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Scars run deep

Two years on from the horrific events of 16 December, 2012, little has changed on the ground. Women in the national capital continue to live under perpetual fear for their safety. Although, the events led to a nationwide conversation against the larger dynamic of gender violence in the country and emboldened women to file sexual assault complaints on a much wider scale, the state machinery has done little to improve the infrastructure required to enhance safety.

However, before looking into the failures of the state machinery, it is imperative to understand what has changed. In the event of the gang-rape incident, the government set up the Justice JS Verma Committee to examine existing laws dealing with sexual violence and propose amendments. In a record 29 days, the committee came up with a comprehensive of 631-page report that changed the entire official discourse on gender violence in this country. Key elements of the report were soon translated into the passage of a new legislation in 2013, where punishments for sex crimes were strengthened, including death for repeat rape offenders.

The law also expanded the definition of sexual assault by covering violations such as stalking, eve-teasing, lewd expressions and voyeurism.

The government, however, chose to ignore some of the seminal points in Justice Verma Committee report. Therein lies the tale of some horribly missed opportunities to holistically deal with gender violence. Under the Indian Penal Code, marital rape is still not covered by ordinary rape laws and remains a form of non-criminal domestic violence. The committee had strongly recommended the need for reform in this domain. Besides marital rape, the committee also recommended that sexual violence perpetuated by the military should come under the purview of ordinary criminal law, something that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act does not allow.

The report also recommended the urgent implementation of child-sensitive sex education in school curricula to ease the transition of young minds towards adulthood. Unfortunately, the state apparatus continues to stay away from such seemingly touchy issues. Coming back to the national capital, hundreds of stretches continue to remain unlit, numerous metro station are without auto-rickshaws or taxis outside at night and not enough buses ply during evening rush hours, despite a Rs 10 billion government fund named after the rape victim. The state machinery has continued to deny the freedom of movement for women in the city. Incidents such as the Uber rape case would not have occurred had the committee’s recommendation to thoroughly screen public transport vehicles, been followed in earnest.
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