Hands that helped speed up Verma report

Saumya Saxena, who is researching gender justice at Cambridge University, was in New Delhi when a 23-year-old woman was gangraped in a bus on December 16. When the government set up the J S Verma Committee to suggest amendments to criminal laws in the wake of the rape, Soumya wanted to become part of the effort.

"I wrote to them and asked them if I could be a part of it. They said yes," said Saxena, 24, who is from Lucknow. "As I was already doing my field work on gender justice, I was familiar with the subject we were going to deal with."

Saxena was one of 16 in a young team of law professionals that helped the three-member committee of Justice Verma, Justice Leila Seth and former solicitor general Gopal Subramaniam. The 630-page report came out in 30 days. In striving to meet that deadline, the team found there was a lot to do.

They put in research, digging out information from law manuals of various countries. They went through suggestions, over 80,000 on e-mail and another 100 on telefax, after the committee had invited these from the public, NGOs, activists and government organisations. And they kept updates on each of over 100 visitors who came with suggestions.

"All of us put our heart and soul into this report," Saxena said. Her teammate Shwetasree said, "It was not a regular nine-to-five job. We put our lives on hold. "

There were days when they got not more than a couple of hours' sleep. The government had provided a one-room office at Vigyan Bhavan, but there was so much to do that the team moved to Subramaniam's office. "We were racing against time and it was not feasible to stay there 24 hours," said Shwetasree, 34, who practises at Delhi High Court. "We required a set-up where there would be no distractions. The camp shifted to Subramaniam sir's office (at Jor Bagh)."

Mihika Sood, 28, who too practices at Delhi High Court, was contacted by Subramaniam's office. "I readily agreed to be part of the team," Sood said, describing their contribution to the making of the report: "Every mail in the committee's inbox was read, the relevant portions culled out. We researched and edited the submissions that made their way into the report."

At the committee's press conference last week, Justice Verma credited the young team for the hard work they had put in. "If anyone has to be thanked for drafting this report and making it possible to come out within such a short span of time, it is the young members who backed us," he said. "Had it not been for their dedication and perseverance, we would not have been even halfway through." He read out all 16 names.

The decision to submit the report within a month was taken by Justice Verma himself. "When a senior cabinet minister approached me on behalf of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on December 23, I asked him when the next session of Parliament would be," he said. "The minister told me the (budget) session would start on February 21. There were two months, so I decided, let's do it in 30 days. If we are able to do it in half the time available, then the government with its might and resources should also act fast."

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