New Delhi: A three-member commission assigned to review laws for sexual crimes submitted its report to the government on Wednesday. The commission, headed by former Chief Justice of India, Justice JS Verma, has identified "failure of governance" as the root cause for sexual crime. It has criticised the government, the police and even the public for its apathy, and has recommended dramatic changes.
Here is your 10-point cheat-sheet on the major recommendations made by the panel:
- Punishment for Rape: The panel has not recommended the death penalty for rapists. It suggests that the punishment for rape should be rigorous imprisonment or RI for seven years to life. It recommends that punishment for causing death or a "persistent vegetative state" should be RI for a term not be less than 20 years, but may be for life also, which shall mean the rest of the person's life. Gang-rape, it suggests should entail punishment of not less than 20 years, which may also extend to life and gang-rape followed by death, should be punished with life imprisonment.
- Punishment for other sexual offences: The panel recognised the need to curb all forms of sexual offences and recommended - Voyeurism be punished with upto seven years in jail; stalking or attempts to contact a person repeatedly through any means by up to three years. Acid attacks would be punished by up to seven years if imprisonment; trafficking will be punished with RI for seven to ten years.
- Registering complaints and medical examination: Every complaint of rape must be registered by the police and civil society should perform its duty to report any case of rape coming to its knowledge. "Any officer, who fails to register a case of rape reported to him, or attempts to abort its investigation, commits an offence which shall be punishable as prescribed," the report says. The protocols for medical examination of victims of sexual assault have also been suggested. The panel said, "Such protocol based, professional medical examination is imperative for uniform practice and implementation."
- Marriages to be registered: As a primary recommendation, all marriages in India (irrespective of the personal laws under which such marriages are solemnised) should mandatorily be registered in the presence of a magistrate,. The magistrate will ensure that the marriage has been solemnised without any demand for dowry having been made and that it has taken place with the full and free consent of both partners.
- Amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure: The panel observed, "The manner in which the rights of women can be recognised can only be manifested when they have full access to justice and when the rule of law can be upheld in their favour." The proposed Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2012, should be modified, suggests the panel. "Since the possibility of sexual assault on men, as well as homosexual, transgender and transsexual rape, is a reality the provisions have to be cognizant of the same," it says. A special procedure for protecting persons with disabilities from rape, and requisite procedures for access to justice for such persons, the panel said was an "urgent need."
- Bill of Rights for women: A separate Bill of Rights for women that entitles a woman a life of dignity and security and will ensure that a woman shall have the right to have complete sexual autonomy including with respect to her relationships.
- Review of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act: The panel has observed that the "impunity of systematic sexual violence is being legitimised by the armed forces special powers act." It has said there is an imminent need to review the continuance of AFSPA in areas as soon as possible. It has also recommended posting special commissioners for women's safety in conflict areas.
- Police reforms: To inspire public confidence, the panel said, "police officers with reputations of outstanding ability and character must be placed at the higher levels of the police force." All existing appointments need to be reviewed to ensure that the police force has the requisite moral vision. The panel strongly recommended that "law enforcement agencies do not become tools at the hands of political masters." It said, "Every member of the police force must understand their accountability is only to the law and to none else in the discharge of their duty."
- Role of the judiciary: The judiciary has the primary responsibility of enforcing fundamental rights, through constitutional remedies. The judiciary can take suo motu cognizance of such issues being deeply concerned with them both in the Supreme Court and the High Court. An all India strategy to deal with this issue would be advisable. The Chief Justice of India could be approached to commence appropriate proceedings on the judicial side. The Chief Justice may consider making appropriate orders relating to the issue of missing children to curb the illegal trade of their trafficking etc.
- Political Reforms: The Justice Verma committee observed that reforms are needed to deal with criminalisation of politics. The panel has suggest that, in the event cognizance has been taken by a magistrate of an criminal offence, the candidate ought to be disqualified from participating in the electoral process. Any candidate who fails to disclose a charge should be disqualified subsequently. It suggested lawmakers facing criminal charges, who have already been elected to Parliament and state legislatures, should voluntarily vacate their seats.