Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Letter to Justice Verma Committee

This time around, I am putting up the letter that I wrote to the Justice Verma Committee set up by the Government of India in wake of increased violence against women. Hope you like the ideas I put forward.

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Respect Members of the Committee,

You have been appointed by the Government of India to deal with the aforementioned subject pertaining to changes in criminal laws. As a concerned citizen who believes in the democratic process, I would like to put forward by point of view on the same.

A large number of crimes take place against women across this country. The nature and type of these crimes varies drastically, but in the end women are always bearing the brunt of a large number of social ills. The issue is much larger than just changes in the Criminal Procedure Code. There are enough legal provisions, though some more could be brought in. There is a thorough administrative process needed to deal with crime against women. The Criminal Procedure Code already warrants death penalty; however, as rightly said by many, it is not a necessary deterrent. If that were the case, terrorism would have been wiped off the face of this planet. Any how, there are policy matters that need urgent attention. I propose a three step overhaul in the overall law and order machinery of our country, which is easily implementable if a time line is followed:

  1. In the immediate run (time span of next eighteen months) we can usher in the much needed police and judicial reforms, while filling the vacant posts in police and judicial forces with urgency. Independence of the police is necessary, since we have seen a major leadership failure in the manner in which there is utter lack of seriousness for dealing with crimes against women. Once an accountability system independent of political intervention sets in, we can see improvements. Moreover, inability of the judicial system to move cases will not necessarily be solved by fast track courts unless there are enough judges - a major hurdle today. The judicial process needs to be overhauled by setting timelines for not just conducting cases but even for recording statements - the judge should go meet the victim to record her statement, and there should be utter anonymity about the victim's identity and the evidence collection process, just like in Singapore and Australia, both of which also follow the Commonwealth Judicial System, and whose judicial processes with regards to cases involving sexual abuse can be looked at for vital lessons. Case should be registerable in any district - there should not be any district jurisdiction involved in the matter. Moreover, cases where publicly recorded events of sexual harassment/abuse of women have been observed, judges should be enabled to take the case up suo moto.
  2. In the intermediate terms (eighteen to thirty six months), a major overhaul in policing techniques is needed. This would involve procedures of evidence collection as well as monitoring and patrolling techniques. There is no point in installing CCTV cameras if they are not going to work. Major cities across the world are using IT and the tools it offers not just to find criminals but to even prevent crime e.g. United States. These are certainly worth an examination.
  3. In the long run, gender sensitization programs for people dealing with the victims - medical, police, legal and judicial -personnel included. It will be a social project that the government can run for the police forces on the lines of workshops, and can be linked to their performance incentives esp. promotion.
Apart from that, no parole for criminals should be made mandatory if they have been convicted for crimes against women. Also, such cases should be non-bailable offences in toto - it should not be applicable only for cases of rape or murder. A large number of crimes are also part of a larger milieu of social inequality, hence the same should be accounted for in the form of laws. Here is where attention also needs to be given to stricter implementation of such laws as the SC/ST Atrocities Act as well as the Domestic Violence Act needs to take place. Additionally, we need to ensure that people with criminal records should be ineligible for professions dealing with public masses, such as driving licenses.

It is my firm belief that if these steps are taken in the right spirit, we will certainly see a sea change taking place in the way not only cases of violence against women but

Thanking you in anticipation,

Yours faithfully,

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