Tag Archive for Sexual Violence

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

UN- 2014- India-women- report

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

By Team FI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual violence

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

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

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

Violence against women in the family

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

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

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


Early marriage and forced marriage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Witch-hunting

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

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

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

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

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

Fair trial rights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Economic rights and the right to development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Domestic Violence

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

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

Bhanwari Devi 2013

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

By Laxmi Murthy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured photo courtesy: R. Eswarraj, The Hindu

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

Justice denied

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

By Prasanna P R

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PJ Kurien-Suryanelli

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prasanna P R is a journalist living in Kochi, Kerala

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.

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).

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.”

Soni Sori Case: Brutal Treatment Continues

soni sori AIMS

Soni Sori denied food, water and medicines for 24 hours on her way back to Raipur Jail from AIIMS, Delhi

By Team FI

Human rights activists have accused the Chhattisgarh Government of denying Soni Sori food, water and medicines immediately after her discharge from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences at New Delhi. After being treated at AIIMS after months of ill-treatment and improper medical treatment by the Chhattisgarh Government, Soni Sori was sent back to the Raipur Jail.

Soni Sori’s counsel, Mr. Colin Gonsalves had expressed his concern to the Chhattisgarh Government counsel, Mr. Atul Jha about no travel arrangements being made for her return to Chhattisgarh, to which Mr Jha assured Mr Gonsalves that every necessary precaution would be taken including, if need be, return to Raipur by flight. But despite these assurances, Soni Sori was taken to Raipur by train, in a crowded unreserved compartment. In scorching summer heat, she was made to stand for most of the 24 hour long train journey from Delhi to Raipur, despite her fragile health condition. With daytime temperatures touching 45 degrees Celsius, she was denied water, kept without food for the whole day and not even given the medicines prescribed to her by the doctors at AIIMS.

Soni Sori was brought to the AIIMS on May 10th at the behest of the Supreme Court which ordered immediate and urgent treatment to be provided to her. She was suffering from the  wounds inflicted on her during the sexual torture meted out to her in October, 2011 under police custody, which had been allowed to fester untreated in the jail. Consequently, she had grave secondary medical conditions, such as intermittent anal and vaginal bleeding, blisters on skin, difficulty in walking etc. at the time when she was brought to AIIMS.  Over the 5 weeks of her treatment in AIIMS, she seemed to have recovered significantly, due to regular and expert medical care provided to her.

According to activists it was sheer and deliberate negligence on part of the Chhattisgarh Government that led to such deterioration in Soni Sori’s health in the first place, that the Supreme Court had to order immediate medical intervention by AIIMS. The manner in which Soni Sori is being treated after her discharge from AIIMS once again raises serious concerns about the intention of the Chhattisgarh government in ensuring her health and safety.

“It is time for state violence against her to end,” urged activists who have asked the  Chhattisgarh Government to diligently follow the recommendations of AIIMS about rest, diet and medicines so that Soni Sori makes full recovery. They pointed out that the Indian Constitution guarantees under-trial prisoners basic human rights – Soni Sori rights need to be acknowledged.

It should be recalled that Soni Sori, an adivasi school teacher, had been subjected to brutal physical torture and sexual violence during her custody in the Dantewada police station on the night between 8th and 9th October, 2011.  Her torture had been confirmed by an independent medical examination conducted by the NRS Medical College and Hospital in Kolkata, during which stones lodged deep in her private parts had been recovered.

However, the medication prescribed by the NRS hospital had been discontinued by the jail authorities in Raipur Jail soon after her discharge, and Soni Sori had been denied any regular medical attention since the examination conducted by the NRS Hospital in October 2011.  In the absence of regular medical care and attention, Ms. Sori’s condition had steadily worsened, prompting the Supreme Court in June 2012 to order her to be brought to AIIMS in New Delhi for immediate medical treatment.

The Soni Sori Case: A Travesty of Justice

Soni Sori case Feminists India

By Team FI

The Soni Sori case is an unconscionable example of how India, the largest democracy in the world has often failed to check its growing human rights violations record.

For Soni Sori, this International Women’s Day is going to be just another day in Raipur jail, spent in pain and discomfort that constantly reminds her of the custodial torture and injustice meted out to her by the Chhattisgarh Police.

Soni Sori, an adivasi school teacher and the warden of a government-run school for tribal children in Jabeli, Dantewada, was arrested in Delhi on October 4th 2011. She has repeatedly claimed that the Chhattisgarh Police had been harassing her ever since she refused to be an informer against the Maoists, and even attempted to kill her after they arrested her nephew, Lingaram Kodopi, an outspoken journalist in September, 2011.

Charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) among others, Kodopi and Soni have both been accused in several other cases of ‘Maoist violence’ and as alleged go-betweens for a bribe by Essar to the Maoists.

Fearing for her life, Soni Sori fled to Delhi to seek legal help. She spoke of her travails to the media including the news magazine Tehelka, but was arrested before she could take legal action.  She pleaded with the Saket District Court and the Delhi High Court to be kept in custody in Delhi until she could file her petition in the Supreme Court.  However, she was remanded to the custody of Chhattisgarh Police, albeit with explicit directions to ensure her safety and an order that a report be filed before the Delhi High Court, outlining steps taken to keep her safe.

After two days in custody, when Soni Sori had to be produced in front of the Dantewada Magistrate on the 10th October, she was in such a bad condition that she could not get down from the police van and go to the courtroom. A court clerk came to the police van and yet, it is wrongly recorded that she was produced before the Magistrate who remanded her to judicial custody for 14 days.

The police claimed ‘she slipped in the bathroom and had hurt her head’. The examining doctor at the District Hospital said ‘she was brought in unconscious, the X-ray showed injuries on her head and back, and black marks were observed on her fingertips’ – indicating she had received electric shocks. Initially Soni Sori herself said that she had fallen in the bathroom, but later retracted saying she had been threatened by the police that if she spoke of her torture, her brother, the sole caretaker of her three children, would be arrested.

Subsequently, in her statements to relatives and in a letter to the Supreme Court, Soni Sori said, “After repeatedly giving me electric shocks, my clothes were taken off. I was made to stand naked. SP Ankit Garg was watching me; sitting on his chair (…) he abused me in filthy language and humiliated me. After some time, he went out and (…) sent three boys. (They) started molesting me and I fell after they pushed me. Then they put things inside my body in a brutal manner. I couldn’t bear the pain and I was almost unconscious. After a long time, I regained consciousness (…) by then, it was already morning.”

Superintendent of Police, Ankit Garg

In response to a petition filed in the Supreme Court, a three-Judge Bench ordered an independent medical examination in NRS Medical College Hospital in Kolkata. The report, presented in Court on 25th Nov, 2011 states three stones were found inserted deep inside her private parts, which were the primary cause of her abdominal pain. The MRI scan also shows annular tears on her spine. Yet shockingly, none of the three hospitals in Chhattisgarh which ‘examined her’ found inflammation in her private parts, the stones lodged in her vagina and rectum.

Since then Soni has petitioned the Supreme Court for urgent medical attention and to be moved back to Jagdalpur Jail so that her frail body can be spared the torturous travel to Dantewada for every hearing on the numerous cases filed against her. Yet the Supreme Court on December 1, 2011 ordered that she remain in the custody in Chhattisgarh for an additional period of 55 days until the next hearing on 25th January, 2012. She is still lodged there while she waits for a hearing and so-called ‘urgent’ medical attention.

Ever since the evidence of her custodial torture surfaced, women’s groups, civil rights groups, civil society organizations, individuals and many others have been trying to work towards ensure her safety — protesting against the Chhattisgarh Police, demanding justice and action from the Chief Minister, seeking inquiry by the National Human Rights Commission, the National Commission of Women and so on.

Soni Sori Feminists India

Soni Sori: photo by Garima Jain-Tehelka

On December 21st, 2012, an open letter to the Supreme Court was issued urging the court to “give serious attention to the grave violation of the rights of a tribal woman undertrial, the facts and documents regarding which are pending before the Supreme Court in the case.”

The letter was signed by prominent personalities like Aruna Roy,Uma Chakravarti, Brinda Karat, Romila Thapar etc along with scores of other doctors, educationists, academicians, students and individuals.  Joining them were 69 civil society groups and organisations working on women’s issues, health issues, civil and democratic rights, and worker’s issues from across the country.

On the 12th-13th January, 2012 a delegation of women’s groups went to meet Soni Sori in Central Jail, Raipur but were denied permission. They met the Chairpersons of both the State Human Rights Commission and the State Women’s Commission, both of whom said that the denial of permission did not constitute any violation of Soni’s rights. Additionally, the SCW said that since this was a `naxalite‘ case, caution was needed.

No step has been taken against any of the errant police officers – even Constable Mankar, who was recorded by Tehelka admitting that false cases had been registered against Soni and Kodopi. As for SP Ankit Garg, he has been awarded a Gallantry Award by the President on Jan 26, 2012. This news evoked unequivocal condemnation from women’s groups in the country.

On 29 January, activists held a hunger fast in Delhi in order to express solidarity with her plight.

Charges against Soni Sori

Soni Sori has multiple cases against her—from being a participant in a Naxalite raid at a Congress worker’s house, to acting as an intermediary for the Maoists—and each of the charge sheets show her as an “absconder”… this, at a time, when Soni Sori was not only regularly attending to her duties, but had also met with police authorities to complain about her own harassment by the Maoists: her father has been shot by the Maoists, at the time during which she was allegedly working with them.

With all so-called autonomous bodies like the human rights and women’s commissions keeping their hands off the case under the pretext of them being ‘sub-judice’, justice continues to elude Soni Sori. And it will continue to do so as long as the nation continues to delude itself about what constitutes a human rights violation.

From Irom Sharmila to Soni Sori, these are the faces that should haunt the Indian conscience, today.

Outrage over President’s medal to police chief

Women's groups protest in Delhi

By Team FI

Women’s Groups in India have condemned the government awarding the President’s Medal to a senior police official, Ankit Garg who is alleged to have supervised Soni Sori’s custodial torture.

Ankit Garg, Superintendent of Police, Dantewada, Chhattisgarh, India has been named by the Adivasi school teacher, Soni Sori, in several lettersto the Supreme Court, of ordering and supervising her torture and sexual violence against her, on the night of October 8th, 2011 when she was in his custody at the Dantewada police station.

Ankit Garg, Superintendent of Police, Dantewada

In a case which is now before the Supreme Court, Soni Sori has written that while she was in police custody in Dantewada police station, she was stripped before the Superintendent of Police, Ankit Garg, and given electric shocks under his directions.  Furthermore, he ordered three police personnel to “punish her” by sexually torturing her for disobeying his commands to name well-known social activists, such as Swami Agnivesh and Medha Patkar, as Naxal supporters.

An independent medical examination carried out by the Government hospital in Kolkata under the direction of the Supreme Court has confirmed her sexual torture by recovering stones embedded in her private parts.  This prompted the Supreme Court to reach the conclusion that she is clearly unsafe within the reach of Dantewada police, and needs to be transferred to the Raipur Central prison.

Women’s rights activists believe that this is no longer a case of mere allegations against the police, but there is also solid evidence by a government medical team to support her charges.

As Soni Sori, the victim of this heinous torture languishes in the Raipur Central Jail, with a deteriorating health condition, and waits for her case to be listed in the Supreme Court, women’s teams who have been taking up the case of her torture have been refused permission to meet her. She is still under the custody of the same state police has that inflicted this torture on her.

There can be no excuse for torture and sexual violence in the name of anti-Naxal or counter-insurgency operations. To confer awards on a person accused of such heinous acts diminishes the respect and honour usually associated with a gallantry award.

excerpts from the press statement issued by Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS), India.