Life term for rapists, speedy justice for victims, says Verma panel

New Delhi, Jan 23 (IANS) Life imprisonment for gang-rape, speedy justice for the victims, review of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act's working, and community policing are some of the recommendations the Justice J.S. Verma Committee has made.

The three-member committee, headed by Justice Verma, constituted to look into rape laws in the wake of the gruesome gang-rape of the 23-year-old physiotherapist trainee Dec 16, submitted its report to the government Wednesday. It stopped short of recommending death penalty for gang-rape.

The voluminious report that was submitted to Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde also suggested amendments to criminal laws to provide higher punishment to rapists, including policemen and public servants.

"Gang-rape will entail a punishment of not less than 20 years, but which also may extend to life. Gang-rape followed by death shall be punished with life imprisonment," Justice Verma told reporters.

Releasing the 631-page report, Justice Verma said the committee has not suggested death penalty for rapist because there were overwhelming suggestions from the women organisations against it. Justice Verma wrapped up the committee's exhaustive work within 29 days.

The committee proposed amendments to the Indian Penal Code and said stalking, acid attacks and voyeurism should be considered separate crimes.

While stalking or attempts to contact a person repeatedly through any means shall be liable to get a term of up to three years, acid attacks would be punished by up to seven years and voyeurism will be punished with up to seven years imprisonment, he said.

Hailing the youths of the country for their "spontaneous show" against the gang-rape, Justice Verma said he was "struck by the peaceful manner" in which they led the mass movement in the national capital.

"It was a spontaneous show of the youth. It was an humbling experience... the youth taught us, the older generation. This is the real hope and the brightest aspect of this entire exercise," said Justice Verma, a former chief justice of India and ex-chairman of the National Human Rights Commission.

The report also proposed Bill of Rights for women that entitles every woman a life of dignity and integrity.

Under the bill, all forms of violence, exploitation, cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and treatment targeting women are prohibited.

It also entitles a woman to have the right to express and experience complete sexual autonomy, including with respect to her relationships and choice of partners.

The commission, however, did not alter the legally defined age of juvenile from 18 to 16 years - a demand by women activists after one of the accused involved in the Delhi gang-rape was found to be below 18 years.

Holding that Juvenile Homes in the country are not being run in a manner consistent with the spirit of Juvenile Justice Act, Justice Verma said: "There was a need to provide psychological, moral and educational support to juveniles."

Even as it held that present laws are sufficient to maintain law and order, the committee report said, "Speedy justice was essential for efficacy of the law and its desired impact."

Coming down heavily on violations by the armed forces, the committee said the brutalities of the forces faced by residents in border areas have led to a deep disenchantment and lack of mainstreaming of such people in civil society.

Former Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium, a committee member, also said security personnel should be tried under common law if they are accused in sexual assault cases.

Noting that there was very poor response from state police chiefs at public meetings called by the committee while preparing the report, Justice Verma said, "If this is the attitude of the DGPs, then there should be a review of the process of their appointment."

But, he said the committee got 80,000 suggestions from India and abroad from women activists to students.

He also said that it was "shocking" that the union home secretary praised the Delhi Police chief for "prompt action" in catching the six males involved in the Dec 16 gang-rape of the young woman who died 13 days later in a Singapore hospital.

"The insensitivity of the police to deal with rape victims is well known. The police respect a patriarchal form of society and have been unable to deal with extraordinary cases of humiliation caused by the Khap Panchayats," Justice Verma said. Khap Panchayats, seen mostly in Haryana, and community heads take overarching decisions on matters relating to the community and lay down guidelines.

He also said that there was a need to develop community policing by involving the local gentry, which would also motivate them to perform their duty as citizens.

-Indo-Asian News Service

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