Verma Committee Report

Verma Committee Report

The Report submitted by the Committee headed by Justice J S Verma and comprising Justice Leila Seth and former Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam deserves an entry in the Guinness Book of Records. The promptitude with which the report was prepared in 29 days without asking for any extension was exceptional. Next, the comprehensiveness and thoroughness of the report which contains not merely suggestions about existing penal provisions regarding sexual assault on women but breaks new ground by giving an expansive definition of rape, for example to include marital rape. As regards punishment for rape the Committee on consideration of the vast national and international material produced before it and the views expressed by leaders of women's organisations, did not recommend death penalty. The Committee also did not recommend mandatory chemical castration of any type as punishment for sex offenders because in its view that would "contradict human rights standards". Moreover, the report rightly emphasises the urgency of implementing police reforms in order that our country may "attain a standard of policing which is based upon a positive and cooperative relationship between civil society and the police service". A unique feature of the report is a proposed Bill of Rights. One of its provisions reads "every woman has the right to express and experience complete sexual autonomy including with respect to her relationships and choice of partners". A commendable part of the report is the unequivocal statement that the "right to sexual orientation is a human right guaranteed by the fundamental principles of equality and transgender communities are also entitled to an affirmation of gender autonomy". These recommendations based on an expansive interpretation of the terms of reference are bound to generate a lively debate. And therein lies its real merit. Addressing crucial issues which were hitherto brushed under the carpet or only superficially addressed. Is it too much to hope that Parliament will act with promptitude in legislating all or at least some of the recommendations of the Verma Committee?

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