The Justice J.S. Verma Committee, which was constituted by the government following the brutal gang-rape and subsequent death of a 23 year old woman in New Delhi on December 16, 2012, and the nation-wide agitations that followed demanding that the government take stern steps to prevent crimes against women, released its recommendations on January 23, 2013.
For a fortnight and more after the gruesome crime, women and men all over the country and particularly in the city of Delhi came on to the streets in thousands, condemning the government for its utter lack of responsibility in ensuring security of women. They condemned the cynical attitude and backward views of politicians of various hues and other individuals, which were being given wide publicity in order to undermine the popular struggle. While the police and the Delhi government tried their best to give themselves a ‘clean chit’, the agitations continued with swelling numbers. This clearly shows that people have lost faith in the government and its false promises. Under immense public pressure, the government was forced to constitute the Verma Committee. This Committee has acknowledged that in a short span of three weeks, it received nearly 80,000 suggestions from various organizations of the people. This fact alone reveals the widespread concern and terrible anger of our people at the refusal of the state to ensure security of one half of the population.
The Verma Committee report has held the government and state machinery squarely responsible for its failure to prevent crimes against women and recommended various stern measures that must be implemented in order to ensure the safety of women.
Among others, it has recommended that “armed forces and security personnel should not be given protection under the AFSPA if they commit sexual offences against women.”
It has recommended that a new clause be inserted in the Indian Penal Code – offence of breach of command responsibility. The clause is as follows. “If a public servant in command, control or supervision of police or armed forces fails to exercise control over persons under him or her, and as a result of such failure sexual crimes are committed, then the officer will be held guilty of the offence of breach of command responsibility.” It prescribes rigorous imprisonment of 7-10 years for this.
In addition, it states that “every policeman is bound to obey the law and any order of a superior officer, which is contrary to the law, is no defence for his illegal action, which may be a punishable offence. Accordingly, any political interference or extraneous influence in the performance of the statutory duty by a policeman cannot be condoned.”
The Verma Committee has recommended “disqualifying politicians from contesting polls once the court takes cognizance of cases against them” pertaining to sexual crimes.
It has also recommended that the government set up a tribunal to investigate cases of sexual harassment in the workplace, in the corporate private sector.
Most of the recommendations of the committee have been immediately opposed by this or that section of the ruling establishment.
IPS and paramilitary officers have objected to the clause of “offence of breach of command responsibility”, on the grounds that they do not have control over the actions of personnel under their command. The major political parties in parliament, the Congress and the BJP, as well as retired Generals of the Armed Forces have opposed the recommendation that “armed forces and security personnel should not be given protection under the AFSPA if they commit sexual offences”, under the pretext that these forces are operating in special circumstances and are ‘victims of terror’. Almost all political parties have objected to the recommendation of “disqualifying politicians from contesting polls once the court takes cognizance of cases against them”, saying that these politicians be disqualified from contesting in elections only if proven guilty. Big corporate houses have objected to the setting up of a government tribunal to investigate cases of sexual harassment of women in their companies. Prominent spokespersons of the government have indicated that the government will in all probability not implement any of the major recommendations of the Verma Committee.
The invoking of command responsibility has been a long-standing demand of people across the country. Our party, together with many other people’s organizations, has repeatedly pointed out that in cases of state-organised communal and sectarian violence or state organized violence targeting definite sections of the people, the police and security forces who are supposed to protect the people are the ones who commit or abet the most heinous crimes against the people, including crimes of rape and sexual assault. The principle of command responsibility is therefore absolutely essential in order to ensure punishment of the guilty. It is precisely because this principle has not been invoked so far that such state organized crimes go unpunished and are repeated with alarming impunity. How can we accept that an officer in command has no control over the actions of the personnel working under him? This is nothing but a flimsy argument to allow the state forces who commit some of the worst crimes against women to get away with their crimes.
It is well known that under the AFSPA the armed forces enjoy immunity to inflict all kinds of torture on people, including mass rape, as in Kashmir, Manipur and other northeastern states. Through AFSPA, blatant state terror is imposed on the people in these areas which have been permanently declared “disturbed areas”. The demand for revoking the AFSPA has been a long-standing demand of our people, which our rulers continue to deny. How can rape, sexual assault and other forms of bestial torture be justified in any civilized society, in the name of “fighting terror”?
It is also a well known fact that MPs and MLAs of various political parties commit crimes against women, which are never even fully investigated, let alone punished. In fact, there is a long list of such crimes committed in just the past two or three decades, where there is no doubt as to who the perpetrator was. Immense pressure is put on the investigating agencies, including threat to the lives of those who try to bring the facts out in the open, to cover up these crimes.
As far as sexual harassment at the workplace is concerned, a majority of such cases go unreported for fear of the victims losing their livelihood or facing other forms of victimization, and even those that are reported are rarely punished. In most private companies there are not even any formal mechanisms to address such cases, and the perpetrators of such crimes, the big corporate bosses, go scot-free.
It is thus obvious that while the Verma Committee has made many recommendations in resonance with the demands of the people, the forces who are opposing these are precisely those who control the state and wield political power in our society today, i.e. the ruling bourgeoisie and the political parties who serve their interests, as well as state functionaries who carry out their behest.
The struggle to ensure that the state takes effective steps to protect the rights and dignity of women, which has seen a huge upsurge in recent weeks, must be taken forward.
The people must have no illusion that the ruling class, the government, the ruling politicians, the bureaucracy, police and armed forces, the judiciary are going to have an about face and actually take measures to ensure the security and dignity of women. It must be always remembered that sexual violence against women is part of the official policy of the ruling class to crush the struggles of the people and to maintain their rule.
Therefore our Party clearly tells women and men who want to ensure the dignity and safety and rights of women that it is the people who have take this problem up for solution and we cannot rely on the state to solve this problem. Therefore, we must organize ourselves into samitis in our residential areas and work places. We must build these as organs to empower the women and men and fight for our rights and dignity. We must build a powerful countrywide network of samitis which will be in the forefront of defending human rights, including the right of women to dignity and security. At the same time, through public manifestations of thousands of people, we must continue to demand of those in power that those guilty of crimes against women receive the harshest punishment, whatever be their official position, so that this serves as an effective deterrent to any such crimes in the future.