Delhi is set to become the first state to implement the recommendations of the Justice J S Verma Committee, constituted after the December 2012 gangrape in the national capital, by inviting consultations on its draft bill on women’s rights.
The Charter of the Women’s Rights Bill, 2015, which the Delhi Dialogue Commission (DDC) placed in the public domain on Wednesday, also makes Delhi the first state to take a policy decision that specifies equality before the law for every woman, “irrespective of her sexual orientation.”
The charter of the Bill is divided into eight chapters. The third chapter that pertains to Right to Life, Security and Bodily Integrity states that every woman, among other things, is entitled to “the right to exercise complete autonomy in personal relationships including with respect to her choice of partners.”
Chapter five, which refers to equality and non-discrimination, also states, “Every woman, irrespective of her sexual orientation, shall have the right to equality before the law and equal protection of all the laws.”
The DDC, while framing the draft, consulted a number of stakeholders, including a team of lawyers that represented the Justice J S Verma Committee.
“The charter of the Bill has drawn inspiration from the recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee. The Constitution of India grants protection against discrimination on grounds of gender but this is the first time that a government has taken an active policy decision or even framed a clear policy granting protection under the law irrespective of sexual orientation,” said a lawyer who was consulted by the DDC.
The lawyer added that by inviting public consultations on the charter of the Women’s Rights Bill, the Delhi government had taken a “great first step”, but it still had a long way to go.
The Justice Verma Committee report on amendments to criminal law — submitted on January 23, 2013 — had stated, “If human rights of freedom mean anything, India cannot deny the citizens the right to be different. The state must not use oppressive and repressive labeling of despised sexuality. Thus the right to sexual orientation is a human right guaranteed by the fundamental principles of equality. We must also add that transgender communities are also entitled to an affirmation of gender autonomy. Our cultural prejudices must yield to constitutional principles of equality, empathy and respect.”
The DDC will invite consultations and suggestions on the draft over the next four weeks, government officials said.
The draft bill also enlists a woman’s right to privacy, the state’s responsibility to “protect and rehabilitate” survivors of trafficking, no discrimination in public or private employment and no discrimination on grounds of pregnancy. The draft bill also states, “No personal law shall bar any woman from taking advantage of any civil law which is in terms more advantageous to her.”
Underlining the need for safe public transport, the draft bill states, “Every woman shall have access to public transport facilities without fear of the risk of violation of her dignity in any form by means of teasing, molestation, stalking or any other form of threatening behaviour.”
The draft bill also speaks of giving more teeth to the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) by granting it the powers of a civil court and enabling it to grant compensation in case of gross violation of any rights, summoning individuals and requisitioning public records.