One of the strongest pillars of the Justice Verma committee meant to look into sexual offenses was Leila Seth, one of the first woman State Chief Justices of India and the only woman in the three-member committee to look into the legal provisions of gender justice.
In an exclusive interview to CNN-IBN, Leila Seth spoke to Sagarika Ghose on the recommendations of the panel. She also clarified why the committee does not recommend reducing the age for the juvenile criminals as well as the death penalty for rapists.
Not reducing the age limit of 18 in case of juvenile crime:
“The punishment does not do justice to the crime but we have to look at it from the perspective of the Juvenile Justice Board. In this case his school certificate shows he is a juvenile. We looked into from the point of view of neurology, criminology and came to the conclusion that the age should not be reduced.”
She also said that a juvenile should always have the chance to reform, something that is facilitated in the correctional home. This might not be possible in the prisons where they would share space with hardened criminals, she added.
According to her, the age of the juvenile must be fixed at 18 and not reduced to 16 as some people have demanded.
She said, “Why don’t you fix the age at 15? We are thinking of the generic cases. One case like this does not make a good law That is also the view of people who are working with children.”
Not recommending the death penalty for rape:
“Death is irreversible,” she said.
The committee decided that death could not be a suitable deterrent to any crime. Not just that, most modern countries have done away with the death sentence and India should be no different, she added.
However, there is a demand from several quarters that the Delhi gangrape case is one of the rarest if rare cases and the guilty should be awarded to death in such cases. Justice Seth did not agree.
“There is arbitrariness in decision making – what is rarest of rare?” she said, adding that there are better ways to tackle such a problem.
The Verma committee has come up with a punishment for sexual assault cases where perpetrators are jailed for the duration of their life.
In this provision the criminals charged with serious sexual offenses can be kept in prison throughout their lives, instead of the lifetime imprisonment that constitutes 20 years or lesser. This will ensure that the guilty cannot get out of the prison very soon like it used to happen before, Leila Seth added.
Including marital rape as a sexual offence:
For the first time, the Justice Verma committee report has included marital rape as a sexual offence that needs to be punishable by law. Marital rape – often considered a taboo subject in Indian society – is as much prevalent as other sexual crimes, recent studies have shown.
According to Leila Seth, this was a loophole in the law – where there was no provision under the law where married women could seek justice.
“We have seen many women who suffer. There was no crime they could complain of. At least now there will be something that they can complain of,” she said.