January 22, 2013

In Tribute to Prof. Durgadas Banerjea

Professor D Banerjea, as he is popularly known, was one of the founding fathers of National University of Juridical Sciences. He taught criminal law in NUJS and was also the then Coordinator of the School of Criminal Justice and Administration. He left NUJS in early 2008. A page on Orkut dedicated to Professor Banerjea reads follows:  

"His long career in studying and teaching criminal law is unparalleled. Having taught most of the senior IPS officers in the country, he commands immense amount of respect from people from different walks of life, including government officials, academicians, legal personalities, activists. He is undoubtedly the most respected teacher in our NUJS family. This is the community for the people who admire him."

 I requested Prof. Askand Pandey to say a few words and share his experiences with Prof. Banerjea so that our readers know more and understand better about this illumining personality. Prof. Askand Pandey - who was a part of NUJS in the initial years - is presently teaching at RMNLU.

His message to me is pasted below:

"Professor D. Banerjea Sir's death has saddened everyone who knew him. I first saw him in the Selection Committee interviews, where I was a candidate for lectureship and he was one of the Members of the august panel which also included Prof. M.P. Singh (who later became the VC of NUJS) and Prof. Pillai, and few others. Fortunately, I got the opportunity to work with him for two years between 2004-2006. 

Professor Banerjea was a father figure to all the young faculty members who looked up to him for inspiration and encouragement and he always did in style. He was a judge-turned-academic and loved teaching to the hilt. For many many years, he was one of the popular and respected professors in the Adiministrative Training Academy at Mussourie and has brilliant disciples as IAS officers in every part of the country. 

I received his blessings throughout and he had sensed my interest in criminal justice system, even when in NUJS I was teaching subjects such as Banking Law; Science, Tech &Law; Media Law, Biotech Law. Though technically, i was part of a different school in NUJS, he involved me in many projects, seminars and workshops organised by the School For Criminal Justice Administration (SCJA). Prof. Banerjea used latest pedagogy and technology in his classes and thereby setting an example for the young teachers.

I feel myself privileged to have had a mentor like Prof. D. Banerjea in the early days of my career. We had promised to meet each other, after I left NUJS. Alas! That would remain a promise unkept. May his soul rest in peace."

Thank you Prof. Pandey for this beautiful note. 



January 21, 2013

India ready to deal with crime against women?

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Of the many voices among the crowd in New Delhi calling for justice for the girl who succumbed to a brutal gang rape on December 30 last year were also the voices of those who questioned the sincerity of the government in dealing with the long-pending Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill introduced in the winter session of the Parliament. The Bill, developed and informed by the recommendations of the Law Commission and National Commission for Women, seeks to introduce markedly new changes in the criminal justice system in general and the law on sexual crimes in particular. But the question is this: why did the Government not call for a special session of the Parliament after having missed to deliberate on the Bill in December last year? The answer lies in the Bill itself. The Bill replaces the existing notion of men-on-women rape with that of a more westernized concept of gender-neutral ‘sexual assault’. The crime of ‘sexual assault’, as introduced in the Bill, is not restricted to penile-vaginal or penile-non-vaginal sexual acts but includes penetration with any object or objects. So, if the Bill passes muster in the Parliament, the law will be such that any ‘person’ irrespective of gender could be a perpetrator, survivor, or victim of sexual crimes.

Before going any further, it is imperative to note the objectives with which the Bill was pursued in the first place. The issue of definitional deficiencies in rape law was constantly being taken up by several women rights movements since the early 1990s, which got momentum when the Supreme Court after entertaining a petition in 1997 from Sakshi – a non-governmental organization – requested the Law Commission to address, among others, the issue of non-penile penetration. Alongside, huge protests and public outcry by members of the LGBT community and their supporters attracted the nation’s attention to instances of ever-rising male sexual victimization. The law criminalizing consensual sexual intercourse between men which was largely seen as an arrest weapon in the hands of the police against the members of the LGBT community was also partly read down by the Delhi High Court in 2009. In light of the above, the Bill had to take into account the following two considerations: (a) the law on rape must not be restricted to penile-penetration, and; (b) any kind of sexual crime must be made gender-neutral to acknowledge male sexual victimization. And this, in essence, is what the Bill in its present form aspires for.

But the demise of the gang rape victim sparked more anger than sympathy. Meanwhile, Abhijit Mukherjee and some other politicians tried to demean the anti-rape protests and the anger got fuelled again. The media led by young and passionate journalists ran headlines continuously; some embracing the length and intensity of the massive, motley crowd whereas others engaging in constructive debates on who should take responsibility for that fateful incident. India has witnessed in several television channels, perhaps for the first time, the nature of accusations leveled against the senior police officials and some of the non-functioning politicians. India has also witnessed how some of the public servants came forward to willingly accept those accusations and that the media is still hands on with the others. In short, protestors in New Delhi and elsewhere have proclaimed an emergency on the Government. The implications of this citizens’ emergency on the government will be doubly catastrophic than the proclamation of emergency by the government on the citizens’. We will witness more protests on the streets; there will be a relentless trial by the media; and the government will be incapable to restore peoples’ faith in it.

Sitting on the Bill in this anti-government environment is a mistake too costly for the government to make. New Delhi is still not over the masculine brutality which sent the brave girl to die after spending almost half a month under mechanical ventilation in a hospital. In this turmoil, the government was unlikely to find it appropriate, and rightly so, to suggest that such an incident could also happen to men and, therefore, it finds it important to remove gender dimensions when referring to ‘rape’. Also, it would be extremely difficult to justify the retention of the provision on marital rape for women of all age, and any special treatment given to men who sexually assault their estranged wives will be put to a harsh public ordeal. Therefore, before starting to discuss the Bill the government is likely to get down to identify and understand the demands of the protestors, and the ways in which an effective legislation can be crafted to meet those demands without stifling the practical application of the law.