The Verma manifesto

The Justice Verma committee report foregrounds institutionalised forms of rape culture to illustrate their terrifying relationship with law and governance. Indicting state institutions for propagating, normalising and even celebrating this rape culture, the committee also confessed to understanding, for the first time, the extent and range of impunity and immunity afforded to those who are guilty of sexual violence.

A range of amendments to the law are recommended, new sections suggested, protocols developed, and a bill of rights for women is pronounced. This voluminous report, crafted through a series of conversations with survivors of sexual violence, academics, activists, representatives from the government and lawyers, provides the Delhi protests with a manifesto for radical transformation.

This reasoned, researched and anguished document is ambitious in its desire to link structures of power and domination with the everyday mechanisms to silence testimonies against sexual violence. It speaks directly to the experiences of young people on the streets of Delhi by recognising the damaging impact of sexual harassment (although there is an anachronistic use of the word "eve-teasing" in the commentary which precedes the recommendations). It also recommends that offences such as stalking, voyeurism and forced stripping should be defined under Section 354 of the IPC as distinct forms of sexual assault, rejecting the colonial, humiliating and trivialising definition, which described everything short of penile penetration of the vagina as outraging the modesty of women.

The report redefines rape substantially. It recognises rape as a crime of patriarchy committed by men, and acknowledges that the victims of such horrendous violence can include men and transgendered persons in everyday contexts. Unlike the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2012, the report does not accept the idea that women or transgendered people can rape adult men, in everyday contexts. Rather, the definition of rape operates on a sociologically informed classification, retaining gender specificity for perpetrators (always men) and gender plurality for victims (any person, irrespective of gender or sexual orientation). The strength of this definition is that it drives home the fact that sexual violence is a privileged and preferred form of patriarchal violence, which can terrorise by sexually humiliating any person who transgresses heterosexist social, sexual and political orders.

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