Looking forward

The Delhi gangrape that set off waves of determined protest may now be on the way to bringing enduring change. The government-appointed committee, headed by Justice J.S. Verma, to consider ways in which women's safety and freedoms were at risk, and how they could be strengthened, has submitted its report within a month. Now, it is up to the political class to assess and implement these suggestions with the same sense of urgent purpose.

The report, which crowd-sourced solutions and got 80,000 responses, and was the collective effort of many young lawyers along with Justice Leila Seth and Gopal Subramanium, is a worthy, if broad, compendium of problems and solutions. It covers most aspects of sexual violence, the damaging idea of "honour", institutional biases and the way women from disadvantaged backgrounds are doubly vulnerable, the assault they often face in zones of conflict. It rightly stresses that harsh punishment like castration would fix the problem only in our fantasies, and that the focus should be on responsive administration, the implementation of existing laws and citizen action. Many of the points it flags have long been demands, including police reform, extending the law to marital rape, to homosexuals and transgenders, a clear medical protocol for rape cases. The report, to its credit, sticks its neck out by arguing that no AFSPA exemption should apply to sexual violence. Some other proposals tread a trickier ground. It recommends that all MPs facing criminal charges step down, that a constitutional authority be appointed to monitor gender justice goals. It offers a progressive analysis of the problem but falters on some of the specifics, and could have benefited from hewing closer to its brief.

It is now for the government to critically sift through the recommendations and take the bulk of them further. There is no denying that the formation, working and results of this committee are essentially heartening. It has been a collaboration between citizens, activists, lawyers and the state, and it points to the direction in which India's institutional and social response to sexual violence must change.

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