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Justice Verma should have demanded more time, resources

The report tabled by Justice Verma Committee yesterday, all 631 pages of it, underlines how important an issue rape and violence against women is. The committee was set up to suggest ways to make rape laws stronger in the country in the wake of the horrifying Delhi bus rape case.

The Verma Committee wrapped up proceedings in 29 days, demonstrating an alacrity and a commitment to purpose which is rarely seen in India. In addition to the three member committee, the task was supported by “an oral consultation” with “representatives of several stakeholders, particularly the women’s social action groups and experts in the field.” In addition, the committee was helped by “the dedicated industry of a group of young lawyers, law graduates and academics.” Finally, the committee received 80,000 recommendations from people from across the world.

Justice-Verma-committee-PTI

The challenge, in India, is to maintain the pressure so that the good work begun by Justice Verma and his colleagues is taken as seriously as it needs to be. PTI

In 2007, News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman and a private investigator were convicted of illegal interception of phone messages. The News of the World then claimed that this was an isolated incident, but The Guardian claimed that evidence existed that this practice extended beyond this incident. In July 2011, it was revealed that News of the World reporters had hacked the voicemail of murder victim Milly Dowler. Reacting to this, David Cameron announced that a public inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005 would be chaired by Lord Justice Leveson on 13 July, 2011.

Part one of the inquiry was set up to look into “the culture, practices and ethics of the press, including contacts between the press and politicians and the press and the police; it is to consider the extent to which the current regulatory regime has failed and whether there has been a failure to act upon any previous warnings about media misconduct." Lord Justice Leveson published his report on Part 1 of the Inquiry on 29 November 2012.

To understand the gargantuan scale of the task (it had 97 evidence days), take a look at these figures (all from the BBC website):

Lord Leveson himself spoke over 330,000 words, which would translate into about 4 full- length novels
474 individuals were witnesses
These individuals were from 135 organisations
202 witnesses were from media and PR
48 witnesses were from the police
41 witnesses were from the legal field
38 politicians were spoken to
21 witnesses were from regulators or watchdogs

More details of the numbers can be found here.

All these numbers are relevant. The Leveson Inquiry (frequently asked questions are listed here) had the time and the resources to summon, question and speak to a wide range of stakeholders, including, for example, David Cameron, prime minister of England, Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corp, which owned the now defunct News of the World and even Tony Blair, former prime minister.

“The JS Verma Committee tasked to look into possible amendments to the criminal law for quicker trial and enhanced punishment for rapists, on Wednesday slammed Delhi’s police, public and the administration for not acting promptly to help the 16 December gang-rape victim,” Firstpost reported yesterday.

Where was the committee’s interaction with these stakeholders – the police, the public and the administration? It is this interaction which would have greatly enhanced the report – and, as a consequence, the recommendations made. The complexity is not helped by the fact that, in the final analysis, rape is a hyperlocal issue, the prevention of it, in large part, the onus of the smallest police station. The Justice Verma committee would have been well served if they attempted to understand why these police stations are so apathetic to victims of rape and violence against women; if they understood, from women, what could be done; if they interacted with administration at the centre and at the states to understand the challenges.

The report is a great first step — but there’s a lot more that needs to be done — by the political system.

This is something Lord Leveson had to face as well.

Take a look at the last FAQ on the Leveson Inquiry website and the answer:

“What will happen after the report? How will the findings be used?” “It will be for the Government to decide how to take forward the recommendations in the report.”

The challenge, in India, is to maintain the pressure so that the good work begun by Justice Verma and his colleagues is taken as seriously as it needs to be. Perhaps a beginning would be to convert the committee immediately into a permanent body which is given the resources and the time to talk to all the stakeholders and focus, on a continuous basis, on the area of rape and violence against women.