Monday 21st Jan 2019
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Does the Verma Panel Report Miss Underlying Causes?



The brutal rape of a girl in a moving bus on the fateful night of 16 December caught the attention of the entire nation. Protests in the capital, which even turned violent, were nothing but the manifestation of the anger and frustration of all the Indians, be they men or women, young or old. The government set up a three-member committee headed by Justice JS Verma with other members being Justice Leila Seth and Justice Gopal Subramanium. The committee was supposed to give its recommendations and suggestions regarding the amendments to the existing laws dealing with cases of sexual assault and atrocities on women. Exactly one month later, on 23 January, Justice Verma came up with his report and it is highly commendable that he completed the gigantic task within the stipulated time and did not ask for extra days.

The crux of Justice Verma’s report is that, unlike the common notion, it maintains that the existing anti-rape laws are sufficient if they are implemented properly. He further turned down the demands of death penalty for rapists and discarded chemical castration on moral and humanitarian grounds. The report came heavily on the women trafficking and recommended that the punishment for it should be made seven years. In terms of security for women, the report came up with strict punishments for stalking and intentional touching. Using obscene words and making indecent gestures have also been included in the list of crimes that can earn five years in jail. There are other recommendations like those on khap panchayats and the immediate need for police and electoral reforms.

There are proximate and underlying causes for all the events and incidents. It is a general tendency that we look at the proximate causes and come up with the solution based on those proximate causes only. However, what we often miss out are the underlying causes which build the road for the event or crime to happen. The report itself mentions that the present laws are sufficient enough to tackle the menace of rape and there is no need of any new law to bring forth in order to contain rapes. However, one thing which gets missed is the mindset of the people, the way one thinks and the disconnect one finds in the policies and rules of the government. The committee report has asked for stringent laws and has recommended that the years of imprisonment should be increased to seven years or five years. The inclusion of obscene words and gestures would again create problems as the law could also be misused. Hence the primary need at this point of time is to address the corruption in the minds of the people as it is this corruption of mind on which depends the trajectory of the growth of crime. Dr. Rajendra Prasad, while moving the adoption of the Constitution in the Constituent Assembly, had said:

“…Whatever the Constitution may or may not provide, the welfare of the country will depend upon the way in which the country is administered. That will depend upon the men who administer it. If the people who are elected, are capable and men of character and integrity, they would be able to make the best even of a defective Constitution. If they are lacking in these, the Constitution cannot help the country. After all, a Constitution like a machine is a lifeless thing. It acquires life because of the men who control it and operate it, and India needs today nothing more than a set of honest men who will have the interest of the country before them…It requires men of strong character, men of vision, men who will not sacrifice the interests of the country, at large for the sake of smaller groups and areas and who will rise over the prejudices which are born of these differences. We can only hope that the country will throw up such men in abundance…”

Amartya Sen in The Idea of Justice echoed the same sentiment, in the following words;

“…There is no automatic guarantee of success by the mere existence of democratic institutions…The success of democracy is not merely a matter of having the most perfect institutional structure that we can think of. It depends inescapably on our actual behaviour patterns and the working of political and social interactions. There is no chance of resting the matter in the ‘safe’ hands of purely institutional virtuosity. The working of democratic institutions, like all other institutions, depends on the activities of human agents in utilizing opportunities for reasonable realization…”

It is interesting to note that the committee report does include both the quotes, however one would not find anything substantial in the report which addresses the concerns of the corruption of mind. Once again it seems that the proximate and apparent causes have been dealt with and the underlying and the hidden causes got missed out completely. A comprehensive solution can only be attained once both the issues are dealt with without compromise. Let us take an example of brothels. Rape is to commit sex without the permission or consent of the other individuals. However, it is a known fact that in brothels, women are trafficked and most of them are forced into this profession although they want to abstain and keep from it completely. Will anyone say that it is not forced but with consent? It is this disconnect that we need to remove through the policies and rules. At present it seems that we are surrounded by contradictions all around as the solution that one comes up with in some way or the other contradicts the previous statements or laws because we fail to take into consideration underlying causes with the proximate ones.

The need at present is to change the behaviour and attitude of man towards fellow beings and for this it is most important to put checks and balances in the very thought of the person. It is only when good laws are given into the hands of good people the nation flourishes. If people are corrupt noting will work as we all know that most of us relish and enjoy the very idea of breaking the laws because we follow the cliché ‘laws are meant to be broken’.

Hence the need is to develop the sense and respect of law among the masses. There is a need to educate them and schemes and plans should be made accordingly.

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