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MENAFN - Arab News - 03/02/2013

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(MENAFN - Arab News) As expected, the Indian government failed to resist itself from playing to the gallery on the question of evolving a strong anti-rape statute after the horrific gang rape of a physiotherapy student in the national capital.

By bringing a diluted ordinance sans the radical portion of Justice Jagdish Sharan Verma panel's report and choosing to align with the populist demand of capital punishment for rarest of rare cases, Manmohan Singh's government has quietly ensured that nothing will change in this country the way civil society desires.

Rather, his government seems to be more eager in leaving some subtle loopholes for the high and mighty offenders to exploit in avoiding prosecutions. Focusing on cosmetic changes in the criminal law and pushing up the standard of "proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt" will only render the entire process inconsequential and of little wider benefit.

Any implementation of laws is as good as those executing the provisions. The present dispensation's superficial attempt of revolutionizing anti-gender crime statute exposes their reluctance in reforming the crucial implementation process that includes the urgent necessity of putting a leash on state machinery - the plinth of a country's legal superstructure. Instead the government used Justice Verma's shoulder for embarking upon an image restoration exercise.

Unfortunately, this nation has been a mute witness to many such path-breaking reports gathering dust in archives as no political parties shows any real intent of breaking the status quo. Verma panel's clinically analyzed observations might meet the same fate as politicians of all hues are likely to engage in tokenism for nurturing public sentiment to gain electoral mileage out of this sensitive issue in a pre-general election year. Such misgiving arises from the confusing stance adopted by those who wield authoritative powers in these trying times when women and girls are getting violated in some corner of India every single day.

Justice Verma, respected for his probity and plain-speaking, has severely criticized the law enforcement agencies at the state and central level for failing to implement the provisions enshrined in the statute book without fear or favor. As the legal luminary rightly pointed out, the anger of the young generation should have shaken the slothful system out of slumber. But then the product of his hard work seems to have fallen in wrong hands. Officials of the ministry, who appointed him, are now busy plotting a cover-up to ensure an unceremonious entombment of the panel report in tandem with their political masters.

The report has come under intense criticism from the security establishment too for seeking an end to the differential treatment meted out to members of the Indian armed forces in conflict zones and the Law Minister Ashwani Kumar dropped clear hints of continuing to provide them with state immunity, whatever the gravity of the crime one might have committed in the line of duty.

True, the possibility of occasional specious complaints being lodged against service men deployed in disturbed areas is a reality; but that alone cannot undermine the disturbing trend of offenders in uniform easily getting away with serious sexual crimes as the conviction rate in such cases is pathetically low. Hopefully, an independent judicial board comprising adjudicators of impeccable personality is set up to adjudicate cases related to offenses committed by army and paramilitary personnel in the front line. One must realize that it is an infringement of the principles of natural justice when the same system, providing a protecting shield to the accused in the form of legal statute, is asked to administer justice to the victim.

There are a lot of talks about the men in uniform feeling short changed by Verma committee's unique "breach of command responsibility" formula. But it is time that senior officials concede gracefully that frustratingly extended deployment schedules in counter-insurgency grids makes an individual vulnerable to misconduct. Deprived of spending quality time with family, a soldier is often lured by his animal instinct to engage in immoral act for relieving stress. Simultaneously, it is also incumbent on the security apparatus to reorient its basic training programs so that foot soldiers representing the Indian state at home and abroad are not found wanting in upholding the highest moral standard.

At a time when a large majority of the population is giving vent to their frustration because the Indian state - a non-performing behemoth has failed them - the society and the administration must join hands to preserve the essence of democracy in the world's largest democratic nation. The Verma committee has given a clarion call for de-hyphenating police from politics thus premising its hallowed suggestions on the indispensability of a neutral law enforcer in achieving good governance.

Justice Verma wanted the concept of "allegiance to the rule of law" be imbibed in every officials dealing with security related matter whose only accountability should remain vested in the constitution and not the government or party in power.

Let us move a step further to seek far-reaching amendments in the functioning of the three branches of executive, judiciary and legislature while affirming the sanctity of trias politica doctrine.

The learned Verma committee members' burning of the midnight oil will be vindicated if only this nation ends up confronting the scourge of moral degradation unitedly, rising above vested interests and petty politics. Else, we will continue to hang our heads in shame over incidents like that of a police official accused of violent sexual assault on an innocent woman getting feted for bravery by the President on the occasion of celebrating the foundation of Indian constitution.


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