The Justice Verma committee constituted in the wake of the horrific Delhi gang-rape case has done an admirable job of submitting detailed recommendations within a month on legal and institutional reforms for cases of rape and sexual assault. While it has covered a breadth of topics such as marital rape, trafficking, child abuse, AFSPA, two-finger test, as well as police and electoral reforms, and rejected hot-headed demands such as chemical castration and death penalty for rapists, implementing these progressive recommendations remains a challenge.

Already, the ordinance passed by the Union Cabinet and signed by the President just days after receiving Justice Verma’s recommendations has ignored many controversial topics such as marital rape, AFSPA and the two-finger test. Thus, if the recommendations have partially stumbled at the very first step, their actual effect on ground is also under doubt.

To ensure that these recommendations can be implemented properly, it is important to build a unifying narrative which everyone can relate to, which doesn’t unnecessarily antagonize any groups purely on their identity. This is especially important for measures like community policing, which by definition depend on the buy-in of individual citizens. We need this unifying narrative because safety and security is one of the most basic human needs, and affects everyone equally. Safety and women’s safety in particular, cannot be left hostage to any particular ideology, and cannot be allowed to fall through a divide, whether it is between the Left/Right, or India/Bharat, urban/rural, new/old, etc.

Unfortunately, many well-meaning individuals often fall prey to this divide, tending to portray themselves or the victims of sexual crimes as one group, in struggle with “the other”, more powerful and oppressive group, which only leads to vitriolic comments from either side and the actual problem and solutions being sidelined. For example, the girl who died in Delhi after that brutal gang-rape was termed an “elite” by some, and the protests were seen as the “elite” minority demanding the government’s attention, a government which otherwise listens only to the “masses” – uneducated, violent, backward, new migrants to big cities causing a cultural backlash against “Westernization”.

However, as the girl’s friend mentioned, they were quite “conservative”, visiting religious places and refraining from sexual relations. The girl belonged to an “agrarian caste” and her father is a labourer. The girl and her friend were still relying on public transport, and not jetting around in their own vehicle. Yes, they were well-educated and were returning from an English movie, but that is true of millions of other Indian youth, and that alone does not make them “elite”.

What does unify all of us is that we all have greater aspirations than our previous generations, more access to information, more confidence, and greater optimism for our future. Any unifying narrative on a basic issue such as safety and security of all citizens has to be built around these lines, and Justice Verma’s recommendations have to be built into such a narrative for them to have their desired effect.

The views represented in this blog are those of the author. It does not represent the thoughts, intentions or plans of the Swaniti Initiative.