Following public outcry, Justice JS Verma Committee was appointed by central government, which came up with recommendations on amendments to criminal law. In a short period of thirty days, the committee created a commendable work of over 600 pages (read full text).
Several important points come out in this report, which primarily and correctly holds it a failure of governance and administration as responsible for the rise in crime in the country. The primary recommendations such as 20 year imprisonment for rapists are appropriate and show the refined and seasoned judicial expert that the justice is. Meticulously, it does not recommend death penalty for rapist in spite of populist opinion and center trying to pass an ordinance. As some writers observed, equating rape to murder charge and exercising death penalty would mean the qualifying evidence should be higher, and also increases the possibility of actual murder following the rape.
However keeping in mind the wide scope of the subject and short time in which the report is created, a few things need notice –
- It is a sensitive but emotional as it goes much into the general topic of violence against women, much in lines of the way lay protestors did. In a way it just plays into the present popular mood.
- The report does not however, while blaming governance and policing for general rise in crime, go into the general level of security and crime control in the society – whose news is also abundant of late but does not form the scope of the report. Child abuse for instance is the other burning issue which is equally important and comes under crime control. Instead the report goes into peripheral topics like marital rape.
- The other side of child abuse namely juvenile crime issue is virtually not addressed.
Besides, the report when seen from the bigger perspective of society’s larger interests, a few trends emerge.
Spirituality and Judiciary
The report comments on gender bias in the society and points to spiritual leaders –
“spiritual gurus with large followingsand other eminent persons
have been makingstatements reinforcing the gender bias”
and quotes Sri Asaram Bapu as a “worst example” (P11 of full report). This is not the first time that a judge has given a negative reference to Hindu spiritual leaders or personalities. A few years ago SC bench gave a wrong reference to Radha-Krishna relation as pre-marital. This is a disconcerting trend not merely because of negative or inappropriate references, but for more serious reasons. The judiciary is usually held in high esteem for the level of knowledge and objectivity of the legal luminaries. This means they know their awareness as well as limitations and are judicious in the example they are quoting and setting. Such references however show the unfortunate trend of falling standards, both in terms of rigorous objectivity as well as in terms of the knowledge and sensibility of these learned men towards traditional Hinduism.
The scope of judiciary and police is mostly around curtailing uncivilized and criminal tendencies in the society, and thus ensuring a peaceful and civilized social life of individuals. However neither of these by their role are active promoters of what constitutes a civilized life. Given that our present education system is proxy-colonial and hardly contributes to teaching high civil and moral standards of living, it is the spiritual system that is fulfilling this timely need of the society. Therefore it is all the more unfortunate that the former do not understand and appreciate the role of the latter.
When blaming the likes of Asaram Bapu, we need to understand that he is a spiritual leader, who guides people on how to help things that are in their hands, how to tune their behavior to make life happier, and how to not interfere with things that do not belong to them. To emphasize on the good conscience is inherent in the words of such a man, which are framed to drive the point into the minds of his audience. Legal terms like crime and punishment do not form the context of such discourse, as much as the principles of action. Appealing to the good conscience of the offender forms an important part of developing non-violent life style, and an inherent part of any oriental spiritual discipline. This is exactly the line of argument Asaram Bapu took, is a well-known strategy that is not unique to him. Bhishma, Gandhi, Mandela – you have innumerable examples of people who adopted this strategy. While the media is largely illiterate about Hindu spirituality, it is not becoming of a person of Justice JS Verma’s level of experience to dub this line of argument as gender bias.
The report does not advocate bringing down the juvenile age. For the argument that juveniles who knew they were committing crime might come out free and only harden as criminals, the logical solution is not bringing down juvenile age but the provision to prosecute and punish juveniles in case of serious crimes.
The Hindu legal code handles the juvenile case in a more mature way. As per smritis 12-14 years is the age under which people cannot be prosecuted or punished for any crime. Beyond that it is the seriousness of crime that determines whether one can be punished. The Mahabharata story in which Yama was cursed and incarnated as Vidura for having punished a boy for the offense he did below the age of 12 is interesting to note here. (However the Hindu legal code factors in not merely age but the concept of sin or the impression on conscience to determine crime and punishment, which is a more complex topic). US have a similar law that puts 14 as an absolute minimum.
But the more important part is how the juveniles are treated in case of less serious crimes. In case of a living and strong society, most of these excesses are self-corrected. This is how the Hindu society is designed, and this is how it works in most cases. The scope of self-correction without branding people as abnormal, whether it is in case of juvenile homes or lunatic asylums, and handling only the extreme cases with severity is inherent in the Hindu society. This kind of self-regulation to a good extent is visible even today – many offended people who ideally can approach law, restrain by forgiving and letting that scope of correction. And in majority cases it works – people do come back on track. And in case of juveniles it is easier because their minds are impressionable, and when parents and well-wishers show them the right inspiring examples change is easier. Law becomes always a last resort in India, something that comes into picture not after individual failure but after the case is beyond social self-regulation and self-correction.
While the report goes into man-woman equality issue elaborately, it runs into the same western model of explanation that we have discussed in the previous parts. In parts there is a candid acceptance of tradeoff between equality and justice. However it is queer that gender equality assumes a different shade than other forms of equality. All said and done, Indian law does not does not go as much by equality in many respects. In some cases as caste it aims to achieve justice by temporarily allowing unequal treatment until the underprivileged groups come on par. In some cases like religion it under privileges tolerant groups and over privileges intolerant groups with no moral justification. This means that the constitution is meant to be changed with time and situation and does not contain a permanently justified law.
Overall the report while making some good observations and recommendations, and serves the primary purpose of a best possible recommendation as regards the rape law under the given circumstances. It also rightly identifies the cause of crime as the failure of governance. However when considering the general take on crime and women, it gives us a feeling that its main intention is to placate the public rage – to be specific the media-feminist rage.