Archive for February 25, 2013

In memoriam: Lotika Sarkar 1923 – 2013

Lotika Sarkar

Saluting Professor Lotika Sarkar who fought to make the country’s laws uphold gender justice and women’s rights

By Vibhuti Patel

Professor Lotika Sarkar who played a central role in several path-breaking and crucial legislations for gender justice and empowerment of women during 1975-2005, passed away at the age of 90 on 23rd February 2013. In the women’s rights movement, she was known as Lotikadee.

When other stalwarts of women’s studies touched our hearts with inspirational speeches in the women’s movement gatherings, Lotikadee floored us with her legal acumen. The first Indian woman to graduate from Cambridge, Dr. Lotika Sarkar was the first woman to join the law faculty at the University of Delhi. She taught Criminal law and was a mainstay of the Indian Law Institute, Delhi during 1980s and 1990s. She was a member of the Government of India’s Committee on the Status of Women in India and a founding member of several institutions—the Indian Association for Women Studies (IAWS) and the Centre for Women‘s Development Studies (CWDS).

Lotikadee was in the peak of her career, when she was asked to join Committee on Status of Women in India, 1972 that prepared Towards Equality Report, 1974. As a pioneer in the fields of law, women’s studies and human rights, she prepared the chapter on laws concerning women in the Status of Women’s Committee Report with gender sensitivity and analytical clarity to promote women’s rights.

Along with three law professors of Delhi University – Prof. Upendra Baxi, Prof. Kelkar, Dr. Vasudha Dhagamwar, Lotikadee wrote the historic Open Letter to the Chief Justice of India in 1979, challenging the judgment of the apex court on the Mathura rape case. I remember cutting stencil and making copies on our cyclostyling machine of the 4-page long letter for wider circulation. Translation of this letter into Gujarati and Hindi served as a crash course in understanding the nuances of criminal justice system, rape laws and sexual violence as the weapon to keep women in a perpetual state of terrorization, intimidation and subjugation. It resulted in birth of the first feminist group against rape in January, 1980 – Forum Against Rape.

In 1980, along with Dr. Veena Mazumdar, Lotikadee founded Centre for Women’s Development Studies. When Lotikadee came to Mumbai for the first Conference on Women’s Studies in April, 1981 at SNDT women’s University, we, young feminists were awe-struck! Ideological polarization in this conference was extremely volatile. Lotikadee’s commitment to the left movement did not prevent her from interacting meaningfully with liberals, free-thinkers and also the new-left like me. Indian Association of Women’s Studies was formed in this gathering. In the subsequent conferences, Lotikadee attracted innumerable legal luminaries to IAWS.

At the initiative of her students, Amita Dhanda and Archana Parashar, a volume of Essays, Engendering Law: in Honour of Lotika Sarkar was published in 1999 by Eastern Book Company, Delhi.

Lotikadee and her journalist husband Shri. Chanchal Sarkar was kind, generous and trusting. After her husband passed away she was under immense trauma and grief. Taking advantage of this situation, her cook and a police officer whose education she and her husband had sponsored, usurped her property and house. Her students, India’s top lawyers and judges mobilized support and signed an open letter studded with such names as Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, Soli Sorabjee, Gopal Subramaniam and Kapila Vatsyayan. Jurists, advocates, academics, bureaucrats, journalists and human rights activists signed the open letter demanding justice for her. Finally, Lotika Sarkar’s property and assets was transferred back to her to allow her to live her life in peaceful serenity, which she so deserved. Lotikadee’s traumatic experience invited serious attention on safeguarding the rights of senior citizens by both state and civil society.

Lotikadee was a conscience keeper not only for policy makers and legal fraternity but also for the women’s studies and women’s movement activists. The most appropriate tribute to Lotikadee is to proactively pursue the mission she started with her team in 1980, to fight against rape and various forms of structural and systemic violence against women and to strive for social justice, distributive justice and gender justice. The resurgence of activism against sexual violence and feminist debate around Justice Verma Commission’s Report as well as Criminal Law (Amendment ) Ordinance, 2013 constantly reminds us of the pioneering work of Lotikadee in terms of creating a strong band of committed and legally aware feminists who are following her footsteps. Let us salute Lotikadee, torchbearer of gender justice by continuing her heroic legacy.

Vibhuti Patel is active in the women’s movement in India since 1972 and currently teaching at SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai.

Suryanelli rape case: 17 years on, the accused are still roaming free

Justice denied

Seventeen years after the fact, a patriarchal society still shrouds the life of the young woman, known as the Suryanelli girl, in pain and anger. This year has shown her a glimmer of justice with the Supreme Court setting aside the High Court verdict of 2005 that acquitted her persecutors

By Prasanna P R

It is almost seven years after, on February 7, 2013, that I am visiting the woman known as the ‘Suryanelli girl’ for the second time. The first time I met with her was in January 2005 just after the controversial Kerala High Court verdict that acquitted 35 of her alleged rapists. This time around, the news is somewhat positive as the Supreme Court on January 31st set aside the Kerala HC ruling and sent the case back to the High Court – thus placing the Suryanelli rape case on the public radar again.

As I enter her house, I realize nothing much has changed in her life. She is still the ‘fallen’ girl for the average Malayali. Her home in Suryanelli having turned into a tourist attraction – the family reports that those who came to Munnar, (a nearby hill station) would make day trips to Suryanelli to see the house of the “Suryanelli girl”- they had to sell their house and shift 150 kms away. This house looks the same as the previous one. Windows shut…curtains drawn… Pain, fear and anger are the emotions I sense here.

The 16-year-old of 1996 is today a 33-year-old government blue collar employee living an isolated life with parents who are in their 70s now. “I have been suffering for the past 17 years, the kind of looks I get the moment people recognize me, I cannot explain in words. Some stare, some make lewd comments, some follow me, some look at me in utter disgust, some point at me and shout to others, look, ‘the Suryanelli girl’,” she says.

Today, the only ‘outing’ she can afford is going to her office. She has no friends. She has not been to a theatre to watch a movie. She doesn’t go to the church in the neighbourhood fearing that the local people would recognize her and prefers the church in the city where anonymity is her security. She worries for herself, she worries for her aging parents and she worries for her older sister who according to the family could not get married because of the so-called social stigma a rape survivor’s family has to carry in their life time. Despite of all these, she is sure of two things; Congress’s high profile leader PJ Kurien was indeed one of her rapists and there is no way she would back off from her case until all her tormentors are brought to justice.

The Suryanelli case was, perhaps, the first incident of sexual violence that managed to shake the collective consciousness of Kerala’s deeply patriarchal society. In Suryanelli, a small settlement in the picturesque Idukki district, a class X student falls in love with a bus conductor. He blackmails her into eloping with him. She is then taken to two people – one of whom is a lawyer, SS Dharmarajan. What follows is gruesome rape and assault by several men in 40 days of captivity. The young girl is so badly drugged and abused that her captors finally let her walk free on February 26, 1996, when they fear she could die of her ill-health. All these while, her postal employee father is running from pillars to post with a missing person complaint.

When the 16-year-old reaches her home, she is in such a state that she cannot even stand up on her feet. “She was so weak, so terrified, she had bruises all over her body and she did not speak a word. She cried so loudly every time she went to the bath room from the pain inflicted by the wounds in her genitals. I could not bear to see what those animals did to my child.” recalls the mother.

All hell broke loose after the girl named Congress leader and then the union minister PJ Kurien (currently the Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairperson) as one amongst the 42 accused. Media and politicians took sides. Some called her a ‘whore’; some said she was a liar and that her allegations were politically motivated.

PJ Kurien-Suryanelli

According to Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairperson P J Kurien, allegations raised are already a settled matter and he has the full support of Congress party -Photo courtesy: The Hindu

As the Congress rallied behind its senior leader, in what could be one of the most controversial verdicts in Kerala’s judicial history, in 2005, the Kerala High Court acquitted the 35 accused who were convicted by a special court earlier. The Division Bench of the High Court comprising Justice K A Abdul Gafoor and Justice R Basant also reduced the sentence of SS Dharmarajan, to a mere 5-years imprisonment. The court observed that the girl didn’t try to escape even though she had opportunities.

Seven years later, in 2013, few days after the Supreme court set aside the HC verdict, a Malayalam TV channel secretly taped former judge R Basant’s statement in a private function that Suryanelli was a case of child prostitution and that he did not believe rape took place. A petition seeking sanction to initiate criminal contempt proceedings against Justice R Basant has been filed before the state Advocate General following the channel telecast.

The Congress leadership continues to stand by its leader even after one of the prime accused SS Dharmarajan revealed in a television interview that he did take PJ Kurien to the girl in 1996. Dharmarajan, absconding since his indictment after jumping bail, was arrested a few days after this interview. The state’s BJP leadership sided with Kurien initially, only to change its stand after Dharamrajan’s revelation.

Last week, sitting MP and Congress leader K Sudhakaran called the Suryanelli survivor ‘a prostitute’. The Congress has only distanced itself from this statement. No disciplinary action has been initiated against the MP.

“Right from the start, I told the police about PJ Kurien. Yet he was excluded from the identification parade. PJ Kurien raped me at the Kumily guest house. I pleaded with him to let me go, but he ignored my cries. I helped the police identify 35 men who raped and assaulted me. Why don’t the police trust me when I say Kurien’s name? Do you really believe I would have the guts to lie about a highly powerful politician like Kurien? I saw his photo in a newspaper after I returned home and I recognized him instantly. Is there no justice in this country?” she asks in anger.

I have no answer to her questions. As I board the bus back home, I wonder how my country is going to end violence against women when we have rapists and kidnappers as our rulers and law makers. Will this country ever trust its women?

Prasanna P R is a journalist living in Kochi, Kerala

Strike! Dance! Rise!, One Billion dares to defy violence

One billion rising Feminists India

By OBR-Karnataka

The brutal gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in Delhi shocked the collective conscience of the country in a way that no other act of violence against women has in recent times. More such incidents increasingly being reported in the press are slowly but relentlessly revealing the ugly underbelly of modern times and its culture of misogyny that violently discriminates against women denying her dignity and autonomy. And many times her life.

Despite their visibility in public life, women from all classes and communities are facing and living with myriad forms of violence. Apart from rapes and sexual violence including sexual harassment in work places, domestic violence and wife murders, abductions, killing of girl children even before they are born; rapes of women from vulnerable communities in times of caste or communal conflict, or by the military and police in conflict areas be it tribal regions, North East or Kashmir; closer home in Mangalore, young girl molested and brutalised on public television by right wing goons in the name of culture; women from the recently razed EWS quarters in Koramangala beaten, dragged out of homes with their children and made homeless and desolate. This violence has many brutal faces.

But we can hear the wind slowly rising. The leaves rustling in the breeze.

There is a quiet revolution that is brewing. Both globally and locally. There are an increasing number of voices all across the world that are saying: Enough is Enough!

The streets of India and even Bangalore particularly after the horrific incident in Delhi last year have come alive with diverse voices that are beginning to speak out against violence against women. Another such voice is the global call for One Billion Rising. A call that has been initiated by playwright and author Eve Ensler to mark that fifteenth anniversary of ‘V-day’, a Global Movement of Grassroots activists in New York City, on February 14, 2013.

The Call for the Day is STRIKE! DANCE! RISE!

A call that groups all over the world are echoing in their own countries in an act of global solidarity. On February 14,there will be 13, 000 organisations in 190 countries around the world holding noisy, energetic events encouraging “activists, writers ,thinkers, celebrities, women and men to strike, dance and rise”. While in South Asia, across eight countries, more than 300 organisations have come together to launch the campaign in their respective regions, in India the One Billion Rising Campaign is being organised in more than 15 states by a wider spectrum of organisations including women’s groups, Dalit groups, human right activists, writers and artistes.

In Bangalore too, a broad coalition of women’s and human rights groups, concerned individuals, educational institutions and youth/professional/theatre groups are coming together in Cubbon Park, between 2.30 to 7.00p.m on February 14, 2013. We invite all those concerned with what is happening to come together and participate through song, dance, street plays, storytelling, poetry reading, painting…. and contribute to strengthening the incredible web of peaceful resistance that can be woven to make violence against women and indeed the violence of all wars, unthinkable.

Come and dare to defy the culture of violence that is consuming us and care to dream of a culture of peace and solidarity that will sustain and humanise us.

Invitation_One Billion Rising India

DELHI RISING!

By OBR-Delhi

In Delhi a cultural event will be organized on 14 February evening 5pm-8pm at Parliament Street. The program will include the performance of a flash mob of over 100 people, a play on VAW by Asmita Theatre followed by an opening speech by Kamla Bhasin, songs by Vidya Shah, a choreographed dance on VAW by students of Kamla Nehru College, a monologue by Lady Shri Ram College student, a skit by Miranda House students, songs by community women and commitments by eminent activists. The evening will end with songs by Vinay and Charul from Ahmedabad and the lighting of candles to salute the spirit of Nirbhaya. There will also be an exhibition of posters and a performance by the Delhi Drummers group.

During the day on the 14th of Feb. there will be simultaneous programs in each of zone of Delhi. North campus program will be at Miranda with an inter-college street play competition (A music performance) and a rally to board public vehicles and reach Parliament Street. In East Zone, at Seemapuri around 1000 people will assemble at Community Park and pledge against VAW. In West Zone, Anhad (an NGO), IP University, National Law University and Bhaskaracharya College of Applied Sciences are organising a programme in Dwarka. Vrinda Grover will be one of the key speakers. In South Zone; LSR, and Kamla Nehru College Students are organizing a day long program at LSR campus. There will be dance on theme of women empowerment, street play and songs by Indian Music Society.

10-15 organizations are organizing a program at Dilli Haat. Around 250 people from the community, college students and member of Delhi Rising Group will gather there to spread message on ‘Violence against Women’. The program will start at 11:30 am with Flash Mob, street plays and other activities.

The community leaders from 4-5 organisations would march covering eight blocks of Bawana J.J. Colony, singing songs, shouting slogans and spreading the key message of zero tolerance to all forms of violence inflicted against women and girls. A Street Play (15 mins) Sangharshi, produced and directed by the youth collectives would also be performed in three central venues of Bawana J.J. Colony. The play would focus on a woman’s courage to rise in spite of the violence entrenched in all the stages of her life cycle. The event would be followed by a candle light pledge.

One Billion rising delhi

Mumbai Rising
By OBR- Mumbai

Join us on 14th February 2013 from 5.30 to 8.45 pm, at Bandstand Amphitheatre, Bandra , Next to Taj Land’s end. Performances from artistes, singers, dancers, rappers and celebrities including: Farhan Akhtar, Zoya Akhtar, Rahul Bose, Mita Vashisht, Jhelum Paranjpe, Javed Akhtar, Tarana Raja, Swang Group, Violinist Sunita Bhuyan.

5:30pm – MC Manmeet Kaur representing Hip Hop and collaborating w/d BGirl Amb from Roc Fresh Crew

6pm – Flash dance: People who are going to dance furiously to make a statement of solidarity and protest against the atrocities on women…everyone can join in

6:30pm – An Open drum Circle for everyone (male and female) to partake in and let loose at Sunset. Lead by Aarti Sinha.

Vadodara Rising
By OBR-Vadodara

On 12th February 2013, between 7.00 p.m. to 10.00 p.m. around 1,000 people of Vadodara participated in Cultural programme to end the violence in Society.

People of Vadodara took pledge to work towards Violence Free, Equitable and Women Friendly Vadodara.

A month long programme like group discussions, Shibirs, rallies, meetings etc were conducted in various localities of Vadodara, the first city level collective programme was organized on 12-2-2013 at Muktanand Garba Ground, Karelibaug, Vadodara between 7.00 p.m. to 10.00 p.m. It was a programme of cultural expression. The idea was to reclaim the progressive cultural space of Vadodara, known as Sanskari Nagari or Cultural Capital of Gujarat.

The programme had started with the OBR song written by Kamla Bhasin and team, “Ye So Karod Ka Kahena Hinsa ko Ab nahin Sahena…”

A play “Let the daughters Blossom” was staged by adolescent girls from Nirmala Nursing school, Navayard, Vadodara.

A play “Lathi Katha” based on a Ethiopian folk story “A song of Sicky” was presented by activists of Sahiyar (Stree Sangathan).

A dance performance on Bhupen Hazarika’s Song, ‘Ganga tu Baheti hai Kyu … was presented by well known dancer Ms Parul Shah and her group.

United youth organisation and Olakh staged a short Play called “Akhir Kab Tak” questioning the society regarding, why the silence is maintained by the people on various forms of violence on women.

On the whole total 9 poems were recited by women poets and a person from third gender expressing beautifully inner feelings, anguish and desire to cross the boundaries of the society. They were the highlights and had touched the inner soul of the audience.

A beautiful display of posters, slogans, puppets, banners and paintings were made by well known artists of Vadodara, ordinary people, Youth and young girls from slum area.

Overall the presentation of plays, poetry, dance, Garba, Posters, etc, were witnessed and applauded by 1000 strong crowd cutting across all sections of the society. The audience was not just mere spectators but were thoroughly involved throughout the programme.

At the end every one young and old, men and women participated in jagruti garba (Gujarati Folk Dance with feminist songs) presented by Samanvay Musical group .

Earlier we had decided to reach out to at least 10000 people who will take pledge to end violence against women and working towards a ‘Violence Free, Equitable and Women Friendly Vadodara’ but after the experience of yesterdays program we feel that now more than 13000 people will take pledge to end the violence against women.

About 3500 people, students and teachers from several Schools, including Vinay Vidyalay, Surajba Prerana Vidyalay, Geeta Mandir School, Parivar Vidyalay, M.E.S. High School Yakutpura, M.E.S. High School Nagarwada, Shri Narayan Vidyalay, have signed the pledge to end violence after a discussion with the students, on the issue of violence against women, initiated by the activists associated with the campaign along with the teaches.

Schools associated with Navrachana Education Society, Jeevan Sadhna School, Lal Bahadur Shashtri Vidyalay, Mahasrshi Shri Arvind Vidyalay will signed the pledge on 14th February 2013.

Forth Coming Programmes:

14th February 2013

11.00 a.m. people will take pledge where ever they are, in their workplace, or educational institutions.

5.00 p.m. to 6.30 p.m. – Collective Human Chain with pledge to end violence

Venue: From the Faculty of Fine Arts Opp. Sayaji garden onwards

7.00p.m.- Flash Mob to be performed collectively after the human chain

Venue- Centre Square Mall For Joining the Collective Rising in Vadodara
A human Chain, public demonstration followed by flash mob is organized on 14th February 2013.

The Cost of Justice

Rina Mukherji-1

In 2002, Dr Rina Mukherji, then a senior reporter working for The Statesman complained of sexual harassment against Ishan Joshi, the news coordinator for the paper. On October 12, 2002, she was fired from her job.

Dr. Mukherji, then approached Network of Women in Media in India (NWMI) , the West Bengal Commission for Women and the Labour Commissioner. The Statesman refused conciliation proceedings and the labour suit moved to the Industrial Tribunal against the management of The Statesman . Ten years later, on February 6, 2013, the Court ruled in her favour. Rina Mukherji recounts her struggle for justice in this first person account

A full decade. That is the amount of time I have taken to win justice. More than three years of the period was lost due to vacant courts bereft of judges or stalling of proceedings on various pretexts by lawyers from the opposing side.

I was lucky to have been supported by many in the profession, as also outside it. Professor Jashodhara Bagchi, the then Chairperson of the West Bengal Commission for Women, went through a harrowing time trying to settle the dispute with The Statesman. Her experience, though, exposed the flaws in the system and led us to realize that the Commission lacked “teeth.” We also realized that an employer could easily upstage a complainant by dragging a dispute to court, and with the judicial system we have, a matter would drag on for years. In the meanwhile, a complainant loses precious years of professional life, and is blacklisted by employers.

Even if you land up a full-time job with an employer who is extremely supportive of your plight, it is difficult to work when you have to keep shunting between courts for months (and years) together. In my case, I had a labour suit to attend in Kolkata, and two libel suits-one civil and the other criminal with the latter in Delhi, to attend to. I was left with no option but to freelance, notwithstanding the regular drain on my resources.

One of the worst problems when you have a complaint of sexual harassment at the workplace-is that no lawyer is willing to take up the case. They are apprehensive of losing the case, since they lack experience in such matters. (This again, is because of the deafening silence on such issues in a patriarchal society, which manifests itself in women keeping away from reporting on them). In my case, it was a media house, and hence even scarier! If not for Ms. Sutapa Chakrabarty of the Human Rights Law Network, (HRLN), an NGO providing legal aid to those who suffer a breach of their human rights, I might have had to plead my case myself.

There is another point I wish to make about those who swear by the names of celebrated legal luminaries. The lawyers at HRLN who fought my case were young and bright; and most of all, committed. Shamit Sanyal, Debashis Banerjee and his wife, Rajashri Banerjee, and Ambalika Roy brought a degree of commitment that is undeniable.

In fact, Debashis Banerjee worked hard to put forth the winning arguments that ultimately decided the case in my favour and got me an award from the Industrial tribunal granting my reinstatement and full back wages from the time of my termination by the management of The Statesman. And this was –to quote him- the “first case he had taken up as an advocate.”

The police, even if they be sympathetic and helpful, are utterly confused about how to deal with a white-collar offender. Eve-teasing or molestation by roadside miscreants is easy for them to deal with. But an educated man who is highly-placed in an organization can refuse to co-operate with the police investigation and easily get away with it due to loopholes in the legal system.

The Vishakha Guidelines were formulated with the best of intentions. But sexual harassment complaints committees in organizations are, more often than not, a total farce since the Guidelines presuppose organizations to be fair in bringing offenders to justice when a complaint is made to them. In my case, there was no such committee at The Statesman during my tenure. The pressure put in by Network of Women in Media in India ( NWMI), had my ex-employers hurriedly set up their committee.

My complaint, however, was never investigated into. Even as they refused to take cognizance of my complaint, The Statesman actually promoted the offender to a higher position.

One only hopes women will have a better deal once the Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill becomes an Act in the near future.

The industrial tribunal has awarded me reinstatement and full back wages from the time I was terminated in October 2002 on the ground that it was illegal. However, the libel suits-filed against me by The Statesman and Ishan Joshi for having tarnished their reputation are yet to be decided. I still have a long way to go for a full victory.

Rina Mukherji is a senior journalist currently based in Kolkata. She has worked for over two decades in the print and online media specializing in issues related to sustainable development, the environment and human rights . She is the recipient of the 2011-2012 Laadli Media Award for Gender Sensitivity ( Eastern Region) and several international fellowships for reporting on science, the environment and public health

In the land of Buddha and Gandhi, death penalty has no place, PUCL

death penalty India

By Team FI

People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has strongly condemned the hanging of Afzal Guru in New Delhi on Saturday.

Afzal Guru was convicted in the 2001 parliament attack and was hanged and buried on Saturday in a secret operation raising severe criticisms from human rights and civil rights organisations in the country.

According to PUCL, the tearing hurry with which Afzal Guru was hanged, accompanied by the flouting of all established norms by not giving his family their legal right to meet him before taking him to the gallows, clearly indicates that there were political considerations behind taking this step.

“More shameful is the explanation of the Home department that the wife and family of Afzal Guru were intimated of the hanging by a mail sent by Speed Post and Registered Post. Decency and humanity demanded that the Union Government give prior intimation to the family and an opportunity to meet him. Such a surreptitious action of the government also deprives the family of Afzal Guru to right to seek legal remedy”.

PUCL also condemned the Delhi police for detaining activists who were protesting against the hanging. Activists alleged that the right-wing goons were permitted by the police to use violence against the peaceful protestors.

PUCL reiterated its demand for the abolition of the death penalty. “India must not retain in its statute book something so abhorrent to human rights as the death penalty. More especially, when more than 150 countries have banned or put a moratorium on it”.

PUCL feels that starting with Kasab, now with Afzal Guru, the country is going to witness a spate of executions and have a given a call to the nation to break this spiral of executions.

Women’s groups slam India’s ordinance on sexual violence

Delhi rape protest

The Justice Verma Commission recommendations hailed as groundbreaking by activists in India not reflected in new ordinance

By Team FI

Representatives of several women’s groups in the country have strongly criticized the new ordinance on criminal law amendments in respect of sexual violence against women. The activists alleged that the ordinance is a political move and has completely bypassed the recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee (JVC) report.

The panel which was set up in the wake of the nationwide protests and outrage to the brutal rape of a young woman in December last year had in a public notice called for recommendations from the general public and submitted a 630 page report to the government.

The press release distributed by activists at the press meet in New Delhi on 2nd February stated its alarm at the “complete lack of transparency displayed by the Government in proposing an Ordinance as an emergency measure.” The Ordinance was cleared by the Cabinet on February 1, 2013 – about 20 days before the next parliamentary session. The press release called it a “hasty non-transparent measure” and wondered at what objective and purpose it served since the proposed law will not retrospectively apply to the Delhi gang rape case.

The activists demanded transparency and due process in law making. “We demand that the Parliamentary process, including the Standing Committee process be upheld, for this is the place where we, as citizens of this country, have the right to be heard,” stated the press release.

“An Ordinance like this, implemented by stealth, only serves to weaken our democracy,” notes Vrinda Grover, a human rights lawyer. Emphasizing this concern, Madhu Mehra, a women’s rights lawyer added, “This betrays the trust of scores of Indian men and women, who marched the streets of Delhi and other cities demanding an end to impunity for Sexual Violence.”

Women’s organizations were further shocked to learn that the JVC report was not considered fully or even partially, neither in letter nor in spirit in the content of this Ordinance. “We are told that virtually all the recommendations that we and others had hailed as signs of a paradigm shift in understanding violence against women; all the recommendations that can actually strike at the heart of impunity – have been dropped,” stated activists, Kavita Krishnan, Farah Naqvi and Sunita Dhar.

These included – recognition in law of marital rape, new provisions on the offence of breach of command responsibility, non-requirement of sanction for prosecuting a member of the security forces accused of sexual assault and rape, provision for trying them under ordinary criminal law for sexual crimes; and change in definition of consent to any sexual act.

The activists alleged that the Ordinance has introduced provisions that were strongly rejected by the Justice Verma Committee, including the death penalty. “We are shocked to learn that the Ordinance introduces a gender neutral perpetrator for sexual assault, suggesting that both women and men could potentially be charged for the offence. Rape as we know it is a crime largely defined as male violence against women, with absolutely no evidence of women as perpetrators. This is in disregard of the Justice Verma recommendations too, and is totally unacceptable”, noted Madhu Mehra.

Women’s groups, who have been demanding comprehensive amendments in criminal law related to sexual violence for over two decades, had endorsed the Justice Verma Committee Report. The activists congratulated the Justice Verma Committee for completing the report in record time without compromising on consultations, dialogue, due process and transparency. The groups have made oral and written submissions to the Justice Verma Committee and their voices and concerns were reflected in the Committee’s report. “We again reiterate our call to the Government of India to implement the recommendations of the report comprehensively, in letter and spirit,” noted Vrinda Grover.