NEW DELHI: Underlying the recommendations made by the Verma Committee is a new charter of rights for sexual offence victims. The extent to which these legal rights are actually conferred on women, through statutory amendments, will determine the degree to which India is a liberal society combating patriarchy and gender violence.
While the "Bill of Rights" appended to the report declares abstract principles concerning women, the unstated charter, which has been gleaned by TOI from the amendments proposed by the committee, can make the difference more directly, as these rights are inherently backed by criminal sanctions.
Consider the 10 new rights envisaged by the Verma Committee for sexual offence victims:
* Right against marital rape even if the wife is above 15 years of age. Currently, marital rape is punishable only when it is committed against an underage wife below 15. Proposed caveat: "Consent will not be presumed in the event of an existing marital relationship between the complainant and the accused."
* Right of private defence, to the point of killing a man if there is reasonable cause for apprehending grievous hurt from an acid attack. This is in addition to the existing right to kill somebody involved in an assault with the intention of committing rape or gratifying unnatural lust.
* Right against voyeurism: She can seek prosecution of somebody who, without her consent, watches her engage in a private act where her "genitals, buttocks or breasts are exposed or covered only in underwear" or she is "using a lavatory" or she is "doing a sexual act that is not of a kind ordinarily done in public". Such an offender may be punished with imprisonment up to three year for the first conviction and up to seven years for a subsequent conviction.
* Right against stalking: She can lodge a case against somebody who follows and contacts her "despite a clear indication of disinterest" by her. Such an offender may be thrown behind bars for one to three years.
* Right to call it a rape even if she did not offer "actual physical resistance to the act of penetration". The victim cannot for this reason alone be regarded as consenting to the sexual activity as there might be other reasons for non-resistance, according to a clarification sought to be introduced in the rape provision.
* Right to call it a rape even if there was no penile-vaginal penetration. A wide range of sexual acts involving "penetration of the vagina or anus or urethra to any extent" by any part of the man's body or any object manipulated by him are proposed to be brought under the definition of rape.
* Right to silence over her "character" or "her previous sexual experience with any person". Evidence related to either of these personal issues "shall not be relevant" to determining the defence of consent in the entire gamut of rape, molestation or sexual harassment cases.
* Right to seek prosecution of the police officer who does not register an FIR on a complaint of rape, molestation or sexual harassment (eve-teasing). Such an errant officer will be liable to imprisonment up to five years.
* Right of exemption from government's sanction to seek prosecution of a member of the armed forces for a sexual offence, in disturbed areas governed by the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act ( AFSPA). Normally no public servant can be prosecuted for any offence without the previous sanction of the government.
* Right to invoke the principle of command responsibility under which senior officers of the police or armed forces are proposed to be held accountable for sexual offences committed by their subordinates.