Report of Rashida Manjoo, Special Rapporteur for the United Nations urges India to end the culture of impunity and the inequality and discrimination so as to eliminate violence against women in India
By Team FI
Rashida Manjoo, Special Rapporteur for the United Nation for violence against women, its causes and consequences, in the conclusive statement of her fact-finding mission in India, stated that violence against women was both a cause and consequence of de facto inequality and discrimination.
Mandated by the Human Rights Council to gather information on the causes and consequences of violence against women and recommend measures to eliminate the same, Manjoo urged the Government of India to link the violence against women with the “other systems of oppression and discrimination prevalent within societies.” In her statement delivered on May 1st 2013, Manjoo pointed out that creating legislations and policies alone will not bring about the needed change, “if it is not implemented within a holistic approach that simultaneously targets the empowerment of women, social transformation, and the provision of remedies that ultimately address the continuum of discrimination and violence, and also the pervasive culture of impunity.”
In her mission in India, Manjoo held meetings in New Delhi, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Manipur, and gathered information from other states, including Tamil Nadu. She met with civil and human rights activists, representatives of state and centre authorities, human rights institutions and United Nation agencies and shared the experiences of individual women who suffered from the loss of their human rights.
Manifestations of Violence.
Manjoo described the various manifestations of violence against women as per the information gathered as sexual violence, domestic violence, caste-based discrimination and violence, dowry related deaths, crimes in the name of honour, witch-hunting, sati, sexual harassment, violence against lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, forced and/or early marriages, deprivation of access to water and basic sanitation, violence against women with disabilities, sexual and reproductive rights violations, sex selection practices, violence in custodial settings and violence in conflict situations, among others.
The statement also recognised information about the forms of violence experienced by women with disabilities “including sexual violence, forced sterilization and/or abortions and forced medication without their consent. In addition, their experience of discrimination, exclusion and marginalisation reinforces the need for greater attention and specificity.”
“One interlocutor described violence against women and girls as functioning on a continuum that spans the life-cycle from the womb to the tomb,” said Manjoo. She stated that these manifestations are strongly linked to women’s social and economic situation, and the deeply entrenched norms of patriarchy and cultural practices linked to notions of male superiority and female inferiority. “The current focus by state actors on preserving the unity of the family is manifested in the welfare/social approach and not in the human rights based approach. It does not take into consideration the nature of relationships based on power and powerlessness; of economic and emotional dependency; and also the use of culture, tradition and religion as a defence for abusive behaviour,” informed the statement.
While she welcomed the Centre’s speedy response after the Delhi rape incident in the appointment of the late Justice Verma committee, she regretted that the new amendments did not fully reflect the Verma Committee’s recommendations. Describing it as unfortunate, she stated that this was an opportunity was lost that could have addressed the de facto inequality and discrimination of women. “This development foreclosed the opportunity to establish a holistic and remedial framework which is underpinned by transformative norms and standards, including those relating to sexual and bodily integrity rights. Furthermore, the approach adopted fails to address the structural and root causes and consequences of violence against women,” said the statement.
Though the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act is a positive development, Manjoo pointed out that one of the recurring complaints availed to her was the discrepancy between the provisions of the laws and its effective implementation. “Despite provisions intended to offer legal, social and financial assistance to victims, many women are unable to register their complaints. Furthermore, prevention of violence, as a core due diligence obligation of the State, does not feature in the implementation of this law,” the statement said.
She reiterated that despite the recent amendments, “the unfortunate reality is that the rights of many women in India continue to be violated, with impunity as the norm, according to many submissions received.” Manjoo stated that women experience violence not just in situations of conflict, post-conflict, and displacement but also in situations of peace. “The denial of constitutional rights in general, and the violation of the rights of equality, dignity, bodily integrity, life and access to justice in particular, was a theme that was common in many testimonies,” she said.
Conflict-related Sexual Violence.
The statement also said that it in relation to conflict- related sexual violence, it was crucial to acknowledge that violations are perpetrated by both state and non-state actors. She pointed out that the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has mostly resulted in impunity for human rights violations broadly. “In the testimonies received, it was clear that the interpretation and implementation of this act, is eroding fundamental rights and freedoms – including freedom of movement, association and peaceful assembly, safety and security, dignity and bodily integrity rights, for women, in Jammu & Kashmir and in the North-Eastern States.” She said that it was unfortunate that peaceful and legitimate protests often elicited a military response.
The statement recognized that the victimization of women from the Dalit, Adivasi, other Scheduled castes, tribal and indigenous minorities. “Their reality is one where they exist at the bottom of the political, economic and social systems, and they experience some of the worst forms of discrimination and oppression – thereby perpetuating their socio-economic vulnerability across generations.”
Manjoo heard anguished stories of young women disappearing without a trace in Manipur. The police she was informed are generally apathetic and are likely to put the cause as elopement. However Manjoo expressed concern that these disappearances could be linked to sexual abuse, exploitation or trafficking.
“Generally tribal and indigenous women in the region are subjected to continued abuse, ill-treatment and acts of physical and sexual violence. They are denied access to healthcare and other necessary resources, due to the frequency of curfews and blockades imposed on citizens,” the statement informed.
Testimonies also highlighted child marriages and dowry-related practices, sorcery, honour killings, witch-hunting of women, and communal violence perpetrated against cultural and religious minorities. On the issue of communal violence, the statement remembered the women “who were beaten, stripped naked, burnt, raped and killed because of their religious identity, in the Gujarat massacre of 2002.”
Manjoo also expressed concern over the declining female sex ratio in India. “The implementation of (government) interventions is resulting in the policing of pregnancies through tracking/surveillance systems and is resulting in some cases in the denial of legal abortion rights, thereby violating the sexual and reproductive rights of women,” she said.
The Special Rapporteur’s statement also marked the widespread sexual violence and harassment “perpetuated in public spaces, in the family or in the workplace. There is a generalized sense of insecurity in public spaces/amenities/transport facilities in particular, and women are often victims of different forms of sexual harassment and assault.”
The statement expressed dismay at the numerous violations faced by female domestic workers including sexual harassment by their employers. “Many of them, often migrant and unregistered women, work in servitude and even bondage, in frequently hostile environments; performing work that is undervalued, poorly regulated and low-paid,” said Manjoo.
The statement concluded with several recommendations which included the ones from human rights organisations.
The negative effect of personal status laws on the achievement of overall gender equality (CRC, CCPR, and CEDAW) was noted with the statement that such laws need to be reformed to ensure equality in law (CEDAW).
The statement has asked the government to ensure that all victims of domestic violence are able to benefit from the legislation on domestic violence. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act and Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code must be enforced effectively (CESCR).
The statement recommended the repealing of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, the Public Safety Act and the National Security Act, and the Armed Forces (Jammu & Kashmir) Special Powers Act should be repealed, as it perpetuates impunity, and is widely used against Human Rights Defenders, .
The statement noted with grave concern the culture of impunity for violations of the rights of Dalit women, the failure to properly register and investigate complaints of violations against scheduled castes and tribes, the high rate of acquittals, the low conviction rates, and the alarming backlog of cases related to such atrocities. The statement expressed that the impact of mega-projects on the rights of women should be thoroughly studied, including their impact on tribal and rural communities, and safeguards instituted.
The statement exhorted the government to expedite the proposed Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, 2005 “with the incorporation of: sexual and gender-based crimes, including mass crimes against women perpetrated during communal violence; a comprehensive system of reparations for victims of such crimes; and gender-sensitive victim-centred procedural and evidentiary rules, and to ensure that inaction or complicity of State officials in communal violence be urgently addressed under this legislation.”
The comprehensive findings from Rashida Manjoo’s mission in India will be discussed in the report that will be presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council in June 2014.