Tag Archive for Delhi gang rape

Three years after Nirbhaya, fight continues for justice

nirbhaya-rape-delhi

It has been three years to the brutal gang rape that killed a courageous young Nirbhaya but women continue to fight for justice and freedom from fear, says statement released by women activists, students and progressive groups

As 2015 comes to a close, we remember the tumultuous times in December 2012 when thousands of people – young and old – poured into the streets of Delhi in pain, rage and outrage. This was, of course, in the aftermath of the brutal gang rape and assault on a young woman that eventually led to her tragic death. That it occurred in the heart of Delhi, the capital of the country, was a shocking truth that people demanded and the government pledged to change.

Yet, in the three years since December 2012, women continue to face violence in every space they occupy, including their own homes, in public places, on public transport and at workplaces. There have been many attacks on women and girls, some accompanied by huge media coverage, but most taking place away from the public glare. Violence is the weapon used to keep them “in their place” on the basis of their identities, including caste, class race, religion and disability.

These range from sexual assaults and rapes and even murder of adivasi women and girls in Bijapur, Chhattisgarh, by CRPF men; on Muslim women in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh; on Dalit women in Haryana, on women from Northeast India, either in their own states or in the places they move to in search of brighter opportunities.

Women occupying workplaces in the informal and formal sectors are facing increasing levels of backlash. From women working in fields, mines or inside homes, on construction sites or tending roadside stalls, to women working in corporate offices, non-governmental organisations, educational institutions, law offices or in the media, countless cases bear testament to the systematic sexual harassment they face at workplaces. While some have taken courage to file cases against their perpetrators, the severe consequences that have had to face from the media and the courts for speaking out are a matter of deep concern.

Take for instance some of the most high profile cases of sexual assault by senior male colleagues at workplaces as varied as the courts, media houses and NGOS. In case after case, the women have faced hostile work environments, been named and outed, harassed and finally hounded out of their jobs. While the men are out on bail (if arrested in the first place), reinstated in their jobs with full public sympathy and credibility, the women complainants are out in the cold, their stories trashed and disbelieved, their workplace harassment continuing as ‘punishment’ for having spoken out, their economic status severely compromised. Yet, the rhetoric of ‘misuse’ of the law by women is growing every day; with little regard for the facts on the ground.

If we turn to cases filed under the new amendments to the law against sexual assault that were passed in the wake of the movement in December 2012, the scene is dismal. Be it the women in Muzaffarnagar, Bhagana or Bastar, or the women employees of Tehelka or TERI, they all await justice.

The police and the judicial system, not to mention society, the media and political powers that rule at States or the Centre, have mostly worked to subvert the law

Worryingly, even as women who file cases under the laws enacted to protect women are feeling betrayed and vulnerable, a growing clamour brands the laws against gender-based violence as “draconian,” “biased against men”. Another disturbing fact is that 40% of rape cases filed in Delhi is by parents branding elopements as ‘rape.’ These cases hide a tale of familial violence against women who choose their own partners. In addition, is the intensified political offensive on inter-caste and inter-faith love. A recent sting operation by Cobrapost exposed how outfits close to the Sangh Parivar run an organized racket to brand inter-faith love as ‘love jehad’ and beat and coerce women to give up such relationships.

Unfortunately, the Governments allow these outfits to attack the rights and freedom of women with impunity. At the same time, central and state governments are increasingly seeking to use the issue of violence against women to push through regressive policies like death penalty, or lowering the age of juvenility – even though the Justice Verma Committee carefully considered and rejected these measures as counter-productive and against the interests of victims of gender violence. Measures that we as women’s, students’ and progressive groups and movements have steadfastly resisted.

The movement of December 2012 had raised the slogan of Bekhauf Azaadi, or Fearless Freedom for women and for all, and had specifically challenged moves to control women in the name of their own safety, and to use the fear of rape to justify patriarchal restrictions and surveillance on women’s freedom.
We share the grief and have full empathy with parents and families of victims of violence. It is however important that we continue to place the issue of violence against women and children at the centre of discussions and not “victimhood”. We understand that one instance of sexual violence in a family sometimes takes a toll on the family as a whole and it is years before they can recover. In our struggle against violence we must be aware and ensure that we do not reinforce victimhood and prolong this suffering. They, victims and families need to heal, and their loss and grief must not be publicly paraded.

We stand in solidarity to commemorate the victim of the December 2012 gang rape, as well as all the other known and unknown women and girls who face sexual and other forms of abuse. For us, this is a day that calls upon us to renew our vision of substantive, reformative and reparative justice for victims and survivors of sexual violence, as opposed to retribution against perpetrators. Such justice can only truly be achieved in a society that is both ethical and humane, and in which the survivor and her health and freedom are the focus of the procedures of the criminal justice, medical, and social welfare systems. We condemn the impunity that most often accompanies acts of gender-based violence against women, girls, boys and trans people. We assert their right to equality in the eyes of the law.

• We stand today in hope with millions across the country – and indeed, the world – that justice will prevail in all cases, including the December 2012 case, according to the prevailing laws of the land.

• We state unequivocally that we are against draconian punishments like death penalty or chemical castration.

• We believe in reformative and reparative rather than retributive justice, which gives a chance for people – including juveniles – to change and turn their lives around.

• We reiterate our demand for certainty of justice and not severity of punishment.

• We reject the logic of ‘instant’ vigilante justice and instead seek to strengthen the systems and due processes of justice, to ensure that these work for and not against victims.

• We demand that the Governments at the State and Centre uphold their obligations under the Constitution of India and under international human rights Covenants to guarantee women and girls the right to equality, freedom and justice.

Fashion shoot resembling Delhi gang-rape evokes disgust and disbelief

Delhi-rape-fashion-shoot

By Team FI

A fashion shoot which has striking similarities with the Delhi gang rape in 2012 has sparked outrage on social media and feminist circles in India. In his newly-released portfolio series named The Wrong Turn, Mumbai-based fashion photographer Raj Shetye features a woman on a bus being abused by several men.

In December 2012, a young woman who was later given the name Nirbahaya, was raped and brutally attacked by a group of men in a moving bus. The physiotherapy student died 13 days after the attack from her injuries. An outraged nation responded with protests and thousands poured into the streets of India’s capital city demanding an end to India’s rape culture. Following the outrage the government introduced stricter punishment for rape.

The photographer after he was vehemently criticized over glamorizing rape and sexual violence against women told the media that despite the reaction to his work, he was pleased that it has generated a discussion.

I’m shocked! After all the shouting and protesting, one guy goes and does this? First they shoot a woman in this set-up, and then make the rapists look glamorous! How can this be art?- Sapna Bhavnani, celebrity hairstylist who starred in the play Nirbhaya

“This is awful. But it must also be said that this isn’t the only instance of eroticizing rape. The print and electronic media also do it all the time, dwelling on verbal descriptions of details of sexual assault, and also on visual representations and reconstructions of such assault. Many movies, of course, have long eroticized rape. This ‘fashion shoot’ is takes that trend a few steps forward” states Kavita Krishnan of the All India Progressive Women’s Association.

This is not the first time fashion photography glamorising violence against women in the name of art. In 2012, Magazine 12, a Bulgarian fashion magazine published a fashion series featuring female models who appeared bloodied, bruised and slashed. Despite outcry from women’s rights activists across the globe, the magazine editors refused to apologise stating the photos were not intended to glamorise domestic violence. In April this year Vogue Italia published a series of fashion photos that showed female models as victims of domestic abuse.

A year after Delhi gang rape

Anti-rape-protest-India

By Team FI

As as per figures by the Delhi Government, 1,330 cases of rape were recorded in the capital city until October this year compared to 706 in 2012 while molestation cases have gone up from 727 to 2844. Only one case that of the Delhi gang rape, has resulted in conviction

On December 16, 2012, six men brutally assaulted and raped a young woman in the capital of India, Delhi. Her story invoked national shame and evoked outrage across the country. Protests broke out and the streets of Delhi were shut down as students, men, and women took to the streets.

Fifteen days later, six fast-track courts were set up to deal with cases of sexual assault.

On January 23, 2013, exactly a month after it was constituted the Justice Verma Commission (headed by the late Justice J S Verma, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court with the other two members being Justice Leila Seth, former judge of the High Court and Gopal Subramanium, former Solicitor General of India) submitted its recommendations regarding amendments to the Criminal Law. The recommendations were drafted after extensive consultations with women and human rights groups in the country and suggestions from the public.

Among others, the recommendations stated rape and sexual assault were an expression of power and rape should include any non-consensual penetration of a sexual nature. The exception to marital rape in the IPC (the IPC considered intercourse without consent as rape except within a marriage) should be removed. While the former recommendations were present in the Criminal Law Amendments Bill, 2013, passed in April 2013, which amended the Indian Penal Code (IPC) the latter of marital rape was not.

It recommended that non-penetrative sexual contact be considered as sexual assault and that sexual gratification as a motive need not be prerequisite as proof of offence and the act be punishable with 5 years of imprisonment. Rejecting the death penalty as not good enough a deterrent to serious crimes, it recommended life imprisonment for rape. The Criminal Law Amendments however provides for death penalty in the “rarest of rare” cases. The Bill also criminalised offences like causing grievous hurt through acid attack, sexual harassment, use of criminal force on a woman with intent to disrobe, voyeurism and stalking.

Sections inserted after section 166 of the Penal Code, stated that (166A). if a public servant “knowingly disobeys” the law and fails to record FIR under sub-section (1) of section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, they shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months but which may extend to two years, and shall also be liable to fine.

In September 2013, four of the rapists Mukesh Singh, Vinay Sharma, Akshay Thakur and Pawan Gupta were found guilty and sentenced to death. Earlier in March, one of the accused Ram Singh was found dead in his cell in prison. In August, another of the accused was given the maximum sentence according to his minor status which was three years in a reform facility.

The year 2013 ends with two high profile cases, a case of rape registered against Tarun Tejpal, of Tehelka magazine based on the complaint of a junior employee and of sexual harassment against former justice A K Ganguly based on the complaint of an intern. As of date women groups are demanding that the Prime Minister that Ganguly be removed from the position of themselves Chairman of the West Bengal Human Rights Commission. Tejpal is in police custody.

The fact remains however that as per figures submitted to the Supreme Court by the Delhi Government in October this year 1,330 cases of rape were recorded in the capital city until October 15, 2013 as compared to 706 in 2012 while molestation cases have gone up from 727 to 2844. Only one case that of the Delhi gang rape (Nirbhaya), has resulted in conviction.

Four inquiries were conducted by Delhi police of the recorded 501 allegations of harassment and 64 of rape between 16 December 2012 and 4 January 2013. As of September 2013, 1,090 sexual offence cases are still pending in various courts here as the fast track courts are reeling with the number of registered cases.

Last year 24,923 cases of rape were registered in the country, and as per media reports quoting sources within the National Crime Record Bureau, the figures are going to rise further this year.

Even as the nation was protesting the Delhi gang rape, a young woman was gang raped in Haryana, and her case was not registered for nearly fifteen days. Six months later, submitted to harassment by the police and authorities, she committed suicide. Her’s is not a lone case, police indifference and apathy are common especially in rural areas and cases of offence against women from the marginalised sections of the society.

In Kerala, over 482 rape cases were recorded just in the first three months of the year. A young adivasi policewoman in Jharkhand was gang-raped while accompanying her family members carrying the dead body of her sister. According to the National Crime Records Bureau report of 2012, Assam tops the rate of cognizable crimes against women in India in 2012 at 89.54%. The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and the North Eastern Network recently issue a press release expressing concern regarding the severity of violence against women in the state.

West Bengal, according to data collected by the National Crime Records Bureau, has continuously recorded the 2nd highest incidents of rape in India, for the last seven years (2004-2010). Between, 2006-2010, the incidents of rape across the country increased by 15 per cent but increased by 34 per cent, in West Bengal. A victim of rape in Baranagar, WB, died of internal bleeding because of the callousness of the police and the administration. In another case, in Falta, the police initially refused to record the victim’s complaint but the Calcutta High Court Orders forced the Falta police to investigate the allegation. A 37-year-old woman was raped at gunpoint in a moving car in Kolkata on the night of 5th February in 2012 after accepting a lift from the accused. The chief minister had dismissed the victim stating the complaint was “cooked up”.

Earlier this month women groups in Delhi submitted their six-point ‘womanifesto’ – 1. Educate everyone, 2. Make laws count 3. Make police more responsive 4. Set up faster, competent courts, 5. Create support to survivors 6. Safe streets, safe city. This manifesto was submitted to the candidates in the recently held Delhi elections with the demand that they commit to it enforcing it with one year.

One could hope that such a manifesto be adopted on the national level which would be the first step towards dismantling the misogynistic, patriarchal societal norms that is prevalent in society, and its judicial, legislative and executive branches of government.

Justice Verma: A judge who fought for women’s rights

Justice Verma

With the sad demise of Justice Verma, the Indian women’s movement has lost one of its most noble defenders

By Team FI

Justice J S Verma, the much respected jurist who died of multiple organ failure on Monday at the age of 80, was cremated yesterday with state honour in New Delhi. He was the former Chief Justice of India and ex-Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

On behalf of the women’s movement, Vrinda Grover (lawyer), Suneeta Dhar, Madhu Mehra and others attended the funeral at the Lodhi Road crematorium and paid tribute to the great human rights defender.

Noted women’s rights lawyer Flavia Agnes told FeministsIndia that she is honoured to have interacted with Justice Verma. “Justice Verma will always be remembered for his humility, dedication and commitment towards women. Three landmark decisions in his career paved the way for women’s legal rights. His Vishaka Judgment ensured security to women at the workplace in the absence of a law. As Chairperson of the NHRC, he ordered the retrial and transfer of the Bilkis Banu case and lastly and most significantly he prepared the progressive and practical Verma Committee Report post the Delhi rape.”

Justice Verma began his legal career in 1955. He was responsible for several landmark judgments that made him the face of judicial activism in the country. In May 1997, during his term as the Chief Justice of India the Supreme Court of India adopted the Charter “Restatement of Values of Judicial Life”. This charter, served as a code of conduct, a guide for the judiciary of India to be strong, independent and impartial.

In 1997, as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, he passed a landmark judgement in the case of Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan. It gave the country its first definition and framework for sexual harassment at the work place, recognizing sexual violence as an abuse of a woman’s constitutional and human rights.

Three landmark decisions in his career paved the way for women’s legal rights

After retiring from the Supreme Court, Justice Verma served as the chairperson of the NHRC from November 1999 to January 2003. In the aftermath of the Gujarat riots, he led an NHRC team that visited Gujarat from March 19 to 22, 2002. The team submitted a report on April 1, 2002 which was welcomed by human rights groups in the country. In an interview to Tehelka magazine in 2008, Justice Verma unequivocally stated that NHRC had passed two orders on April 1 and May 31, 2002, which had “indicted the state government of Gujarat. In the April order, the NHRC clearly stated that the government is doing little to stop the violation of fundamental rights to life and dignity of the people in Gujarat.”

Renowned feminist economist Devaki Jain stated that India has lost “a great luminary and the noblest of human beings.” She described his tenure as the Chairperson of NHRC as one of the glorious periods for those who were working in the field of human rights in India. “He was always accessible and willing to respond to ideas and positions which were not ‘associated with important people’. Justice Verma opened his mind and the doors of NHRC, with what can be called ‘immediate effect’ to a proposal I made for what at that time we called ‘Indigenizing Human Rights Education’,” said Devaki Jain.

Activist Sheba George commented, “He will be remembered for his landmark NHRC report on the 2002 violence in Gujarat and also for the work he did to end violence against women after the gruesome gang rape in Delhi last December.”

Last year, in December, the brutal gang rape of a young woman and her subsequent death as a result of her injuries had the country and its capital engulfed in protest and anger. The government appointed a three member panel headed by Justice Verma to formulate recommendations to create stronger laws against sexual violence. The Verma Commission took in suggestions and opinions not only from women and human rights groups in the country but also individuals across the nation. Within 29 days, a 630 page report was submitted to the government. The report went above and beyond the call of duty by not just recommending changes to the current laws but framing a comprehensive gender policy.

Though the report was applauded by women’s and human rights groups in the country, the government response with the Criminal Law Amendment 2013 came as a letdown by ignoring some of the key points made in the Verma Commission report.

Justice Verma is survived by his wife and two daughters.

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.

Gang rape must lead to an awakening in India

Anti-rape-protest-India

By Ramlath Kavil

Perhaps the only “mistake” the 23-year-old New Delhi gang-rape victim made on the ill-fated night of Dec. 16 was to trust Delhi’s public transport system. In India, especially in cities like New Delhi, despite its being the national capital with enormous security presence and closed-circuit cameras, boarding a bus at 9:15 p.m. can be fatal for a woman, even if she has the company of a male friend.

The young woman was brutally raped and assaulted with an iron rod by six men in what turned out to be a private bus. The assault was so inhuman that it ripped her intestines apart, caused severe genital injuries and on the 29th of December — 13 days later— she died in a hospital in Singapore. The incident roused the nation’s collective consciousness, and a large portion of young India spilled into streets, paralyzing parts of the capital city. Post-independence India has never witnessed such large-scale, spontaneous public outcry over women’s security.

India has often been described as a great paradox. The largest democracy in the world, and a land with a long-celebrated history of non-violent political struggle, is profoundly misogynistic. Sexism has such deep roots in society that it is an acceptable form of discrimination. The son-only culture has affected the gender ratio so much that Haryana, for example, which is just a few kilometres away from the national capital, has reached a stage of importing brides from other parts of the country due to an extreme shortage of young women.

Sex-selective abortion, though illegal, has always been a booming business across the country. Dowry, a practice of giving property and money to the bridegroom and his family, has been held as one of the reasons for the deep antipathy to having daughters, as their birth signals an unaffordable financial liability.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, rape today is India’s fastest growing crime.

Women’s rights activists in the country have long been asking for societal and legal reforms and accountability from the political establishment when it comes to protecting women’s rights. Sexual violence has an institutionalized status in the country. Deep-rooted patriarchal mores make the honour of the family and community dependent on the chastity of the woman. This society has the audacity to ask its daughters not to get raped instead of asking its sons not to commit rape.

Activists report that a large number of rapes go unreported. Shockingly, on average, every 20 minutes a rape is committed in India, and in the majority of the cases the perpetrators are family members. Even of the registered rapes, conviction rates are as low as 26 per cent of cases. In this context, the more shrill demands to hang the rapists and give the death penalty for rape are not going to make bringing the rapist to book easier.

Rape in India, as in most cultures, is a convenient weapon to be used against women in caste/class/communal conflicts in the country. During notorious Gujarat riots of 2002, the men belonging to the right wing Hindu political outfits used rape as a weapon to teach the minority community a “lesson.” Perpetrators of the riots are still roaming free due to their high-end political connections.

During the 2006 Kherlanji caste massacre, a mother and daughter belonging to a lower caste community were paraded naked and gang-raped before being murdered. In politically troubled areas like Kashmir and the Northeast, the army and police have long been accused of rape and violence. Soni Sori, a tribal school teacher who was termed as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International in 2012, following her arrest on unsubstantiated charges of supporting the banned radical left in India, was subjected to brutal sexual violence in custody which included shoving stones into her genitals. While Sori is still languishing in jail without bail, the cop who was alleged to have orchestrated the violence was awarded the president’s medal in 2012 for professional excellence.

In most cases that involve violence against women, India has often failed to take any productive measures to protect women’s basic human rights primarily because of political pressure.

The horrific Delhi gang rape has given India’s youth, especially women, a platform to express their anguish over India’s abysmal record in defending women’s rights. Spontaneous protests are still taking place all over the country. The extent of outrage in New Delhi was so unexpected, a jittery administration has acted to defuse public mobilization.

The government has appointed a three-member committee to look into possible amendments in the criminal laws in order to provide speedier justice and stringent punishment in sexual assault cases.

The bottom line is — as thousands take to the streets braving water cannons and police batons, especially young women — India is waking up to the slogans that women’s organizations have long been shouting. End violence against women! It is time that India recognized the need to change in order to put an end to the inhuman degradation of its women, and the inevitable decay of the human rights of women.

This article was originally published in the Ottawa Citizen

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

Youths show the way at India Gate

Delhi rape protest

By Naina Kapur

While aging ministers with archaic mindsets stumbled in the halls of government to offer yet another “legal” approach to ‘rape’, young men and women spoke with clarity and a commitment for an issue that they had no historical connection to but for this 23-year-old- one of their own

Some have asked my reason for attending the protest against rape on December 23rd at India Gate which led to being caught in an unprovoked brutal lathi and tear gas charge by the Rapid Action Force and Riot Police. My answer is- the young people. A few years ago I did feel reflective about what it was that moved the young. What rights would this next generation really fight for? For those of us who emerged from the protests, campaigns, disappointing outcomes and some successes of the women’s movement in the 80”s and 90’, there seemed no apparent answer. The signals, it seems, were in the places we never thought to look- within them.

On December 23rd, it took a single step into a symbolic circle near Amar Jawan Jyoti at India Gate to melt away my doubts. Young men in a chakravu, held hands surrounding an inner circle of mostly women. As I gently tapped one young man on the shoulder, there was an instant and graceful parting which allowed me to enter a collective space at the centre. There, women sat, shouted for justice, sang and heard the heartfelt stories of other women including the gang rape of a 3 year old who died from her abuse. And in that moment, for all the shame that has echoed in the very being of us as Indians over the vicious brutality faced by a young woman who simply stepped out to dinner and a movie with a friend only to board that fateful bus, I felt an equal depth of pride- for the young people within that circle and their genuine call for justice- for, in fact, a better world for women.

Many in that circle had come to protest for the first time in their lives, and the cause is rape and violence against women. With or without us, they are struggling to find ways to respond. Young men spoke up and vouched to eliminate ogling at women- ogling! Men were speaking about ogling- that silent yet oppressive shadow which stalks women throughout the city if not the country but to which we have forever turned a blind eye.

If only some of our leaders had peacefully entered that circle with me, they would have witnessed what I experienced- a genuine expression of pain. As parents, citizens, Indians and people who sought to pave a way, we must ask ourselves what legacy we want to share with them. Brickbats and teargas? Adversity and violence? Or compassionate engagement with their cause- one that impacts us all? Our youth are trying to point the way to a truth about ourselves, our values, our rights. We must find the humility to follow and where needed, to offer some of those pearls of wisdom we might have gathered along the way. RAF and Riot Police cannot defy a truth- it can only embolden it. It’s not an Arab Spring- it’s a circle. But In the words of a famous American hymn rewritten in the eighties- one which can’t be broken.

“Will the circle be unbroken, by and by Lord by and by.
There’s a better way to live now, we can have it if we try.”

Naina Kapur is an advocate and Equality Consultant based in New Delhi

India mourns the death of Delhi gangrape victim

Delhi rape protest

By Team FI

India is mourning the death of the 23-year-old woman who was brutally gan-graped and assaulted with an iron rod by six men aboard a moving bus in the national capital.

The young paramedical student died of her injuries at Singapore’s Mount Elizabeth Hospital at 2.15 am on Saturday. The victim had been flown to Singapore in a critical condition by the government on Thursday for treatment.

The brutal rape and assault that took place on December 16,2012, triggered massive nationwide protests and almost paralysed parts of New Delhi a few days ago. Large number of students, mostly women, took out protest marches braving water cannons and lathis. As the news of the girl’s death spread today, a worried Delhi administration, eager to ensure that anti-rape protesters did not catch them by surprise, stepped up security and blocked public access to sensitive areas of the national capital.

According to the Mount Elizabeth hospital hospital, despite all efforts by a team of eight specialists to keep her alive and stable, her condition continued to deteriorate and she suffered from severe organ failure following serious injuries to her body and brain.

“She was courageous in fighting for her life for so long against the odds but the trauma to her body was too severe for her to overcome,” Dr Kelvin Loh, CEO of the hospital said.

Meanwhile, women’s organisations have called for a silent march in memory of the young victim across the country. In Delhi, mourners will start at 1.30 pm and walk from Mandi House to Jantar Mantar. A silent protest will take place at Shivaji Park in Mumbai on Saturday at 2 pm. In Bangalore, a night vigil will be held. Mourners will walk from Ramakrishna Ashram in Basavanagudi to Jayanagar 4th Block starting at 6 pm to protest, remember and mourn rape victims/survivors. In Kochi, a protest march will be held from Kaloor to the high court at 6pm.

Many individuals and groups have called for candle light vigils demanding a violence-free world.

Activists condemn sexual violence, oppose death penalty

delhi rape protest

By Team FI

On 16 December, 2012, a 23-year-old young woman and her male friend got on to a private bus – Yadav Travels – at 9.30 pm at night when they were assured that the bus was going to the desination the two intended to reach. There were six men on the bus including the driver Ram Singh. The six men injured the young man and raped the young woman and brutally assaulted her. The two were stripped and thrown from the bus at the outskirts of Delhi where they were discovered by police patrol.

As the news spread through the city and country, shock, outrage and anger poured out in form of protests across India. The dominant cry was of imposing death penalty to the accused – Ram Singh, Mukesh Singh, Vinay Sharma, Pawan Gupta and Akshay Thakur. On 18th December, leader of Opposition and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Sushma Swaraj calls the young woman battling for life at the Safdarjung Hospital a zinda laash (living corpse). The young woman was later shifted to a hospital in Singapore and her condition remains extremely critical.

Protests in Delhi grew increasingly violent as anger spilled out in the streets as authorities restricted the demonstrators. As a part of the protests, Women’s and Progressive groups and individuals have put out a public statement and an online petition on 23rd December condemning sexual violence and opposing death penalty. The statement says, “We need to evolve punishments that act as true deterrents to the very large number of men who commit these crimes. Our stance is not anti-punishment but against the State executing the death penalty. The fact that cases of rape have a conviction rate of as low as 26% shows that perpetrators of sexual violence enjoy a high degree of impunity, including being freed of charges.”

Hers is the public statement by statement by women’s and progressive groups and individuals;

On 16 December, 2012, a 23-year old woman and her friend hailed a bus at a crossing in South Delhi. In the bus, they were both brutally attacked by a group of men who claimed to be out on a ‘joy-ride’. The woman was gang raped and the man beaten up; after several hours, they were both stripped and dumped on the road. While the young woman is still in hospital, bravely battling for her life, her friend has been discharged and is helping identify the men responsible for the heinous crime.

We, the undersigned, women’s, students’ and progressive groups and concerned citizens from around the country, are outraged at this incident and, in very strong terms, condemn her gang rape and the physical and sexual assault.

As our protests spill over to the streets all across the country, our demands for justice are strengthened by knowing that there are countless others who share this anger. We assert that rape and other forms of sexual violence are not just a women’s issue, but a political one that should concern every citizen. We strongly demand that justice is done in this and all other cases and the perpetrators are punished.

This incident is not an isolated one; sexual assault occurs with frightening regularity in this country. Adivasi and dalit women and those working in the unorganised sector, women with disabilities, hijras, kothis, trans people and sex workers are especially targeted with impunity – it is well known that the complaints of sexual assault they file are simply disregarded. We urge that the wheels of justice turn not only to incidents such as the Delhi bus case, but to the epidemic of sexual violence that threatens all of us. We need to evolve punishments that act as true deterrents to the very large number of men who commit these crimes. Our stance is not anti-punishment but against the State executing the death penalty. The fact that cases of rape have a conviction rate of as low as 26% shows that perpetrators of sexual violence enjoy a high degree of impunity, including being freed of charges.

Silent witnesses to everyday forms of sexual assault such as leering, groping, passing comments, stalking and whistling are equally responsible for rape being embedded in our culture and hence being so prevalent today. We, therefore, also condemn the culture of silence and tolerance for sexual assault and the culture of valorising this kind of violence.

We also reject voices that are ready to imprison and control women and girls under the garb of ‘safety’, instead of ensuring their freedom as equal participants in society and their right to a life free of perpetual threats of sexual assault, both inside and outside their homes.
In cases (like this) which have lead to a huge public outcry all across the country, and where the perpetrators have been caught, we hope that justice will be speedily served and they will be convicted for the ghastly acts that they have committed. However, our vision of this justice does not include death penalty, which is neither a deterrent nor an effective or ethical response to these acts of sexual violence. We are opposed to it for the following reasons:

1. We recognise that every human being has a right to life. Our rage cannot give way to what are, in no uncertain terms, new cycles of violence. We refuse to deem ‘legitimate’ any act of violence that would give the State the right to take life in our names. Justice meted by the State cannot bypass complex socio-political questions of violence against women by punishing rapists by death. Death penalty is often used to distract attention away from the real issue – it changes nothing but becomes a tool in the hands of the State to further exert its power over its citizens. A huge set of changes are required in the system to end the widespread and daily culture of rape.
2. There is no evidence to suggest that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to rape. Available data shows that there is a low rate of conviction in rape cases and a strong possibility that the death penalty would lower this conviction rate even further as it is awarded only under the ‘rarest of rare’ circumstances. The most important factor that can act as a deterrent is the certainty of punishment, rather than the severity of its form.

3. As seen in countries like the US, men from minority communities make up a disproportionate number of death row inmates. In the context of India, a review of crimes that warrant capital punishment reveals the discriminatory way in which such laws are selectively and arbitrarily applied to disadvantaged communities, religious and ethnic minorities. This is a real and major concern, as the possibility of differential consequences for the same crime is injustice in itself.

4. The logic of awarding death penalty to rapists is based on the belief that rape is a fate worse than death. Patriarchal notions of ‘honour’ lead us to believe that rape is the worst thing that can happen to a woman. There is a need to strongly challenge this stereotype of the ‘destroyed’ woman who loses her honour and who has no place in society after she’s been sexually assaulted. We believe that rape is tool of patriarchy, an act of violence, and has nothing to do with morality, character or behaviour.

5. An overwhelming number of women are sexually assaulted by people known to them, and often include near or distant family, friends and partners. Who will be able to face the psychological and social trauma of having reported against their own relatives? Would marital rape (currently not recognised by law), even conceptually, ever be looked at through the same retributive prism?

6. The State often reserves for itself the ‘right to kill’ — through the armed forces, the paramilitary and the police. We cannot forget the torture, rape and murder of Thangjam Manorama by the Assam Rifles in Manipur in 2004 or the abduction, gang rape and murder of Neelofar and Aasiya of Shopian (Kashmir) in 2009. Giving more powers to the State, whether arming the police and giving them the right to shoot at sight or awarding capital punishment, is not a viable solution to lessen the incidence of crime.

Furthermore, with death penalty at stake, the ‘guardians of the law’ will make sure that no complaints against them get registered and they will go to any length to make sure that justice does not see the light of day. The ordeal of Soni Sori, who had been tortured in police custody last year, still continues her fight from inside a prison in Chattisgarh, in spite of widespread publicity around her torture.
7. As we know, in cases of sexual assault where the perpetrator is in a position of power (such as in cases of custodial rape or caste and religion violence), conviction is notoriously difficult. The death penalty, for reasons that have already been mentioned, would make conviction next to impossible.

We, the undersigned, demand the following:

• Greater dignity, equality, autonomy and rights for women and girls from a society that should stop questioning and policing their actions at every step.

• Immediate relief in terms of legal, medical, financial and psychological assistance and long-term rehabilitation measures must be provided to survivors of sexual assault.

• Provision of improved infrastructure to make cities safer for women, including well-lit pavements and bus stops, help lines and emergency services.

• Effective registration, monitoring and regulation of transport services (whether public, private or contractual) to make them safe, accessible and available to all.

• Compulsory courses within the training curriculum on gender sensitisation for all personnel employed and engaged by the State in its various institutions, including the police.

• That the police do its duty to ensure that public spaces are free from harassment, molestation and assault. This means that they themselves have to stop sexually assaulting women who come to make complaints. They have to register all FIRs and attend to complaints. CCTV cameras should be set up in all police stations and swift action must be taken against errant police personnel.

• Immediate setting up of fast track courts for rape and other forms of sexual violence all across the country. State governments should operationalise their creation on a priority basis. Sentencing should be done within a period of six months.

• The National Commission for Women has time and again proved itself to be an institution that works against the interests of women. NCW’s inability to fulfil its mandate of addressing issues of violence against women, the problematic nature of the statements made by the Chairperson and its sheer inertia in many serious situations warrants that the NCW role be reviewed and audited as soon as possible.

• The State acknowledges the reality of custodial violence against women in many parts of the country, especially in Kashmir, North-East and Chhattisgarh. There are several pending cases and immediate action should be taken by the government to punish the guilty and to ensure that these incidents of violence are not allowed to be repeated.

• Regarding the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2012, women’s groups have already submitted detailed recommendations to the Home Ministry. We strongly underline that the Bill must not be passed in its current form because of its many serious loopholes and lacuna. Some points:

- There has been no amendment to the flawed definition of consent under Sec 375IPC and this has worked against the interest of justice for women.

- The formulation of the crime of sexual assault as gender neutral makes the identity of the perpetrator/accused also gender neutral. We demand that the definition of perpetrator be gender-specific and limited to men. Sexual violence also targets transgender people and legal reform must address this.

- In its current form, the Bill does not recognise the structural and graded nature of sexual assault, based on concepts of hurt, harm, injury, humiliation and degradation. The Bill also does not use well-established categories of sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault and sexual offences.

- It does not mention sexual assault by security forces as a specific category of aggravated sexual assault. We strongly recommend the inclusion of perpetration of sexual assault by security forces under Sec 376(2).