ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Setting New Standards

The Justice Verma report is historic in many respects; it should catalyse change in criminal law.

The Report of the Committee on Amendments to Criminal Law by Justice J S Verma, Justice Leila Seth and Senior Advocate Gopal Subramanium marks a new moment in the history of government-appointed committees in India. Its 631 pages (very few of which are taken up with lists and other routine items) were produced in exactly one month, surely something of a record. The report reflects the committee’s serious engagement with a wide range of women’s and other civil society organisations, as also legal experts and state officials. But the main respects in which the committee has executed its mandate in an exemplary fashion are, first, its broadly constitutional rather than narrowly penal approach, and, second, its willingness to resist both “public opinion” as well as state orthodoxies.

Rather than make its task simpler by confining itself to rape as criminal assault, the committee has taken the bold and imaginative step of placing crimes against women within the broader context of gender relations, patriarchal cultures, and evolving mores on rights and freedoms. This enables a productive departure from the confines of the protectionist mode in which laws on crimes against women have been framed until now. The committee’s paradigm makes a decisive break with the problematic tendency that treats women as property, not just in the implementation of the law but also in its very philosophy. The committee’s perspective is given full play throughout, but especially in the Bill of Rights in Appendix 3.

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