The Justice Verma report is undoubtedly timely, much needed and much awaited in the wake of the recurring instances of heinous crimes being committed against women in India. There are two distinct progressive recommendations in this report like 1) bringing the police and public servants under the ambit of punishment and 2) including crimes like disrobing a woman, stalking and voyeurism under the purview of sexual assault. However, ample challenges still remain that can potentially obstruct the effective implementation of these recommendations. Few key challenges are cited below:

  • The report has recognized the offence of marital rape. But how many women would report cases of marital rape in India remains to be seen. In India, where women face hurdles to report cases of rape that are being committed by perpetrators who are strangers to the victims, they are even less likely to speak against their husbands due to social stigma.
  • The Committee had invited suggestions from the public servants and the civil society for formulating effective recommendations. But there was no response from even a single DGP in India. This shows a stark reality. Reforms in the any kind of criminal law cannot happen unless complementary police reforms are implemented. The challenge is to evolve the Indian police to make them provide important policy suggestions based on their hands-on experience.
  • The recommendation of harsher punishments for sexual offenders is more than welcome but it remains to be seen how the rate of conviction can be increased when the perpetrators have socio-political clout as was in the Priyadarshini Mattoo case.
  • In conflict zones, the challenge is more infrastructural than legal. Even though the Armed Forces Special Protection Act (AFSPA) is amended, it needs to be ensured that victims in conflict zones have access to faster courts and have the required resources (like money, lawyers and the safety to go out of their homes) to seek justice.
  • The report recommends that all marriages need to be registered in front of a magistrate. But in India, religious dogmas still run deep and marriages are done according to religious laws. Patriarchal societies do not encourage granting property rights to women and hence the number of registered marriages in such societies remains low. This creates a myriad of issues as in the Shah Bano case.
  • Family members are often involved in trafficking of children in India. When family members are themselves involved in such crimes, the probability of such incidents being reported reduces considerably.
  • The report has recommended scrapping the ‘two-finger test’ for rape victims. However, since the criminal law is still under discussion, alternate tests are yet to be used as a forensic tool. Additionally, since India has very few female doctors, even the two-finger tests are conducted by male doctors; rape victims have repeatedly reported that the way these doctors conduct the tests adds to the trauma and humiliation. The development of relevant medical infrastructure is a key challenge here.

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