The Ministry of Home Affairs has constituted a five-member committee to suggest reforms in the criminal laws of the country. This reform committee, headed by Ranbir Singh, the Vice-Chancellor of National Law University (NLU) Delhi also comprises 4 other members including GS Bajpai, incumbent registrar of NLU Delhi; Balraj Chauhan, Vice-Chancellor of NLU Jabalpur; Mahesh Jethmalani, senior advocate at Bombay High Court; and former judge GP Thareja, former additional sessions judge in Delhi.
The committee is required to recommend amendments to the three statutes that govern India’s criminal justice system — the Indian Penal Code, 1860; the Code of Criminal Procedure,1973; and the Indian Evidence Act,1872. The composition of the committee has drawn a lot of criticism primarily on the ground of lack of diversity in representation.
The Disband the Committee initiative has been started to educate people about this committee and encourage them to disband it due to the blatant lack of representation. The members of the committee, without exemption, represent the high caste male segment of the society, the most privileged in an inherently patriarchal society.
Why is the #Committee given such a humanly impossible period to finish its review of ALL criminal laws in India? #DisbandtheCommittee #notthisway @AmitShahOffice,@JethmalaniM @PIBHomeAffairs pic.twitter.com/TQKPiqNlKS
— Disband the Criminal Law Reform Committee! (@citizensspeakup) October 8, 2020
This segment will be making laws on mob lynching when it is the minorities that are often on the receiving side of this harassment.
This segment will be speaking for all the other segments and the nation will be forced to resort to hoping that the committee is empathetic to the cause of all that it represents – the needs of 1.3 billion people – as diverse as they come.
Laws on sexual offences, which form a considerable segment of the reforms that are being considered, will be made without a woman in the decision-making body. 48% of our population comprises females and yet not a single woman has a significant say in the decision-making body.
The transgender community also find no representation in the committee.
About 70% of our population falls out of the scope of ‘high caste’ that is the sole representative in the committee. 19.5% of the population in India belongs to religions other than Hinduism. This is the population that faces the brunt of discrimination and is often at the risk of mob lynchings. This is the very segment that finds no seat at the table.
The committee comes into being at a time when the world struggles to secure the bare minimum to survive. The outreach of the committee has been so dismal that a significant population is left out of the loop. 3 out of the five judges have spent the majority of their lives in the national capital which comprises 1.35% of the entire population.
I understand that it is not practically possible to represent every city in the committee. However, Delhi is the rare infrastructurally sound metropolitan urban cities of India. The bulk of India lives in the rural underdeveloped towns and villages where a significant number of sexual offences and hate crimes occur. Our perspective at the decision-making level cannot be restricted to one of privilege.
While the judges are capable of gaining insight on all perspectives and ideally should, with no effective voice at the table, democracy is restricted to hope as their only option, hope that the committee does justice. Many reputed members of the legal fraternity including former Supreme Court Justice, Aftab Alam and women lawyer groups have spoken against the dismal representation of the committee.
Many activists have joined the Disband the Committee initiative and raised their voice for an accurate representation of democracy in the body that governs some of the most important legal frameworks of the country. The terms of reference of the committee have not been made public and lack of transparency and secrecy govern the process of a long-awaited reform.