Justice Verma extends brief, launches assault on patriarchy itself

There are two ways of looking at the Justice JS Verma committee’s recommendations on the efficacy of India’s laws to prevent crimes against women: an exercise in stating the obvious which will make little progress; or a comprehensive roadmap to begin the long march to a more equal and sensible society that can ultimately ensure gender justice.

At a press conference called to talk about the highlights of the report, the committee disclosed its important recommendations, both for changes in laws and procedure. Among them: changes in the Armed Forces Special Powers Act to reduce protection to men in uniform committing crimes; making marital rape an offence and expanding the definition of rape; changes in law to prevent trafficking in minors and women; compulsory registration of all marriages to prevent dowry; steps to ensure that all rape and sexual violence cases are registered and tried expeditiously; outlawing the verdicts of khap panchayats; creation of a protocol for dealing with rape cases, and so on…(Read here).

If all these and other changes are legislated and implemented, they would add up to the world’s biggest assault on the worst aspects of patriarchy in one single effort.

No nation anywhere in the world has sought to set so much right in one report compiled in 30 days.

But, bringing us down to earth is this reality: few ministries and police bosses – especially Director-Generals of Police – bothered to respond to the committee’s call for discussions and suggestions. This shows what importance they give to the subject.  Justice Verma has recommended action against such DGPs, but clearly they won’t be implemented, for not coming up with opinions is hardly a sin of commission.

The first sign of the government’s sincerity would come if all the DGPs are either censured or transferred.

 Justice Verma extends brief, launches assault on patriarchy itself

Changing more than just laws. Image courtesy ibnlive.

However, even if this happens, nobody can presume that the old patriarchy is about to keel over and die or metamorphose into something better.

Even though the committee has recommended changes in the law, its core message is not about changing the law, but attitudes. It makes no bones about the fact that existing laws are enough to deliver justice if the intention is there to deliver it. If there is no intention, no amount of changes will do any good.

So, indirectly, the committee is saying that we are all guilty – from government to people.

It has indicted every entity, every institution, and every individual for failure to do their duty.

Therein lies an inherent contradiction:  the bulk of the committee’s report will focus on the rights of women and how to ensure them, but delivering these rights will mean everyone will have to do his duty. It calls for changes in attitudes from the top to the bottom, from leaders of the executive to lawmakers; from Supreme Court judges to the magistrate sitting in small-time district courts; from the DGPs heading police forces  to the humble beat cop or the person registering FIRs in police stations.

Most of these changes cannot be legislated. They involve changes in behaviour by everybody, starting with our most powerful people.

Ensuring all this means the following:

First, depoliticisation of the police force, so that politicians cannot influence their ability to do their job. If the policeman is not freed from political control, there is no way he is going to do his job because acting against powerful criminals will invite trouble.

Second, high levels of supervision of the lower judiciary – where most well-intentioned laws bite the dust – by the higher judiciary. This means implementing all the key recommendations of several Law Commissions, changes in the laws of evidence, expediting cases, increasing the judge-population ratio, and tougher policing of judges and ensuring judicial accountability. Judges have delivered rape verdicts in days in some cases, and not done so even after several years in others. This shows that the judiciary is not exercising even the powers it has to ensure justice.

Third, quick trials of politicians in the dock so that politics can be decriminalised. This is like asking politicians to legislate against their own short-term political interests. But there is no getting away from it. The sentencing of Om Prakash Chautala and his son to 10 years in prison for a teacher recruitment scam is a strong signal from the judiciary that it can be done; a tweak in the law to complete all such cases in months instead of years will be the most powerful indicator that change is round the corner.

Fourth, even after changes in the law, a huge communication and sensitisation exercise needs to be undertaken in all the law-enforcement agencies, not to speak of the judiciary itself. The law will not work unless it is made to work by putting training, monitoring and feedback systems in place for all parts of the police-legal-justice system.

Fifth, the biggest message relates to society itself. It is difficult to see how society is going to change its attitudes to women all of a sudden without a huge dose of communications, discourse, debate, sensitisation, schooling, parenting, counseling - and effective implementation of the law, too.

It’s a long road away from patriarchy.

If we thought Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal were demanding the moon by asking for an instant end to corruption, Justice Verma has gone one better by demanding instant gender justice and an end to patriarchy.

To Justice Verma’s credit, he didn’t stop with half-measures. He went for the whole loaf. He delivered a magna carta for gender justice in 30 days, in time for the budget session to legislate the required changes.

Over the next 30 days we will know whether politicians will pick up the gauntlet flung by Justice Verma or shrink away from it.

After that, it’s our business. Yours and mine.

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Updated Date: Jan 24, 2013 09:01:53 IST