Tag Archive for women’s rights India

Maternity entitlements must be universal and unconditional

Women's-rights- India

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, Women and civil organisations write to Prime Minister demanding immediate implementation of the National Food Security Act of 2013

By Team FI

In an open letter to the Prime Minister on the occasion of the International Women’s Day, 8th March, 2016, women and other concerned civil society organisations have asked for the immediate implementation of the National Food Security Act 2013, under which the Central Scheme for Maternity Entitlements would extend its outreach to atleast 200-high priority districts which includes those villages with a higher percentage of tribal population.

The letter demanded that the “universal guarantee of at least Rs. 6000/- is only to be read as a beginning, and it should subsequently be rationalised as wage compensation.” More importantly the letter has demanded that “Maternity entitlements in all sectors must be universal and unconditional, and not linked to the number of children or age of the woman, as that is fundamentally discriminatory to both women and children.”

The letter signed by National Alliance For Maternal Health And Human Rights (NAMHHR), the ECD Alliance, the Working Group for Children Under Six and the Right to Food Campaign, India also asked for the “progressive realisation of nine months of maternity leave (three months before childbirth to six months after) with full compensation of wages for all women, calculated at least according to minimum wages at prevalent rates.” They have asked that this revised Maternity Benefits Act (1961) recognise “women’s work in all spheres, markets, domestic, for care and reproduction and subsistence; and guarantee maternity entitlements to all pregnant women, adoptive parent(s), surrogate mothers etc without discrimination.”

Given below is the full text of the letter:
An Open Letter to the Prime Minister of India on the occasion of 107th International Women’s Day, 8 March 2016

Dear Hon’ble Prime Minister,
We, the undersigned women’s organizations and other concerned groups, convey our greetings on the occasion of 8th March, Women’s Day. This day has been celebrated for more than a hundred years to commemorate the women’s movement’s struggles for equality, justice and peace across almost all countries of the world.

On this memorable occasion, we are aware that you and your colleagues will be making speeches and statements to indicate how much this nation values the contribution of its women to the country’s progress. We expect that many will praise women as mothers, caring family members and hard workers; we hope some will acknowledge the diverse struggles of women everywhere in securing freedom from violence and ensuring peace.

We appreciate your earlier efforts to promote the value of daughters and encourage education for the girl child. We therefore look forward to more announcements from you this year that will indicate just how much this nation, and your government, shows appreciation for the women of this country. We would especially like to draw your attention to women’s work that produces food, goods, services, and care for the household as well as children who will be the future workforce of India; yet women’s care work continues to remain invisible, unsupported and unshared. You must have noticed how everywhere women work simultaneously in fields, forests, water bodies, and at home; providing water, fuel, fodder, cooking, cleaning, caring of children, sick, elderly, yet they are often unpaid and sometimes get much lesser wages than men on farms, work sites, factories, and markets. In fact unpaid care and household work by women, even though it is ten times as much as men, remains unrecognized and unaccounted for in the System of National Accounts (SNA).

The McKinsey report (The Power of Parity, 2015) points out how the gender gap in employment is exacerbated by unfair conditions for working women who become pregnant. In India 95% women workers are in the informal and unorganized sector and do not receive any wage compensation during pregnancy and after childbirth, although we expect them to rest, gain weight, improve their own health and then provide the baby with exclusive breastfeeding for six months. The Economic Survey of India 2016 (Ministry of Finance, Government of India) points out that ‘42.2% Indian women begin pregnancy too thin and do not gain enough weight during pregnancy’ and recommends that ‘some of the highest economic returns to public investment in human capital in India lie in maternal and early life health and nutrition interventions.’

Sir, on the occasion of Women’s Day we would earnestly request you to announce some substantial entitlements for women that would show very tangibly how much this country values women’s contribution to society and their families: as workers, as mothers and as valuable members of communities.

I. At the very least, we expect your leadership in immediate implementation of the National Food Security Act 2013, within which:

a. The Central Scheme for Maternity Entitlements should immediately be up-scaled from its pilot phase into at least 200 high-priority districts especially including those with a larger proportion of tribal (ST) population. The universal guarantee of at least Rs. 6000/- is only to be read as a beginning, and it should subsequently be rationalised as wage compensation.

b. Maternity entitlements in all sectors must be universal and unconditional, and not linked to the number of children or age of the woman, as that is fundamentally discriminatory to both women and children.

c. Supplementary nutrition through locally prepared foods – preferably hot cooked meals to be supplied to all pregnant and lactating women at the local Angawadi centre. The money invested for such a meal is highly inadequate currently under the ICDS program, leading to poor quality and quantity of the supplementary nutrition

d. The public distribution system must provide universal access to 10 kgs of cereals, I kg of pulses and 1 kg of oil rations under the NFSA.

II. We also hope within a short time to see:
a. The progressive realisation of nine months of maternity leave (three months before childbirth to six months after) with full compensation of wages for all women, calculated at least according to minimum wages at prevalent rates. This revision of the Maternity Benefits Act (1961) should recognise women’s work in all spheres, markets, domestic, for care and reproduction and subsistence; and guarantee maternity entitlements to all pregnant women, adoptive parent(s), surrogate mothers etc without discrimination.

b. Large scale campaigns that call upon men to increase their contribution to care work and domestic chores, and reduce the burden on women.

c. Creche and breastfeeding facilities at every work place and community (through Anganwadi-cum-creches) to be made mandatory to ensure women can continue to work and care for the infant.

d. Financial resources for maternity entitlements and crèches should come from all economic activities in the country as a state obligation to ensure entitlements and services, since reproduction is a social function which benefits the family, society and the nation.

Sir, on the occasion of Women’s Day, while paying compliments and appreciating the role of women, we are sure the government would want to change the embarrassingly inadequate allocation of 400 crores for Maternity Entitlements against the requirement of 15000 crore annually. We urge you to translate rhetoric into action by allocating resources for social security in maternity, and acknowledging unpaid reproductive work done by women in this country, even as you greet them on this Women’s Day.

Signed on behalf of: National Alliance For Maternal Health And Human Rights (NAMHHR), the ECD Alliance, the Working Group for Children Under Six and the Right to Food Campaign, India

Three years after Nirbhaya, fight continues for justice

nirbhaya-rape-delhi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Closing doors for women empowerment: Govt to shut down Mahila Samkhya Programme

Women's-rights- India

Modi government’s proposal to merge Mahila Samkhya programme with National Rural Livelihood Mission is unacceptable to women’s rights activists, researchers and scholars who have worked with the programme

By Team FI
Expressing their concern about the government of India decision, reportedly, to close down the Mahila Samkhaya (MS) programme, women’s rights activists, researchers, academics, scholars calling themselves as friends of Mahila Samkhya have written an open letter the Minister of Human Resources and Development (MHRD).

The MS programme was launched in 1988, as per the website of MHRD to pursue the objectives of the National Policy on Education, 1986, which “recognized that the empowerment of women is possibly the most critical pre-condition for the participation of girls and women in the educational process.” Though there has been no formal announcement, it has been understood that negotiations are currently on for the state societies of the MS programme to be merged with National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM).

The letter stated that “the rationale for a merger of MS with NRLM is also unclear, given that an independent evaluation commissioned by the Ministry of Education and undertaken by IIM Ahmedabad in 2014 strongly recommended expansion of the scheme.”

As per the National Review of the MS in 2014 by the Ravi J. Matthai Centre for Educational Innovation, Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, the programme “covers 130 districts and 679 blocks/ mandals in the country. MS covers 36% of the blocks/ mandals in the districts in which it is working. This indicates significant coverage on average.” The review also states that MS “has a presence in 44,446 villages, that is in about a quarter of the villages of the districts where it is present. In the villages under MS coverage, there are 55,402 sanghas. About 32% of these (17507) are under autonomous federations. This is a significant number and reflects the move towards greater autonomy and independence for the older sanghas. The sangha membership stands at 14,41,9286. There are 325 federations; 156(48%) are autonomous. There are 21,825 savings and credit groups, with 5,31,239 members (about 37% of the total sangha membership).”

As per the review, the programme “is involved in 102 Mahila Shikshan Kendras with an enrolment of 2989. Cumulatively, under the programme, there are 28,507 MSK alumni, and 17,606 of these (62%) have been mainstreamed into formal schools. There are 16,864 alternative learning centres of various kinds in most states. In four states MS runs 187 KGBVs and in one state there are 802 NPEGEL centres. There are 23,026 kishori sanghas with 5,23,701 members. There are 481 Nari Adalats, which have dealt with, cumulatively, 30,410 cases up to now. A total of 30,090 sangha members have contested panchayati raj elections, and 12,905 (43%) have been elected. “

The review stated that MS has “successfully mobilized marginalized women; nearly 90% of the sangha membership is drawn from the disadvantaged sections of society. SC and ST constitute 56% of the sangha membership at the national level.” The review sampled 72 sanghas and as per the discussions with these sanghas, the review stated that “the inter-generational shift in favour of girls’ education is strong.

In the families of those members who do not have formal education, the younger generation of girls is doing well; 77% of the members with no formal education have all the girls in their families in the age group of 6 to 16 in school. Members with formal education, though, still seem to be at an advantage, but the picture with respect to those members without formal education is encouraging.”

The letter presents a detailed study of the relevance and scope of Mahila Samkhya programme stating that “The MS experience proves that expansion of women’s autonomy, agency and voice cannot come about through atomised initiatives for “economic empowerment”, “political empowerment”, “legal empowerment” and so on. This complex and holistic understanding of empowerment is not confined to the programme document – it is clearly and strongly articulated by sangha members.”

Here is the full text of the letter

Tackle root causes of violence against women, UN rapporteur

Rashida Manjoo

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.

Workplace violence
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.

Conclusion
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.

Human Rights Abuse in India: An Unholy War on its People

Medha Patkar

Human rights activists in India are deeply concerned about the shrinking democratic spaces with allegations of police/security forces intimidation, arbitrary arrest, imprisonment, and torture multiplying for the past several years

By Ramlath Kavil

On the human rights and civil rights front, things have been going wrong in the most populous democracy of the world for quite some time. Human rights organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have been accusing the Indian State of blatant rights abuses. In May 2012, the Government of India itself declared in its Parliament that human rights violations in the country have increased by over 13,000 in the last three years and in 2011 alone some 94,630 such violations were reported.

The government stands accused in several cases of human rights violations in various courts of the country. The UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review, May 2012, made 169 recommendations to India regarding human rights issues, which included the ratification of the UN Convention Against Torture and the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearances. India’s Attorney General who led the government delegation in Geneva, chose to play down the recommendations by saying, “India has the ability to self-correct.”

The  Unlawful Activities Prevention Act,1967 ( UAPA)  which entitles the police to arrest anybody without warrant on mere suspicion and its 2008 Amendment which allows the authorities to detain the accused upto 180 days of pre charge detention,  has also come under severe criticism. It may be recalled, a widely respected pediatrician and rights activist Dr. Binayak Sen was arrested in 2007 under this act, which prompted several international organizations and individuals including Noam Chomsky to come down heavily on the Indian Government. Dr. Sen was granted bail by the Supreme Court in April 2011.

The arrests and imprisonment of the tribal woman Soni Sori ,civil rights activist Seema Azad and now a young political cartoonist Aseem Trivedi offer yet another glimpse to how one of the fastest growing economies in the world is callous when it comes to checking its human rights record.

Soni Sori

Soni Sori, named by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience, hails from Chhattisgarh, one of India’s poorest regions where the banned radical left group Maoist (Naxalite) is said to wield considerable clout. Thousands of families have been caught between a deadly war fought by the State and the Maoists, both accused of violent tactics. Soni Sori’s family happened be one of them. According to rights activists, she and her family landed on the wrong side of both the Maoists and the state police, as they refused to operate as informers to either of them.

A warden in a state run girls hostel, Soni Sori’s ordeal with the law began in 2009 when the Chhattisgarh police arrested her 26-year-old nephew, a local journalist, Lingaram Kodopi. Sori and her family had claimed that the young journalist was arrested for speaking up against atrocities of Chhattisgarh police and the exploitations of the tribal people.

On September 9th 2011, Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada police charged Soni Sori, and her nephew Lingaram Kodopi of being ‘Naxalite accomplices’. Subsequently, both Kodopi and Sori were arrested.  The police accused them of being a conduit for extortion between the mining company Essar and the Maoist.  Both Sori and Essar have denied the allegation.

After two days in custodial interrogation, when Sori had to be produced in front of the Dantewada Magistrate on the 10th October 2011, the 37-year-old was so weak that she could not even get down from the police van.  A court clerk came to the police van, and the court passed an order without seeing her.

Soni Sori wrote to her lawyer about the brutal torture she was subjected to in custody at the orders of the then District Police Superintendent Ankit Garg, the controversial cop who won President’s gallantry award early this year.

Subsequently, the Supreme Court ordered an Independent medical examination to be conducted at NRS Medical College Hospital in Kolkatta. The report, presented in Court on 25th Nov, 2011 states three stones were found inserted deep inside Sori’s private parts and the MRI scan also showed annular tears on her spine.

Ever since the evidence of Sori’s custodial torture surfaced, women’s rights and human rights activists have been campaigning for her release and for an independent probe into the alleged custodial torture, including sexual violence. On March 8th International women’s day Amnesty International launched a campaign to release Soni Sori. As the Supreme Court is yet to decide on the petition for squashing the cases filed against her by the Chhattisgarh government, Soni Sori, the mother of three, is currently lodged in Raipur central Jail.

Seema Azad

The conviction of Seema Azad in June this year, a 36-year-old human rights activist and the Editor of a bi-monthly magazine adds another chapter to the country’s ongoing chronicle of silencing of dissent. Azad and her husband Vijay were arrested in early 2010 by the Uttar Pradesh Police and were accused of being members of the

From left to right- Soni Sori, Seema Azad and Aseem Trivedi

banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) and possessing banned Maoist literature. They were charged under various sections of IPC and also under the notorious Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. At the time of the arrest, Seema Azad was the State Secretary of People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), a national network of human rights activists.

After 2 years of trial on June 8th, 2012, the activist couple were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment by an Allahabad Court. Human rights organizations severely criticized the conviction alleging that Azad and her husband were victimized for speaking on behalf of mining workers and farmers in the region. PUCL called the conviction of the couple for terrorism, unlawful activities, sedition and waging war against the state “a glaring travesty of justice,”, The same court, however, on August 6th granted bail to the couple.

Aseem Trivedi

Aseem Trivedi, an award winning political cartoonist was arrested in Mumbai on 8th September 2012 for sedition under section 129 A of Indian Penal code. He was also charged under the IT Act and the 1971 National Emblem Act. Trivedi is arrested for drawing Parliament as a commode and showing the national emblem with bloodthirsty wolves instead of lions. Trivedi, well known for his series of anti corruption cartoons, launched Cartoon Against Corruption, a website in order to support the anti corruption movement in India in 2011. However, within 24 hours of its launch, the Mumbai Crime Branch blocked its content. Later in 2012 Trivedi started, Save Your Voice, a movement against internet censorship in the country.  Trivedi has been sent to police custody till September 16.

“Such cases show that civil and human rights in India are in a moment of profound crisis. Many of these arrests and violations have deep connections to the growing corporatization of India’s mineral-rich land and resources.  This expanded development has displaced many hill and village populations and polluted many of their habitats” says Lena Ganesh, a Delhi-based gender and human rights activist.

Since 2005 many big corporations like Mittal, Jindal, Posco, Vedanta etc have signed MOUs for mining activities in the mineral rich Indian states of Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Jharkand etc. These regions have also witnessed extreme opposition from locals against corporatization of the forest land. The Indian government argues that “the rise of extreme leftist outfits in the regions rich in minerals has badly affected investments.” However, rights activists feel the unrest among the locals in these regions is widespread and independent of ‘insurgents’. By attributing the disaffection to ‘motivated parties’, the government and the corporations are walking a tight-rope over a political mine field.

The fact is, as the number of human rights violations grows, the dissent also grows.  In a country where one third of the world’s poor live, silencing the voice of the distress is an absolute impossibility. Threats of arrest and imprisonment would only alienate the vast majority of its 1.2 billion population. Let us not forget, it is the country that gave birth to one of the greatest non violent political movements, a movement that taught the British Empire that no Kingdom can rise above its people’s civil liberties.

Featured photo courtesy: PTI

This article was originally published in the Unrest Magazine, USA

India Ranked Worst G20 Country for Women

Indian women status

Gender experts responding to a global poll rank India as the worst for women among the G-20 countries

By Team FI

India has been ranked the worst country for women, amongst the G20, by a global poll conducted by Trust Law, a legal news service run by Thomson Reuters Foundation. Trust Law asked 370 gender experts from 63 countries – mainly aid professionals, academics, health workers, policymakers and journalists – to rank the 19 countries of the G20 in terms of the overall best and worst to be a woman in.

The experts opine that the poll shows the grim ground reality of a woman’s life despite the presence of rights granted by the constitution and judiciary laws. The poll has ranked Canada first considering factors like women’s safety, access to health care and education. Germany has landed the second rank, with Britain following. These are followed by Australia, France, United States, Japan, Italy, Argentina, South Korea, Brazil, Turkey, Russia, China, Mexico, South Africa, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia and in the 19th position is India. The EU, which is a member of the G20 as an economic grouping along with several of its constituent countries, was not included in the survey.

While the poll was based on perceptions and not statistics, U.N. data supports the experts’ views. According to the UN Population Fund, India recorded 56,000 maternal deaths in 2010, perhaps an outcome of diminishing public health care system in India. According to a study by  International Center for Research on Women (2010) 44.5% girls were married before 19 years of age. UNICEF’s Global Report Card on Adolescents 2012, reveals that 57% adolescent boys and 53% of girls in India think it is justifiable for a man to beat his wife.

G20 Women status map

Courtesy: Thomson Reuters Foundation

In Saudi Arabia, factors like – women are not allowed to drive, women were given limited voting right only last year, 64.6% women with tertiary education are unemployed, the fact that the law against violence against women lacks teeth because a man’s testimony is worth that of two women in court – placed the oil rich country as the second worst. China which has one of the highest male to female sex ratios at birth is ranked 14, just below Russia. According to the 2008 World Bank report, in China, with a culture that prefers boys over girls, 1.09 million girls dead or missing at birth due to infanticide.

However, the poll has been criticized by some stating that it promoted popular but inaccurate perceptions. Dr. Kathleen Lahey, of the Queen’s University, Canada, points out that the countries of Germany, Argentina, Australia and Brazil have a woman as a head of state or prime minister and therefore they are perceived to be a progressive society. She points out however that in Germany, only 12.5% board members of publicly listed companies are women and there is 21.6 % gender pay gap for full time workers while in Brazil, only 9 per cent of MPs are women.

The Trust Law poll has ranked the United States in sixth place overall. The increasing number of women who have no access to affordable health care and the recently reignited reproductive rights debate placed US below other western countries like Germany, UK, France, and Australia. Terry O’Neill, president of the Washington-based National Organization for Women, is surprised that US has got the sixth place pointing out to the Globe and Mail that the U.S. is one of only seven countries that haven’t ratified the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

The G-20, which refers to the informal group of 20 major economies in the world – 19 countries plus the European Union, is all set for its annual summit being held this year in Mexico on June 18-19. The poll which precedes the summit has experts opine that it is more vital than ever to protect women’s freedoms at a time of political upheaval in several parts of the world.  “Times of political transition, we’ve learned the hard way, can also be times of fragility, and when rights for women and girls can be rolled back instead of advanced,” says Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch.

 

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.