Tag Archive for caste violence

Delhi police molest women protestors

Police- attack- on- women

Activists demand immediate suspension of Delhi Police personnel who physically molested women protestors who were demonstrating against the forcible eviction of Dalit rape survivors from Jantar Mantar

By Team FI

A complaint was lodged with the Commissioner of Police, Delhi, yesterday, as regards to the sexual assault on women protestors by the police men and women of the Parliament Street police station.

On Wednesday, June 4, 2014, dalit villagers including the families of the rape survivors from Bhagana protested against their forcible eviction from their camp at Jantar Mantar. Led by the mothers of the two rape survivors, and accompanied by representatives of women’s organisations, Dalit organisations and students’ organisations, the protestors marched to the Parliament Street police station to present a memorandum which requested that the villagers be allowed to stay at Jantar Mantar.

The demonstrators were stopped by a barricade outside the police station and were asked to leave. When an argument broke out, the police began to attack the women demonstrators including the mothers of the rape survivors and some women activists by grabbing their private parts.

Activists have lodged a complaint against the behaviour of the police personnel and demanded that “concerned police personnel (including the officer who gave the order for sexual assault) be immediately suspended from service and charged under the relevant sections. An FIR should be filed and an enquiry instituted without delay.”

The full text of the complaint is given below:

The Commissioner of Police
Delhi Police
Subject: Sexual assault on women protestors by personnel of Parliament Street police station

We are writing to demand your immediate action against police personnel of the Parliament Street Police Station who were involved in assaulting and brutalising a peaceful group of protestors today.
The facts are as follows.

• A group of people belonging to the Dalit community from Bhagana village, Haryana, have been sitting in a peaceful dharna at Jantar Mantar for the last one month, in pursuit of their demand for justice in the case of abduction and gang rape of four minor girls. Early this morning, a large force of policemen appeared at Jantar Mantar and tried to evict the protestors who were sleeping there. pulled down their tent and scattered their belongings.

• The Bhagana protestors (including the families of the rape survivors and the girls themselves) went to the Parliament Street Police Station this afternoon at about 1400 hours, in order to present a memorandum to the officer in charge asking to be allowed to stay in Jantar Mantar since they had nowhere else to go.

• The Bhagana group was accompanied by representatives of women’s organisations, Dalit organisations and students’ organisations. The mothers of two of the rape survivors were leading the group.

• The group was stopped by some policemen at the barricade outside the thana. Their request to be allowed to go inside and meet the office in charge was denied. Some policemen on duty at the barricade spoke to the Bhagana group in Haryanvi and asked them to go back and not to make trouble. The women argued with these policemen, insisting on being allowed to go and meet the officer in charge.

• While the argument was going on, some policemen started pushing the group back from the barricade, using undue force and targeting the women by grabbing their private parts and pushing their hands into the anal region. The mothers of the survivors and several women activists (including Adv Pyoli Swatija of Samajwadi Jan Parishad, , Ms Sumedha Baudh of Rashtiya Dalit Mahila Andolan and Ms Rakhi – of NTUI) were attacked in this manner.

• At this point a senior police officer (in uniform but without a name badge) came out and shouted out – “Are ye aise nahi manenge – lathi ghusao.”

• At this, some 4-5 women police charged forward and attacked the women by thrusting at their private parts with batons. The women who were in the front resisted this attack and struggled with the police women. Several policemen were also in the melee and were physically attacking women protestors.

• Several activists were taken into custody and held for more than an hour, after which they were released without any charge being made against them.

• None of the police had name badges except one police woman (Suman D) who removed it after a few minutes. However, we are confident that we can identify most if not all the attackers by face including the officer who gave the order for the sexual attack.

You are surely aware that the acts committed by the policemen and women are criminal offences under the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013.

We demand that the concerned police personnel (including the officer who gave the order for sexual assault) be immediately suspended from service and charged under the relevant sections. An FIR should be filed and an enquiry instituted without delay.

We are shocked to see that the police personnel under your command seem to have forgotten the bitter lessons of December 2012, and are blatantly ignoring and violating citizens’ rights of peaceful assembly and democratic protest.

We are told that much time and resources have been invested in training the rank and file of Delhi police in “gender-sensitive policing”. Our suggestion to you is: please do not waste any more of the taxpayers’ money on these futile public relations exercises. Instead, please take strong, immediate and exemplary action against personnel accused of such crimes.

We look forward to a response from you. We will be happy to come and present you with evidence in support of our complaint.

(KALYANI MENON-SEN)
On behalf of Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression – 4 June 2014

Bhagana rape: Survivors and villagers protest outside Hudda’s residence

Bhagana-dalit-rape

Bhagana rape survivors, fellow villagers, activists protest against Haryana CM inaction on the caste and sexual violence against Dalits; demand one crore compensation and rehabilitation

By Team FI
Haryana Chief Minister, Bhupinder Singh Hudda’s residence in New Delhi was gheraoed yesterday by hundreds of women, children and men from the Bhagana village of Hisar, Haryana, demanding justice for the four school-going Dalit girls who were kidnapped and raped on 23rd March.

The protestors, who were joined by an equal number of activists, students, writers, artists and other citizens of Delhi, alleged that the crime was committed by the upper caste men in the village and that the village head and his son were complicit in the act. The protestors demand that the perpetrators and the village head and his son’s names be included in the FIR and they be arrested. The memorandum submitted to the Haryana CM also demanded that the rape survivors’ families be rehabilitated and compensation of Rs 1 crore be paid to the girls.

In March 2014, the four young girls of the Dhanak community were kidnapped from their village Bhagana, and raped by five youths belonging to the upper caste Jat community. The girls were left near Bhatinda Railway station in Punjab after the alleged crime. When their families approached their village head for help, and said that they would file an FIR, the Sarpanch informed them about the whereabouts of the girls. The girls allege that when the Sarpanch and his men came and picked the girls, he threatened them to keep quiet about the rape and the identity of the perpetrators. The press release stated that, “This was one of the few cases of dalit atrocities that came into light; many such cases remain buried and unheard of.”

Jagdish Kajla, protest leader, said, “90 dalit families are living at Jantar Mantar since 16th April 2014 amid so many difficulties. The government has not provided us anything to survive, forget justice for the 4 girls. We will not take our protest back till our demands are met.”

The demonstrators also sought proper rehabilitation for the 400 displaced Dalit families who are living on the streets of Delhi and Hisar. Virendra Singh Wabhoria, who is leading the evicted group’s struggle at Hisar, warned Haryana government that if their demands are not met within a fortnight, their protest will expand to other places of the country. Virendra is sitting on Dharna with 120 Dalit families at the Hisar Collectarate for last two years when these families were displaced from the village Bhagana by the upper caste people.

The press release issued by the Samiti states that the girls are furious and so are their mothers. They say, ‘ Why every time, they make our bodies their battlefields?’ One girl studying in class 10th just wishes to someday be able to complete her studies. She says, ‘They have made us refugees. Bhagana is our own village but we can’t go there. What can be more fateful than this?’, she asks in desperation. One mother, with veil on her face, screams, ‘Aren’t we human? Why every time they do this to us?’ Huda has an answer, only in the form of huge barricades of police outside his house.

As per the press release, “at the heart of the conflict in Haryana is the struggle over land – its use and ownership by the poor Dalits which has been grabbed by the dominant castes. No land reforms, or access to use and ownership of the common land schemes, have been implemented till date. Bhagana’s Dalits have been vocal about their land rights, having faced the atrocities and land grab since 2003. Rape is one of the major tools to silence the Dalit community and displace them in the name of honor. The Huda government never took action against the upper caste as Rajani Tilak of National Dalit Mahila Aandolan cites, “Huda says openly that first I am a jat and then a CM”. This factor contributed to Dalit atrocities in a much more organized way because the state machinery does not act in accordance with the law. After 67 years of the independence and on the threshold of 16th Parliament, Dalits in Haryana are landless, without exception.

Jats dominate both the Gram Panchayats (Village councils) and the traditional Khaps. Their authority is backed by the significant presence of Jats in institutions and administrative positions. The state machinery thus is becoming part of propagating the entrenched caste ideology and hierarchies. The levying of sedition charges exposed a face of the state where it was no longer just exhibiting apathy towards tackling caste oppression, but actively using its authority and draconian laws to suppress any assertion challenging caste and class hierarchies. Protests against caste exploitation have become an expression of “disaffection” against the nation!”

However, the press statement points out that the Bhagana protests showed that the Dalits are continuously pressurizing state institutions, and winning victories like withdrawal of sedition charges, and making the political class sit-up and take notice both within the state and the center.

The protesters want the government to heed their following demands:

1. Arrest all the offenders in Bhagana case including Village head and his son and bring them to justice;
2. High level inquiry of the rape, displacement and land related cases;
3. Fast Track Court in Delhi for hearing of the case. Settle the case within 6 months;
4. Compensation of Rs 1 crore to each Bhagana gang rape victim;
5. Compensation of Rs 1 crore to each boycotted family in Bhagana;
6. A case should be filed against the KHAP and Gram Panchayat under the SC/ST Act;
7. Allot 400 yards plots in Gurgaon or Fridabad to each displaced family from Bhagana till they are suitably resettled in Bhagana;
8. Arrangement of proper education to all Bhagana gang rape victims and provision of government employment after completion of their education;
9. Ban on Khaap Panchayats;
10. 290 acre common land should be vacated from the clutch of the Dabangs and be distributed among the landless Dalits and other marginalised sections of the village .

Bhagana Kaand Sangharsh Samiti:
Sarv Samaj Sangharsh Samiti-Haryana, Hans do India, Republic Thought and Action Group, PUDR, Women against Sexual Violence & State Repression, National Dalit Women Movement, Dalit Dehat Bahujan Mahapanchayat, Youth for Social Justice-DU, All India Backward Students’ Forum-JNU, Democratic Students Union-JNU, Women for Water Democracy, NCDHR, Bigul Mazdoor Dasta, Ambedkar Seva Dal, National Confederation of Delit Organizations. All India Federation of Trade Unions, Nojaat Bharat Sabha, HRLN, Dhanak Sabha-Delhi, Delhi Students’ Union, Ambedkar Mahasabha, Sahitya Samvaad, United Dalit Students Forum, Avaam, Bharat Ka Manaviyekaran Abhiyaan, Dalit Utthan Samaj, Kabeer Jan Kalyaan Sangh, Haryana Kumhaar Mahasabha, National Movement for Land, Labour & Justice, Bhoomiheen Kisan Sangharsh Samiti.

UN asks India to protect sex workers rights, repeal 377, curb growing violence against women

UN- 2014- India-women- report

UN Special Rapporteur highlights pervasive gender stereotyping in media and community and entrenched patriarchal attitudes in public officials, judicial officers and the police force, as an impediment to curbing violence against women

By Team FI

In an important step towards recognizing sex worker rights in India, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women called on the Indian Government to review the trafficking legislation which criminalizes women in sex work.

The Special Rapporteur, Rashida Manjoo, also urged the government to repeal section 377 of the Penal Code, which criminalizes gay sex and amend the new rape law of 2013 – in particular to review the provisions that provide for the death penalty and to include the definition of marital rape as a criminal offence.

The Report on Violence Against Women, its causes and consequences, Mission to India was submitted to the UN General Assembly in April 2014 and was based on the India mission undertaken by the Special Rapporteur in April 2013. The Special Rapporteur received written submissions and listened to depositions from women’s organizations, networks, affected individuals, and government officials across the length and breadth of India during her visit.

According to the report, the overall conviction rate in India for crimes listed in the Penal Code was 38.5 per cent in 2012, the lowest in 10 years, which was largely due to delays in the finalization of cases. Quoting the National Crimes Records Bureau, the Rapporteur expressed concern over the fact that while conviction rate for crimes against women (21.3%) remained low while a 24.7 % increase was recorded in the reports of crimes against women after 2008. The proportion of registered cases of crimes committed against women vis-à-vis crimes in total increased from 8.9 per cent in 2008 to 10.2 per cent in 2012. As per the report, “the low conviction rate and the higher number of cases registered will not act as a deterrent for future crimes against women, nor will it engender trust in the judicial system.”

The Special Rapporteur also raised concern about the deeply entrenched patriarchal attitudes of police officers, prosecutors, judicial officers and other relevant civil servants, with regard to the handling of cases of violence against women noted that the “persistence of harmful practices, pervasive gender stereotypes and deeply entrenched patriarchal social and cultural norms is of serious concern.”

The Special Rapporteur stated that it also received reports indicating that the legal basis of the National Commission for Women is not in accordance with international standards; that the institution lacks foundational, functional, operational, political and financial independence. The report also stated that there a “number of allegations highlighted the Commission’s inability to deal with complaints effectively and undertake independent investigations into violations of women’s rights.”

The report is also deeply concerned about the prevalence of dowry-related practices throughout the country and the increasing number violence and deaths related to dowry payment.

Violence against Sex workers
For perhaps the first time, the Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, underscored the need to address the violence faced within sex work from state and non – state actors and the lack of avenues for legal redress. It notes that sex workers in India are “exposed to a range of abuse including physical attacks, and harassment by clients, family members, the community and State authorities”.

It further states that “sex workers are forcibly detained and rehabilitated and consistently lack legal protection”; and that they “face challenges in gaining access to essential health services, including for treatment for HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases”.

Violence against minority women
Commenting on violence faced by women belong to minority communities, the report stated that impunity for crimes relating to communal violence is “the norm”. The recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women relating to the Gujarat massacre have not been fully addressed as yet. Moreover, the draft Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill has been pending in Parliament for over eight years; despite the necessity for such a law.

The report has also urged the government to Repeal, as a matter of urgency, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act and ensure that criminal prosecution of members of the Armed Forces is free from legal barriers.

Main observations made by the Special Rapporteur
Violence against women in India is systematic and occurs in the public and private spheres. Women are discriminated against and subordinated not only on the basis of sex, but on other grounds, such as caste, class, ability, sexual orientation, tradition and other realities. The manifestations of violence against women are a reflection of the structural and institutional inequality that is a reality for most women in India.

Sexual violence

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, in 2012, 2.84 cases of rape were reported every hour. Many interlocutors stated that there was a general sense of insecurity for women in public spaces, especially in urban settings. Women are easy targets of attacks, including sexual violence, whether while using public transportation or sanitation facilities or on the way to collect wood and water.

Civil and political rights
In terms of women’s participation in parliaments, India stands at 111 out of 188 States as per the Inter-Parliamentary Union. The proportion of female judges is very low. At the local level, there have been numerous allegations of abuse of authority by and patriarchal attitudes of women elected to Gram Panchayats (whether by choice or through coercive influences) and of abuse by community leaders, including members of the illegal informal courts of the Khap Panchayats.

The Special Rapporteur stated that she could not engage directly with Gram Panchayats despite her requests.

Violence against women in the family

The physical, sexual and psychological abuse of women in the private sphere is widely tolerated by the State and the community. The perpetrators include husbands, in-laws and other family members. The widespread socioeconomic dependency of women subordinates them to their husbands and other family members. The fear of social exclusion and marginalization, and the lack of effective responses to violence, keeps them in a context of continuous violence and intimidation. The report also noted the prevalence of honour crimes in the country.

As per National Crime Records Bureau there is also an alarming increase in violence and killings linked to dowry payments – as reported under the Dowry Prohibition Act since 2008 and a significant increase in such crimes since 2010. Concerns about the lack of effective implementation of the law were noted.

Sex ratio
Research has documented a trend of declining girl-child sex ratio from 962 per 1,000 males in 1981, to 945 in 1991, to 927 in 2001, to 914 in 2011. Patriarchal norms and socioeconomic factors have reportedly fuelled the decline. The desire for sons has led to a “policing” of pregnancies by spouses and families through prenatal monitoring systems. The results can lead to sex-selective abortions, which are often forced on women in violation of their sexual and reproductive rights. Despite specific legislation to address this problem, including stringent measures in case of contravention, there is a continuing prevalence of sex-selection practices in some states.


Early marriage and forced marriage

With regard to early and/or forced marriages, the implementation of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 has resulted in some reduction in the overall percentage of early marriages. However, there are significant gaps in the legislation, particularly in the Penal Code, whereby child marriages are allowed through the practice of declaring them voidable, not void.

Caste-based violence
Dalit and Adivasi women and women from other scheduled castes and tribes and other “backward classes” are frequent victims of multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, as well as violence. The intergenerational nature of caste-based discrimination condemns women to a life of exclusion, marginalization and disadvantage in every sphere of life. Many of those women are denied an education and economic opportunities, and perform dangerous and unprotected work, including bonded labour (debt bondage) and manual scavenging, which are both widely regarded as forms of forced labour and modern forms of slavery.

Communal violence
Numerous testimonies shared on recurrent episodes of communal violence against religious minorities, including Muslims and Christians; reflect a deep sense of insecurity and trauma of women living in those communities. Experiences included women being stripped, burned, attacked with objects inserted into their vaginas and sexually assaulted in myriad ways because of their religious identity.

It was reported that perpetrators of those crimes usually held positions of authority and often went unpunished. Further, those minorities are allegedly excluded from access to education, employment and adequate housing on equal terms with other citizens, despite the existence of affirmative action schemes and measures by the Ministry of Minority Affairs and the National Commission for Minorities.

Women with disabilities
Women with disabilities face multiple challenges, including, for example, the lack of adequate access to public spaces, utilities and buildings, and often experience harassment in public. The Special Rapporteur was informed of violence perpetrated against women with disabilities in State-sponsored shelters.

Lesbian and Transgender women
Section 377 of the Penal Code criminalizes sexual activities “against the order of nature”. This particularly affects the protection rights of lesbian and transgender women and has been used by parents as an excuse to prevent homosexuality in their families. The mere perception of different sexual orientation is sufficient to put people at risk of violence and is a contributory factor to the inability of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community to report cases of violence.

Sex workers
Sex workers are exposed to a range of abuse, including physical attacks and harassment by clients, family members, the community and State authorities. Many sex workers are forcibly detained and rehabilitated, and they also face a consistent lack of legal protection. Many face challenges in gaining access to essential health services, including for treatment for HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases. A recent order of the Supreme Court of India took the position that a sex worker engaged in such work to survive and was “not leading a life of dignity”. The Special Rapporteur noted a tendency to conflate sex work with trafficking in persons, and when sex workers are identified as victims of trafficking, the assistance that is provided to them is not targeted to their specific needs.

Trafficking of women and girls
The trafficking of women and girls from, and to, India was reported as widespread. Disadvantaged women from minority groups, scheduled castes and tribes and the “backward castes” are usually the main victims. Women who are trafficked and forced into prostitution are left unable to defend their rights, and lack access to rehabilitation and compensation for such crimes. This lack of protection and prioritization of the problem by the State has intensified the violence perpetrated against them by criminals or those involved in trafficking practices.

The complicity of State officials in human trafficking was also reported as a concern. The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 and its amendments are reportedly more directed at safeguarding public moral than combating trafficking in line with the protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children.

Widows
Widows also face particular vulnerabilities, as they are often denied and dispossessed of property by their in-laws following the death of a spouse. In addition, social exclusion and poverty lead some widows to engage in sex work and prostitution, and their children to perform hazardous labour or beg on the streets.

Forced evictions
The State’s efforts to foster economic growth and implement development projects are allegedly often conducted without adequate consultations with affected communities, with the sole objective being one of economic growth at any cost.

The consequences for women include being forced to live in insecure environments, displacement; the degradation of their environment, the loss of land and livelihoods and forcible evictions. Many victims are left without adequate relocation alternatives, forcing them to live in slums or on the streets.

Witch-hunting

The Special Rapporteur was informed of brutal acts of violence against women, including executions, commonly referred to as “witch-hunting”. The stigma that is attached to women, who are labeled a “witch”, and the rejection they experience within their communities, leads to various violations and is an obstacle to gaining access to justice. Such labeling affects family members across generations. There is reportedly little or no official investigation into such violations.

Violence condoned or perpetrated by the State
Women living in militarized regions, such as Jammu and Kashmir and the north-eastern states, live in a constant state of siege and surveillance, whether in their homes or in public.

Information received through both written and oral testimonies highlighted the use of mass rape, allegedly by members of the State security forces, as well as acts of enforced disappearance, killings and acts of torture and ill-treatment, which were used to intimidate and to counteract political opposition and insurgency. Testimonies also highlight the impact of that situation on women’s health, including psychological disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, fear psychosis and severe anxiety, with such conditions having a negative impact on women’s physical well-being.

Additionally, the freedoms of movement, association and peaceful assembly are frequently restricted. The specific legal framework that governs those areas, namely, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and its variations, allows for the overriding of due process rights and nurtures a climate of impunity and a culture of both fear and resistance by citizens.

Custodial violence
In 2012 there were 20 women’s prisons and 21 centres for the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders. Furthermore there are rehabilitation centres for sex workers. Women account for 4.4 per cent of all inmates in the country. Women prisoners are scattered across the country, often in violation of international standards aimed at ensuring that those wishing to maintain family relationships during custody can do so. Concerns were raised about a lack of adequate protective measures to ensure the safety of inmates, including from gender-related killings. In 2012, 55 deaths of female inmates were registered, of which eight were suicides.

Fair trial rights

Fair trial rights, equality before the law and equal protection of the law were affected by numerous challenges, beginning with the reporting of cases of violence against women to the police. Many interlocutors said that victims were often discouraged from reporting to the police and that many women did not file a complaint owing to fear of reprisals or lack of guarantees of adequate shelter and access to livelihoods. Informal dispute settlement alternatives are often sought, allegedly by police, family members or community leaders. Many interlocutors described the complete or partial absence of legal, housing, security and financial assistance measures for victims. To be able to officially report complaints and continue throughout the often lengthy judicial process in safety and with an adequate standard of living is not an option for many women.

The Special Rapporteur received information indicating that human rights defenders, including women’s organizations, face numerous challenges, including harassment, intimidation and reprisals. Those concerns echo the findings contained in the 2011 report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

Profit-oriented microfinance institutions
The Special Rapporteur noted concerns with regard to profit-oriented microfinance institutions involving microfinance products for women, and the failure of the State to protect and prevent abuses. Vulnerable women reportedly receive multiple loans and are sold financial products with little or no information, and the unequal bargaining power between such institutions and clients is not addressed by regulation.

Such practices result in over-indebtedness and the inability to pay back, which leads to harassment and threats and women being excluded from their families and communities. Some have reportedly committed suicide as a result of such abuse. It is unclear if the larger problem is a lack of, or inadequate, regulation of microfinance institutions.

Domestic workers
Women employed as domestic workers are often irregular migrants and unregistered women who operate in a poorly regulated labour market and who are usually considered as belonging to the bottom of a social class. They become easy targets for abusive employers, who force them to work long hours in return for low salaries and often deduct amounts for leave days taken. Many are prevented from using the employer’s sanitary facilities and are forced to defecate and bathe in public, and are subjected to various forms of harassment and violence.

Violence against women in the transnational sphere
Many women refugees and asylum seekers are unskilled workers who often perform hazardous labour in urban and informal settings. While access to education and health care is provided for free by the Government, access to livelihoods is still a challenge, particularly in urban or semi-urban areas. Many of those women earn low wages and are forced to live in small and overcrowded apartments, with a lack of access to basic sanitation in less developed urban settings. Such factors contribute to poor health conditions and other vulnerabilities.

Language barriers often impede their ability to gain access to health care, education and the justice system. Despite improvements in criminal law and police procedures, women refugees and asylum seekers continue to voice safety concerns, as they are frequent targets of attacks and harassment by employers, landlords and community members in public and private spheres.

Economic rights and the right to development

Economic development focus for women remains one of subsistence and does not necessarily take into account, or address sufficiently, the gendered and class nature of systemic and structural inequality and discrimination.

Whereas the participation of all citizens in the economy is considerable, women’s labour force participation is significantly lower, at 25.7 per cent, as compared to men at 77.4 per cent. An International Labour Organization source indicates that the participation of women in the workforce fell from 37.3 per cent in 2004/05 to 29.0 per cent in 2009/10.

While job opportunities for women are in decline, women were found to be in precarious jobs requiring low skills and offering low and unequal wages. Daily earnings for women in recent decades has been comparatively lower than those of men in virtually all sectors

Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace
Legal measures have been instituted to address sexual harassment in the workplace. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 defines sexual harassment comprehensively and is largely in line with the 1997 Vishaka judgment. It provides for complaints committees in all workplaces employing at least 10 persons. Moreover, while penalties are prescribed in the event of a false or malicious complaint, the Act seeks to prevent the revictimization of victims who are unable to provide adequate proof or substantiate a complaint.

Social and cultural rights
Pervasive gender stereotyping, whether in the media, in the community or in discourses by public officials, was highlighted as an impediment to women’s development. The pervasive culture of denigrating and marginalizing women’s perspectives, concerns and also their identity was an issue that was raised by several interlocutors. Concerns were also raised about the resulting impact on the social standing of women. According to official data, between 2011 and 2012 the number of cases involving insult to the modesty of women increased by 7 per cent.

In 1986, the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act was enacted to prohibit indecent representation in advertisements, publications, writings and paintings or in any other manner. New amendments have been proposed to include new forms of communication, to strengthen penalties and to provide for preventive measures. No official information was shared as to accountability measures to address the continuing occurrence of such stereotyping by either State or non-State actors.

State’s obligation to eliminate violence against women
States are required to exercise due diligence to prevent and respond to all acts of violence against women. A comprehensive system of prevention and protection, with real prospects of mitigating harm, altering outcomes and ensuring accountability, must be the norm.

National Commission for Women
The legal basis of the National Commission for Women is not in accordance with international standards; that the institution lacks foundational, functional, operational, political and financial independence; and that the Commission is generally unable to adapt to the evolving and transformative demands of the human rights of women.

According to section 3 of the National Commission for Women Act, 1990, the Commission’s composition is determined by the central Government. A number of allegations highlighted the Commission’s inability to deal with complaints effectively and undertake independent investigations into violations of women’s rights. Reports also reflect the Commission’s failure to address the causes and consequences of violence against women, including, for example, by finding that no particular religious group was targeted during the 2002 Gujarat massacre; by consistently justifying sexual assault on women as a result of “provocative dressing”; by its inability, over many years, to promote much needed law reform; and by denying reports of sexual violence by security forces, including in regions governed by the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Acts.

Domestic Violence

The lack of implementation of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act was a concern often raised. Under the Act, women victims require the assistance of a protection officer to lodge a complaint and to file a domestic incident report. The recruitment and deployment of protection officers in the country is limited; they often work part-time and lack the resources to assist victims to file complaints. For instance, in the State of Rajasthan, with a population including approximately 27 million women, there are only 607 designated protection officers and 118 organizations registered as service providers.

The irony of iconhood: The life and times of Bhanwari Devi

Bhanwari Devi 2013

In 1992, Bhanwari Devi, then a Sathin, grassroots worker, with the state-run women’s development project in Rajasthan, was raped, by a group of men belonging to an influential community, for campaigning against child marriage. Twenty years hence, the sathin whose case catalysed women’s mobilization in the country against sexual violence and whose legal battle played a crucial role in the making of Visakha Guidelines, is still seeking justice

By Laxmi Murthy

“Only justice can fill my belly, not awards,” said Bhanwari Devi in response to a question from the audience about whether or not she had been recognised by international awards. She was speaking on 9th March at a meeting organised by the Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore. The previous day, along with other leaders, Bhanwari had roused a massive rally in Mangalore with her fiery calls for solidarity and action against violence against women.

On March 8th, Mangalore saw an unprecedented coalition of women’s and progressive groups (almost a hundred) raising their voice against the saffronization of Karnataka’s coastal belt and the increasing attacks on women by right-wing forces. This was the outcome of dedicated work by the Forum Against Atrocities on Women (the Mahila Dourjnya Virodi Vedike, Karnataka). With delicious irony, Bhanwari Devi, veteran Dalit writer Urmila Pawar and other invited activists were accommodated at ‘Morning Mist’, the home-stay that was ransacked by right-wing goons who broke up a private celebration there last June. That none of the events, which saw the mobilization of more than 5000 women, made it to even the Bangalore editions of the dailies is a matter of dismay.

Many of the questions, particularly from the press kept pushing Bhanwari back into the victim mode and somehow managed to zero in on her vulnerabilities. It is no surprise then that she broke down on stage even 20 years after she was gang raped. When some activists steered the discussion to the context in which she worked – the context in which women’s safety as workers led to the Vishaka Guidelines – it was realised that nothing much has changed for Sathins on the ground.

As the lowest rung of the Women’s Development Program (WDP) in Rajasthan, a Sathin’s job is to act as a bridge between the government and the masses, essentially implementing and making any number of government schemes palatable. They continue to work in precarious conditions for a monthly pittance of Rs 1600 (raised from Rs 200 in the 1990s, after determined work – an uphill battle by the Mahila Vikas Abhikaran Sathin Karamchari Sangh, and the many women’s groups in Delhi which at the time were part of the support group), as described in a Saheli newsletter in 1997.

The task of “consciousness raising” or stopping “social evils” like dowry, sex selection, child marriage etc can be extremely precarious, especially at the village level with its deeply entrenched feudal, caste and patriarchal structures. Shyama Narang, a member of the audience put the question that ‘How many of us could enter people’s houses in one’s own neighbourhood and demand that they stop child marriage or refuse to take dowry?’ Bhanwari was raped while attempting to overturn exactly such practices. For Sathins like Bhanwari there is still no job security, no transport facilities and no support at all from the government for doing this risky work. This is only part of the larger critique of the WDP .

For someone who has worked in the government-run Women’s Development Program, it was somewhat ironic that Bhanwari’s focus was on individual effort, collective action and non-government efforts if any change was to come about. She spoke of her efforts to educate her daughter Raneswhari (who had accompanied her) – she is now an M.A B.ed and teaches in a school. She spoke of the support she had received from her husband, activists in Jaipur and women’s solidarity in general.

As for the rape case, Bhanwari does not talk much about it, frustrated by the legal process and the appeal by her rapists pending in the High Court. It is deeply ironical that the icon of the Vishakha Guidelines to deal with sexual harassment at the workplace finds the whole effort of law reform utterly futile. Her response to deal with perpetrators of violence against women is to round them up and beat them. She was also in favour of death penalty for rapists.

Bhanwari’s anguished response underlines once more why the best opportunity to undertake law reform might not be during times of trauma, emotional distress or mass mobilisation, despite popular or even progressive understanding of “striking while the iron is hot”. The job of reviewing or making laws has to be done when one is somewhat removed from the situation.

As for Bhanwari Devi, her life goes on, and that’s the wonderful part. True grit, impassioned activist, flame of hope – all the clichés in the lexicon can’t even begin to describe her.

Laxmi Murthy is a journalist based in Bangalore. She has spent more than 25 years in the autonomous women’s movement.

Featured photo courtesy: R. Eswarraj, The Hindu