ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Rights, Recognition and Rape

The Justice Verma Committee has highlighted the urgent need for establishing the rule of law and good governance, and has also sought to address the roots of social and gender inequality in the country. There is a need to address structural inequalities that perpetrate and perpetuate violence, such as rape, and for women's rights to have both political and social legitimacy.

Despite the mass public outrage and protest over the recent brutal gang rape and tragic death in Delhi, rapes and attacks on women across the country remain unabated. As Flavia Agnes (“No Shortcuts on Rape: Make the Legal System Work”, EPW, 12 January 2013) has pointed out, there are no shortcuts as regards rape, and the legal system has to work in ways that are accountable to the women of this country. Impunity can no longer be tolerated. While suggesting some sweeping changes in the law, the Justice Verma Committee too has highlighted the urgent need for establishing the rule of law and good governance. Challenging the patriarchal framework that seeks “protection” of women, the committee’s report stands by and clearly rearticulates the constitutional vision of equality of all citizens of the country before law – rich and poor, men and women, and people of different castes and ethnicities. It seeks to address the roots of social inequality in the country, with gender equality being the particular case in point here.

While there is, no doubt, need for further legal and police reform, over the last 30 years women’s movements have succeeded in securing a fairly comprehensive legal framework for the protection of women from different forms of violence, including the prohibition of dowry, female foeticide, and more recently domestic violence. Yet, violence remains pervasive across all sections of Indian society, both in the privacy of the home and in public spaces of work and leisure. The Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Bill has yet to be finally enacted by Parliament. Though the plethora of laws and policies do give a semblance of political and legal legitimacy to gender equality and women’s rights, with their implementation being poor across the board, substantive equality remains a far cry. How can we understand this divergence between law and practice?

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