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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.

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.

Protest mount in Delhi over child rape

Anti-rape protest delhi

By Team FI

Protests and anger are mounting in Delhi over the brutal rape of 5- year- old girl in Delhi last week.

Anti-rape protesters stormed the barricades outside the residences of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi. The police had to forcefully remove protesters from outside the police headquarters.

The anger was also directed against Delhi police’s alleged negligent and callous attitude in refusing to file FIR when the parents reported the rape. The child’s father has alleged that police officials told him to be grateful that the child was alive and offered a bribe to hush up the case.

The five-year-old girl was abducted on April 15 and was sexually assaulted for two days without food and water in a room in which the accused lived. She was rescued Wednesday when her family, who lived in the same building, heard her feeble cries.

The Delhi police arrested the accused, Manoj Kumar, a garment factory worker, from his in-law’s house in Bihar. The 22-year-old accused was produced in a Delhi court and has been sent to judicial custody till May 4. A jittery Delhi administration, to avoid a repeat of the massive protests after the rape and murder of young student in December last year, on Sunday stopped protesters from marching to India Gate and distributed pamphlets requesting the public to remain calm.

The doctors at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences where the child was admitted stated that the girls’ condition is stable and she is responding to treatment. Doctors earlier removed pieces of candle and a plastic bottle from the child’s vagina. One of the doctors treating her is reported to have admitted that he had never before witnessed such brutality committed on a child.

Featured photo courtesy: PTI

Criminal law bill 2013: one step forward, two steps backward, say activists

India

Women’s groups call for changes in the new Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2013, passed by the Union Government of India

By Team FI

Women’s groups and representatives of democratic and human rights groups, have called the Union Government’s Criminal Law (Amendment) (CLA) Bill 2013, as “taking one step forward and two steps back” in relation to “creating a law which is truly just, progressive and reflects the reality of contemporary India.”

The press release, issued after the Union Government passed the CLA Bill on March 15, 2013 states that though certain points in the CLA Bill are welcome, there are other areas where major lacunae causes serious concern. The issues raised includes the demand for the usage of the term gender-neutral for the victim of sexual violence emphasizing that victims of sexual violence are not only women but also men, and those who do not subscribe to the “normal” gender roles, that marital rape should be recognized as sexual violence, that laws that provide impunity to armed forces in relation to sexual violence must be removed and that the word “forced” to be added to the word prostitution to distinguish it from voluntary sex work.

The press release said that they welcome the fact that “only men may be accused of rape under Section 375 IPC of the Act which reflects the prevalence of the crime and reality of rape as an exercise of power in a deeply patriarchal society.” They also appreciated that stalking and voyeurism would now be non-bailable for repeat offenders. They support reducing the minimum age consent for sexual activity to 16. They also welcome that minimum imprisonment would be provided for public servants who “knowingly disobey the law.” And that “no prior sanction will be required from the government for prosecution of public servants for crimes of sexual violence.”

The following are however the areas where activists have expressed their dissatisfaction and concern. The press releases calls on the members of parliament to discuss these issues and follow the recommendations of the Justice Verma committee in letter and spirit for truly gender-just laws in India.

The press release reads:

Gender neutral victim: Victims of sexual violence are not only women but other men, and those who transgress or don’t fit into so-called “normal” gender roles – like transgender people, hijras, people with intersex variations etc. Repeated sexual offences against hijras are common knowledge and the Khairlanji events show how egregiously men can be sexually humiliated and violated by other men. While perpetrators of sexual violence must be men; the victims should be “persons”, i.e. gender neutral in appropriate sections.

Marital rape: This continues to be legal in India despite controls being proposed to address concerns of abuse. Women separated under judicial decree or otherwise, are the only ones with any protection. Ironically, complaints about marital rape are considered to go against traditional values and pose a threat to the institution of marriage, but the crime itself does not evoke such strong sanction. This is a deep failure in our laws.

Dignity and bodily integrity, not “modesty”: The language of “outraging the modesty of women” remains despite its subjective, patriarchal and moralistic nature – it should be replaced with “dignity and bodily integrity”.

No impunity under AFSPA: Laws like AFSPA, which provide total impunity to the armed forces, must go, as said by the Justice Verma Committee. We know that rape and sexual assault in areas under army control are widespread. Such offences are almost never adequately prosecuted by the institutions involved. We demand the all such cases be tried under normal criminal law in criminal courts.

Command responsibility: In cases of sexual assault committed by state personnel, authorities higher up in the hierarchy should be held liable for dereliction of duty by those under their command if they knew or should have known of the lapse.

Aggravated assault: Sexual violence committed in the context of communal or sectarian violence, or across caste-lines, is of an aggravated nature and must be treated as such.

No death penalty: Awarding death penalty in cases of sexual assault will have serious negative consequences. It is not the severity of punishment but the certainty of it that will act has a real deterrent. In fact the death penalty could increase instances of murder by rapists to keep the victim out of the witness box.

Trafficking, not voluntary sex work: We strongly agree with the prohibition of trafficking but at the same time it’s important that the government distinguishes “forced prostitution” from voluntary sex work. We propose adding the word “forced” to Article 370 to make this distinction clear.

Medical treatment and reparations: For the victim of an acid attack, sexual assault or rape, there is an immediate need from the time of injury of medical treatment, access to a safe place, surgeries, and on-going rehabilitation-related expenses. These must be borne by the State, whether it draws from a State fund, or recovers from the accused or from any other source.

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.

Guwahati Case: Laws on Sexual Violence Inadequate

Guwahati-girl-molestation-photo-1

An Open Letter to PM by women’s groups questions the efficacy of the laws on sexual assault, the inadequacies of which may weaken the case against the perpetrators in the Guwahati assault of 20-year-old woman

By Team FI

Even as outrage is being expressed across the nation at the Guwahati mob assault on a 20-year-old woman, and questions are being raised about the media involvement and complicity, a collective of women’s groups, human rights organisations and individuals have sent an open letter to the Prime Minister, calling attention to the inadequacies in the country’s laws on sexual violence which might very well weaken the case against the perpetrators of this atrocity.

On 9th May, at 9.30 pm, outside a pub near Guwahati’s Christian Basti area, a 20-year-old woman was stripped, molested, beaten up by a nearly 50-strong mob, even as reporters from television channels filmed the assault. The police reportedly arrived at 10.10 pm and rescued the girl. The video footage shows the mob reaching out into the police van filled with armed cops and harassing the girl. The National Commission of Women panel who visited the girl at the residence stated that marks of severe injuries were found on her, including cigarette burns all over her body.

Twelve out of the mob were identified – and four arrests have been made so far – Dhanraj Basfar, a sweeper, Puspendu Das, a shopkeeper, Md Habijuddin, and 18-year-old Bikash Tiwari. Those identified but not arrested are Rubul Ali, Debo Das, a man with the surname Baruah, Dipak Dey an auto driver, Tinku Deb and Bablu. One of the main accused who is seen smiling at the video camera even as he hit and molested the girl was identified as Amarjyoti Kalita.

The accused have been booked under Sec 341 (wrongful restraint) 143 (unlawful assembly), 294 (obscene act), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 354 (assault or criminal force on a woman with the intent to outrage her modesty) of IPC. The Open Letter points out that, “At present only 2 provisions of the Indian Penal Code primarily deal with the issue of sexual violence against women. Sec. 376 IPC punishes rape and Sec. 354 IPC punishes outraging the ‘modesty’ of a woman. Sec. 354 IPC applies to routine incidents of molestation and certainly does not respond to aggravated sexual assault by a mob, accompanied by public stripping and parading. There is no penal provision to redress the harm, injury, humiliation and trauma suffered by the young woman in Guwahati when she was assaulted by a group of men, or indeed countless attacks similar to this reported from different parts of India. Yet it is this penal provision which the police and court will have to base their charge upon.  Sec. 354 IPC offers no commensurate penalty – nor is a deterrent.  It is a bailable offence and allows the Court to award a maximum of 2 year imprisonment or at its discretion, a mere fine as a minimum sentence.”

The letter points out the inadequacy of the IPC which “leaves unacknowledged a host of crimes of sexual assault. The law attaches gravity only to rape i.e penile penetration of the vagina. All other forms of sexual assault find no specific mention and fall into the residue category of Sec. 354 IPC, which trivialises the crimes.”

The Letter points out that for the past twenty years the women’s movement has been pushing for the need for law reform. The Home Ministry’s response to this was the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 2010, which was welcomed by the women’s groups who organised national consultations with “women’s rights, child rights, human rights groups, scholars, lawyers etc. and formulated an alternative draft Bill…The draft bill submitted by women’s rights groups in 2010 had, therefore, graded offences into categories of sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault and sexual offences, based on the concepts of harm, injury, humiliation and degradation.”

The delegation that presented the draft bill was assured of a national consultation on the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 2010. However, though the Child Sexual Offences Bill was passed, the Letter states that “despite our repeated reminders and requests no progress has been made on amending the law relating to sexual violence.”

The Letter demands a transparent and thorough probe into the alleged role of the media in instigating the Guwahati attack and strongly urges the government to initiate “the process of dialogue with women’s rights groups, activists, lawyers and scholars on the Criminal law Amendment Bill, 2010, by organizing consultations.”

Siddharth Mallya Served Notice for Defamatory Tweets

sidharth mallya

Mallya has 48 hours to apologise or face legal action from Zohal Hamid, who was subjected to character assassination tweets from Siddharth Mallya following her molestation charges against IPL Royal Challenger cricketer Luke Pomersbach

By Team FI

Siddarth Mallya, director of the IPL Royal Challengers team, owned by his business tycoon father Vijay Mallya, was served legal notice by Zohal Hamid asking him to apologize for his defamatory tweets against her following her molestation charges against RC cricketer Luke Pomersbach. Mallya has been given 48 hours to apologize, at the end of which legal action would be initiated against him.

The Australian cricketer was arrested and charged on Friday, 18th on charges of molesting Hamid and attacking her fiancé Sahil Peerzada at a five star hotel. Responding to Hamid’s allegations, Mallya tweeted, “The girl who is accusing Luke is saying he hit her ‘fiancé’…what a load of fucking shit. She was all over me last night and asked for me bbm pin, so if he was her fiance she wasn’t exactly behaving like a future wife.”

He later tweeted, “If Luke is in the wrong, then trust me he will face the necessary sanctions. But what this girl is doing is idiotic.” Mallya’s tweets have not only irked women and activists in the country; the twitter community have also mostly greeted the tweet with brickbats.

Pomersbach was released on bail on Saturday. He was charged under IPC sections 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty), 323 (causing hurt), 454 (lurking house trespass) and 511 (attempting to commit offences punishable with imprisonment for life or other imprisonment).

Delhiites March in Protest Against Rape

Delhi protest by activists

Individuals and activists from women’s groups, disability groups, and civil rights movements marched in Delhi NCR in a protest against rape

By Team FI

United under the banner of Citizen’s Collective Against Sexual Assault, about 350 people from across Delhi, Gurgaon and Noida, marched from Mandi House to Jantar Mantar on 5th May, 2012, to protest against rape and the negligent and insensitive responses of authorities. “Stop Rapes and Make Delhi NCR a Safer Place for Women” was the message that was delivered to the public and police authorities.

The protesters intended to march from Mandi House to the ITO but the permission was withdrawn by the Delhi Police. The march had to be rerouted to Jantar Mantar. “No, you cannot protest on the streets” – this is the response that members of the Citizens’ Collective got when they went for police permission to the Parliament Street police station a few days ago. Obviously, our ‘duty bearers’ today are absolutely fine with women being raped and sexually assaulted on the streets, but they are not okay with people protesting this. This is the grim reality in Delhi NCR today, “ stated the press release from the Citizens Collective.

The protesters were from women’s groups (including Action India, AIDWA, AIPWA, Jagori, Nirantar, PLD, Saheli, Sama, Stree Adhikar Sangathan), disability groups (The Deaf Way Foundation, Noida Deaf Society, National Association of the Deaf), youth groups (Must Bol and YP Foundation), representatives from other movements (NAPM, NTUI, students groups/unions), citizen groups like Gurgaon Girlcott and residents from across the NCR. The march also attracted passers-by who joined the protesters.

The marchers, most of them dressed in red, carrying banners that read Nazar Teri Buri Aur Parda Mein Karoon?’ and ‘Don’t tell me how to dress, tell them not to rape,’  gathered at Jantar Mantar. The next three hours saw slogans shouted, songs of protest, speeches and a performance of ‘Dastak’ (a nukkad-natak/play by Arvind Gaur’s theatre group Asmita).

”According to media reports, Delhi Police says a woman is raped every 18 hours and molested every 14 hours in Delhi. Delhi Commissioner of Police, B K Gupta accepts that not all rape cases get reported,” stated the press release issued by the organizers. The rally ended with the Joint Commissioner of Police Taj Hussain being presented with a memorandum in the absence of the Delhi Commissioner of Police. JCP Taj promised to follow-up on the demands.  Similar memorandums would be submitted to the Gurgaon and Noida Commissioners of Police.

The Memorandum

The Commissioners of Police (Delhi, Gurgaon and Noida) must publicly condemn the statements made by their respective colleagues. They must clearly convey zero-tolerance of anti-women and gender-insensitive attitudes of their forces. Strict action should be taken against police personnel for making such statements/letting such attitudes affect the course of justice.

All state agencies must stop blaming the victim and shift the responsibility onto the state agencies mandated to protect women’s rights. We demand respect and dignity of all women.

Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for sexual assault cases (including sexual harassment in public places, domestic violence and rape) must be made available in the public domain so that all citizens are aware of their rights under such circumstances. This information would include the procedures for helpline, PCR, as well as walk-in cases.

There must be 100% response to calls by women and on behalf of the women in distress.

The Police forces must ensure effective and timely response from Delhi Police helplines like 100, 1091, 1096, and other helplines in Gurgaon and Noida. Mechanisms to regularly monitor calls and the subsequent responses should be put to immediate effect.

Immediate and sustainable preventive mechanisms should be designed and adopted by all police forces for coordinated action across state borders.

Police officers should demonstrate greater sensitivity towards all women and girls, and undergo periodic gender training and follow gender sensitive normative standards.

 

Paraplegic Woman Deserves Dignity Not Custody: Supreme Court

Paraplegic Seema

Survivor of sexual assault by Rajathan Police, Seema, whose subsequent suicide attempt resulted in 80 percent paraplegia has been granted bail by the Supreme Court of India

By Team FI

Paraplegic woman, Seema who has spent the last 63 days in police custody after her arrest in a kidnapping and sexual abuse case has been granted interim bail on May 1st by the Supreme Court. According to the People’s Union for Civil Liberties‘s (PUCL), Rajasthan, press release, Justice CS Thakur and Justice Gyan Sudha Mishra said that Seema was a living corpse and she deserved dignity and not custody.

Seema’s story begins on 23rd January 2011, when she was brought into the Pratap Nagar police station (Jaipur) for questioning in an alleged kidnapping and sexual abuse case. Even as her father Shivdan Singh, a constable, was waiting outside, she was beaten and sexually assaulted by the SHO Ramniwas Bishnoi, head constable Babru Khan and constable Lal Chand. The next day, Seema, in an attempt to commit suicide jumped in front of train. She survived but spinal cord damage left her paraplegic. Her left leg had to be amputated above the knee.

Public uproar and protests by women organisations resulted in the arrest of the three policemen who are currently in jail, their bail applications having being rejected by both lower and higher courts. However in what activists and Seema’s parents believe is a bid to silence Seema, she was implicated in the kidnapping case and arrested on 29th of February, 2012. It was alleged that the victim of the sexual abuse case was forced to include Seema’s name as a conspirator.

Judicial magistrate Chandra Kala Jain sent Seema to the same jail where her abusers were being kept. She was shifted later to Sawai Man Singh hospital by jail authorities. According to Seema’s lawyer Ajay Kumar Jain, her bail plea was rejected by additional judicial magistrate Anita Sharma of the special court for women’s atrocities on the grounds that her pulse and her blood pressure were normal.