Moving to the House

On the Delhi rape case, let's keep the indignation, disturb legislative slumbers

The Verma Committee Report (VCR) speaks against civil society and political rape cultures. The poignancy and urgency of the VCR owes much to the experience of conversing with rape survivors and traumatised children. A precious message of the VCR is this: one may not take law reform seriously without taking human and social suffering equally seriously.

The committee deserved more than grudging cooperation from senior officials and bureaucrats. The government could have done more than just provide chauffeured cars to take Justice Verma and Justice Leila Seth to the inadequate offices at Vigyan Bhavan (and more often to Gopal Subramaniam's office, where much of the work was done). Subramaniam's generosity in facilitating the VCR remains exceptional. Yet, it is also a fact that the government fully funded the 11th-hour psychodrama that led to the national consultations of January 19 and 20. The ordinance now mercifully takes us beyond such peripheral controversies, although leading women's groups urged the president not to sign it.

I had suggested that the government promulgate an ordinance responding to the existing legislative consensus. The VCR further suggests that its proposals, at least on the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2012, "ought to be promulgated by the government as an ordinance". Progressive critique fails when it does not urge a duly elected government to apply its mind in implementing law reform measures.

The ordinance seems deferential to the VCR recommendations (some figured well before the VCR), thus recognising the offences of acid attacks, stalking and assault, voyeurism and the use of criminal force on a woman with the intent to disrobe her. It also prescribes criminal liability for employing a trafficked person. Enhanced punishment, extending up to the end of a convict's natural life, is now recommended if rape causes death or a persistent vegetative state, as well as for rape or gangrape with grievous hurt. Reforms in the Indian Evidence Act remain crucial; they render irrelevant the character of previous sexual experiences in some cases, provide for presuming the absence of consent in certain prosecutions, outlaw questions regarding the moral character of the victim during cross-examination, and make provisions for persons with disabilities.

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