bodily integrity.
For the first time, there is a possibility of security forces being covered as a separate category in the section of sexual assault law dealing with aggravated sexual assault. Section 376 (2) of the Criminal Amendment Bill 2012 which the government introduced in Lok Sabha last December doesn’t cover security or armed forces as a category under aggravated sexual assault and mentions only police, public servants, remand home in charges and hospital managements. The Verma panel will likely seek inclusion of armed forces and recommend waivers of prosecution sanction if they are accused of this offence.
On punishment, the committee’s view remains to be seen considering majority petitions argued against death penalty and chemical castration and sought quick justice and imprisonment ranging from 10 years to the rest of life for the accused depending on the crime committed.
Women’s groups unanimously opposed lowering the juvenile age from 18 years at present and called for accountability of states and Centre on care, protection and rehabilitation of juvenile delinquents. They, however, demanded lowering the age of consent for sexual engagement from the current 18 to 16 years.
In another expected recommendation, the commission will set to ask the government to make sexual assault a gender-specific crime insofar as the perpetrator is concerned. The current government Bill defines sexual assault as a gender neutral crime (meaning women can also rape and men can be raped).
“We argued that sexual assault be made gender-specific insofar as perpetrators (males) are concerned and gender neutral insofar as victims are concerned. Among victims, women, transgenders and other sexual minorities must be mentioned. The commission heard us favourably and examined linkages between government current economic policies and rising crimes against women,” said Vrinda Grover, top Supreme Court lawyer.
- It will cover penetrative assault as well as non-penetrative sexual offences such as molestation, stalking and stripping
- Marital rape is also likely to be recommended for inclusion in the sexual assault law for the first time. Currently, marital rape is legal
- The panel is also likely to press for doing away with archaic terms like outraging the modesty of women and recommend their replacement with a clear gradation of non-penetrative sexual offences
- For the first time, there is a possibility of security forces being covered as a separate category in the section of sexual assault law