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The Hindu ~ Friday April 13, 2018
No place for young girls
By Brinda Karat
In Kathua and Unnao, the common feature is the blatant support given by BJP leaders to those accused of rape
The child was just eight years old. The beautiful image showing her wide-eyed innocence, a semblance of a smile caught by the camera, is widely shared on the Internet. She looks even younger in the photograph. She belonged to the Bakherwal nomadic community, and went missing on January 10 from the camp site in Rasana village in Kathua, Jammu where she stayed with her family.
Her father registered the missing child case with the police on January 12. Her battered body was found on January 17. Six men were arrested, among them a special police officer, a retired revenue official and his family members; later two policemen were arrested for connivance and destruction of evidence. Three months later, on April 9, the Crime Branch of the Jammu and Kashmir Police, which took over the investigation, filed a chargesheet in court. Its contents have been widely reported.
Can any human being remain untouched, unmoved by the horrors the child had to face, depicted so graphically in the chargesheet? Is there anyone who will not be shaken with rage and anger against the extreme brutalities committed by the accused? They are accused of abducting her, sedating her, raping her in turn, inviting an associate from Meerut to "satisfy his lust," postponing the moment of her death because one of them "wanted to rape her" again.
But there are such people who are not only unmoved but who are straining every nerve and it would seem muscle to sabotage and prevent the processes of justice. These are not ordinary men. They are men who are Ministers in the State government, they are men who lead organisations, they are men who wear the black robes of lawyers, those who are supposed to serve the ends of justice.
For two months, ever since the arrests were made the area has been witness to mobilisations and agitations. These have been organised by the Hindu Ekta Manch, a platform set up by affiliates of the Sangh Parivar. What is their agitation about? One may have thought they were agitated because the horrific crime took place in the prayer room of the local temple. Were these men on the streets because they wanted more stringent punishment against those who defiled a temple prayer room with their dastardly acts?
Far from it. The Hindu Ekta Manch has been pursuing just one aim, to prove that the investigation is wrong, the arrests are wrong because all those arrested happen to be Hindus whereas the child victim belonged to a Muslim family.
It is not just the fringe elements involved. Two Ministers of the coalition government belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Forests Minister Lal Singh and Industries Minister Chander Parkash Ganga, had joined an agitation against the arrests. Lawyers, or a section of them, went on strike to prevent the police officials from filing the chargesheet. Yet none of them have been arrested. They have the patronage of their leaders in the BJP.
This blatant communalisation of cases of sexual assault has very serious implications for India. Imagine if ‘Nirbhaya' had happened to be Muslim, would the streets of Delhi have been filled not with young people demanding justice, but with Hindu Ekta Manch supporters protesting against the arrest of Hindus?
In Kathua, it is not only the processes of justice post the rape and murder which are being communalised and sought to be subverted. But shamefully, according to the chargesheet, communal considerations determined the selection of the victim too.
A deliberate plan?
The rape was a deliberate plan to terrorise the Bakherwal community to leave the area. The Bakherwals and the Gujjars, recognised as Scheduled Tribes, are Muslim by belief. The child was raped, going by the chargesheet, because she was a Muslim.
While the Gujjar communities do own land and a substantial section are involved in the dairy industry, the Bakherwals are a nomadic tribe who migrate along with their herds of animals to the Valley and Ladakh in summer and return to the forests of Jammu in winter. They have been camping in these forests for decades.
The resurgence of Hindutva ideologies and politics in Jammu led to a campaign against the presence of the Bakherwals and Gujjars and any permanent settlement for them, it was said, would alter the demography of the region to benefit Muslims. This utterly warped understanding of citizenship rights also led to another hypocrisy. Whereas in every other case the Sangh Parivar has been campaigning for the abolition of Article 370, in the case of the Bakherwal and Gujjar communities the Sangh Parivar has taken shelter under Article 370 to deprive these communities of their rights on forest land under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006. Thus whereas under the FRA the rights of the Bakherwals on forest land would have to be recognised, Article 370 prevents its automatic applicability in Jammu and Kashmir.
The Mehbooba Mufti government has rightly been criticised for not acting swiftly enough. Nor did she take any action against the Ministers of her coalition cabinet in spite of their objectionable role in supporting the wholly unjust communally triggered demonstration against justice for the child. Ms. Mufti has now publicly stated that her government will ensure that the case is followed up and that the guilty brought to book. One can only hope that considerations of power do not interfere with this public commitment. She should also ensure that the Bakherwal communities are given the land, implementing the spirit of the FRA.
As far as her Sangh Parivar partners are concerned, she should know that they have double standards as far as women's security is concerned. A communal reading of women's "izzat" is a potent weapon in the armoury of the Sangh Parivar. A typical method of the RSS mobilisations to further communal divisions is to use cases where the perpetrator of the crime happens to be a Muslim and the victim a Hindu, and to mobilise against the entire Muslim community. Where there are no such cases, rumours are spread. The dreadful communal violence in Muzaffarnagar started on a rumour deliberately spread of Hindu girls being harassed by boys who were Muslim. In Jamshedpur the same thing happened although there was no such case, as the police later confirmed. But in the large majority of cases, where the perpetrator and the victim belong to the same religion, what then is the role of the Sangh Parivar?
Over in Unnao
What is happening right now in Unnao in Uttar Pradesh? A 17-year-old had tried to file a case of rape against an MLA who belongs to the ruling BJP government. The alleged rape took place last June, but in spite of all her efforts, the police refused to file an FIR against the MLA. She was forced to stage a protest before the Chief Minister's house, but even that made no difference. On the contrary, the girl and her family were harassed. Her father died in police custody.
What would that young woman have faced traumatised, humiliated and then to see her own father being arrested and killed because she had dared to make a complaint against a powerful man, backed by the Chief Minister. This is enough to discourage any complaints of sexual harassment against men with powerful connections. It was only after mounting public outrage that the MLA's brother has been arrested for her father's death and an FIR filed against the MLA. However, he has still not been arrested and has the freedom to make outrageous and defamatory statements against the girl and her family.
In the Kathua and Unnao cases, the common feature is the blatant support given by BJP leaders and their Sangh Parivar partners to those accused of rape. India has seen the results of the marauding violence of "gau rakshaks". Now a new brand of politics has appeared of "rapist rakshaks". When Union Minister V.K. Singh tweets on the Kathua rape victim that "we failed her as humans", he should clarify that the "we" in his tweet means all his colleagues in Jammu and U.P., who are even today standing not with the victim but with the accused whether they can be considered human is an open question.
The Beti Bachao Beti Padhao campaign and the Prime Minister's words on "women's empowerment" get exposed as mere rhetoric when perpetrators of such horrific crimes are protected by those in power and he remains silent.
*Brinda Karat is a member of the CPI(M) Polit Bureau and a former Rajya Sabha MP
Wednesday April 11 , 2018
Hindu ‘nationalists' defend accused rapists and shame India
by Barkha Dutt
An Indian social activist holds a placard in February 2017 during a protest against a rape at Hauz Khas village in New Delhi. (Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images)
Dear India: Where are our candlelight marches, our outrage and our mass protests? Why have we been so muted in our response to the reported gang rapes of two girls, an 8-year-old child and a teenager? And no, our lazy tweets and our commiserating hashtags do not count.
This week, two cases of rape and murder one of a shepherd girl in Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir, the other in Unnao, in India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh have been moments of acute national shame. They have proved how the powerful conspire to enable and protect sexual abusers. Worse, they have exposed the ugliest underbelly of India. Political and societal responses to these charges of rape have revealed entrenched misogyny, religious hatred and a shameful class bias. They have held up a mirror to the worst in us.
We must confront this: The India we thought had changed has not changed at all. In 2012, a massive popular uprising against the gang rape of a medical student in Delhi, dubbed the "Nirbhaya" (fearless) case, led to a tough new set of anti-rape laws. It was considered an inflection point in our conversation about gender. Now we know that not much is better or different. Not our politicians, not our hate-mongers and sadly not even we, the people.
For the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the government of Narendra Modi, the cases have been especially embarrassing, given the prime minister's oft-quoted slogan of "Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao" ("Save our Girls; Educate our Girls"). In the Unnao case, one of the accused rapists is a legislator of the BJP. The victim tried to commit suicide outside the house of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, a saffron-robed monk once billed as a possible successor to Modi. She alleged inaction by the state administration on her complaint, which she had filed last year. Instead, her father was arrested and died in police custody. The hospital report confirmed that he suffered 18 assault injuries, and he is on tape, not long before he died, naming the man whose goons beat him up: the brother of the lawmaker accused of the rape.
In the Kathua case, you cannot read the police charge sheet without feeling nauseous. It details how a little child from the Bakherwal nomadic community had taken her family's horses to graze in a nearby forest and never returned. The charges say she was repeatedly drugged, taken hostage and hidden inside a temple. One of the accused rapists (eight men have been arrested in connection with the case, including local police officers) was reportedly " invited" from Meerut, hundreds of miles away, to participate. The child was strangled with her own scarf; a stone was then slammed on her head to "make sure that the victim [was] dead," according to the charges.
There is a photograph of her, smiling, wide-eyed and full of hope, in anticipation of a life yet to come. And there is a second photograph of her defaced body abandoned in the forest. You cannot look at the two pictures together without looking away almost instantly. The police say the rape and murder were part of a plot to " dislodge" the shepherd community, which is Muslim, from the village. The case quickly took a hideous communal twist, with a self-appointed Hindu group (named the Hindu Ekta Manch, or Forum for Hindu Unity) staging marches in defense of the accused rapists, sounding nationalist slogans and waving the national flag defiling all that the flag stands for. Two BJP ministers in the Jammu and Kashmir government also criticized the police's investigation. Some local Congress leaders also criticized the police action. Worse, a mob of lawyers blocked law enforcement officials when they arrived at court to file the charges, again seeking refuge behind the flag and slogans. Their demand was to take the case away from the state police and hand it over to a central agency. This was a hideous sectarian politicization of a child's rape.
The silence of the top women ministers in the Modi cabinet on both the Kathua and the Unnao cases has been disturbing, and only undermines their track record as trailblazers. Women hold key portfolios of defense, foreign affairs, and information and broadcasting, among others. But what good are these path-breaking positions of authority if the women don't speak for female victims of violence and abuse? Not that men shouldn't lead by example. In 2012, the Nirbhaya gang rape in Delhi raised similar questions about whether it made any difference that a female politician governed Delhi and that the then-ruling party the Congress was helmed by a woman.
Finally, we must reflect on our own responses. Sure, Indians are angry. We are tweeting furiously and writing posts on Facebook. But our class bias, especially in the media, has been unveiled. The Delhi rape of 2012 was close to the bone; it could have been any one of us or those who watched and read us. So the coverage that case got was instantaneous and intense. It has taken months for these cases to get to prime time. And even so, how many of us will move beyond our keyboards and spill over onto the streets as we did for Nirbhaya?
Kathua and Unnao are now known not just nationally but internationally. And yet, some will complain about this column appearing in a "foreign" newspaper. How "anti-national," I will be told on social media by people missing the irony. These Hindu "nationalists" who spoke for accused rapists have shamed India, our constitution and, of course, Hinduism.
Friday April 13 , 2018
In India, Modi government fumbles its response to gang-rape cases
by Barkha Dutt
Supporters of India's main opposition Congress party participate in a candlelight vigil in Ahmedabad on Friday to protest the rapes of an 8-year-old girl and teenager. (Amit Dave/Reuters)
On Friday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi finally spoke out on the two gang rapes gripping India this week one of an 8-year-old and the other of a teenager. Millions of Indians have been shocked and saddened that the men accused of raping the children were being protected instead of prosecuted. Modi unequivocally promised that no one would be spared. On the same evening, a legislator accused in one of the rape complaints in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh, was arrested. In the other case in Kathua, Jammu and Kashmir, two state ministers of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were sacked for defending the suspected rapists. One of the ministers was on tape exhorting a mob to demand justice not for the little shepherd girl who was kidnapped, raped and then strangled inside a temple – but for the men who did this to her.
Despite the fact that one of the cases is three months old and the other happened almost a year ago, protests over the cases reached critical mass only this week. Modi's intervention, though woefully delayed, is welcome. But that his words have come so late remains bewildering. When Modi finally spoke, the moment appeared as having been forced by a furious public. His diffidence was compounded by coarse "whataboutery" by many right-wing supporters on social media, as well as the initial silence of all the women ministers in his cabinet.
In delaying his response, Modi was repeating the serious political mistakes of the Congress party. Modi's predecessor Manmohan Singh was always mocked for being the silent prime minister. The Congress leader governed India for 10 years and handled the scandals of his second term with reticent helplessness. That said, he could not have been more different from the current prime minister. Modi has been the master of the message, a superb orator with a keen instinct for the image and the narrative. One of the reasons for his historic win was that he made the Congress look like stragglers in a new age of political communication. And unlike the incumbents he defeated, Modi was sure-footed and agile. If Manmohan Singh was reserved, Modi, too, does especially not like the English-language media. He sees us as hostile to him and has often pushed back against opinions of liberal journalists. However, Modi has almost always used his sharp political acumen to bypass the mainstream press and talk directly to the people as needed.
Until Friday, as the rage kept mounting, there was no such straight talk. Meanwhile the Congress, perhaps having finally learned from its decimation in the 2014 elections, is borrowing from Modi's playbook.
Late Thursday evening, Congress President Rahul Gandhi suddenly announced that he would lead a midnight street vigil to demand justice for the victims of Kathua and Unnao. Gandhi has also had to learn the hard way that in the information age, ivory tower politics and long silences are destined to fail. Modi's success has forced Gandhi to change. And like the prime minister, he has also understood that you don't actually have to talk to established reporters to make your point you can seize the moment and script your own story. Indeed Thursday, Gandhi was at Delhi's India Gate, with his sister and other party workers ensuring that the media remained focused on his march for the women. In contrast, the BJP was left to explain why its party men were marching for rapists and murders. That same day, the prime minister was on a day-long fast to "protest" the opposition's stalling of Parliament; in a first for a politician who usually grabs the headlines, it barely made any impact. By focusing on an unrelated issue, rather than the gruesome rapes of two young girls, the BJP government grossly miscalculated what people care more about.
In many ways, Kathua and Unnao have been the Modi government's "Nirbhaya" moment. In 2012, the grotesque gang rape of a 23-year-old medical student (she came to be known as "Nirbhaya" or "Fearless") in the capital brought thousands of citizens onto the streets. The Congress administration mishandled the mass protests, with the police even firing tear gas to bring the crowds under control. Like the BJP now, the Congress then misread the public mood and the depth of the disgust, even among those who may have been its supporters.
In 2012, there was enormous debate on the absence of requisite sensitivity from the Congress government, in which women held powerful positions ( the Delhi chief minister and the Congress president then were both women). Today the otherwise self-assured female ministers in the BJP government have not taken the lead in speaking. Ironically, the ‘silent" Manmohan Singh did deliver a special televised national address to appeal for calm from the student protesters. This week, Modi chose to make his comments as part of a larger address at a public event unconnected to the rapes.
Many of Modi's supporters have angrily asked journalists why the prime minister of a country should comment on every rape, in a country where more than 34,000 rape cases were registered in 2016. They entirely miss the point. Of course every rape is an unspeakable act against humanity; but the Kathua rape case and Nirbhaya before it, are now both national symbols and rallying points. It is impossible to look at the smiling photo of that little girl who was killed in Kathua and not shudder at the thought of what happened to her. Or how you may feel if it happened to your own child.
What set the Kathua and Unnao cases apart is not only the brazen defense of the accused perpetrators including from some functionaries of India's ruling party , but the cover of nationalism and Hinduism to do so.
The prime minister's words may have contained the damage for now. But the delay was not just poor messaging to victims of sexual violence. It was bad politics too.
Wednesday April 11 , 2018
An 8-year-old's rape and murder inflames tensions between Hindus and Muslims in India
by Marwa Eltagouri
Protests erupt in Kashmir over rape and murder of 8-year-old in northern India
: The rape and murder of 8-year-old Asifa Bano in Kathua, India, inflamed tensions between Hindus and Muslims and lead to violent April 11 protests in Kashmir. (Reuters)
She was an 8-year-old girl who, while grazing her horses in a meadow in northern India in January, followed a man into the forest. Days later, Asifa Bano's small, lifeless body was recovered there.
Police say that Asifa was given sedatives and, for three days, raped several times by different men. Asifa's strangled body was eventually found Jan. 17. Police say she would have been killed sooner had one man not insisted on waiting so that he could rape her a final time.
To ensure she was dead, Asifa's killers hit her twice on the head with a stone, according to charging documents filed by police in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and published by the Indian news website Firstpost.
In the months since, Asifa's death has brought anguish to Kathua, the small town where she was killed. But it has also brought division. Asifa's case is the latest example of India's religious friction: As some denounce sexual violence and demand justice for Asifa's family, others demand justice for the men accused.
The eight men accused in connection to the rape and murder are Hindu. Asifa was a Muslim nomad, part of the Bakarwal tribe. Asifa's father, Mohammad Yusuf Pujwala, told the New York Times that he believes his daughter was killed by the Hindu men for the sole purpose of driving her people away. To add to the volatility of Asifa's case, police say she was killed in a Hindu temple, and that the temple's custodian plotted her death as a way to torment the Bakarwals.
Asifa was the pawn. "A child of only 8 years of age who ... became a soft target," police said.
Anti-Muslim demonstrators burn tires and shout slogans during a protest Wednesday in Kathua, India, in support of an investigation into the rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl. (Mukesh Gupta/Reuters)
On Monday, a chaotic scene unfolded outside a courthouse in Jammu and Kashmir, as a mob of Hindu attorneys tried to physically stop police from filing charges against the men accused. The attorneys in a statement argued for a federal investigation, stating that the government had failed to "understand the sentiments of the people." Police still managed to complete the paperwork and charged the men, who include four policemen and a retired government official.
Protests have now spread across much of Kathua. Hindu activists argue that some of the police officers who worked on the case are, like Asifa, Muslims and cannot be trusted, according to the Times. Dozens of Hindu women have helped block a highway and organize a hunger strike.
"They are against our religion," Bimla Devi, a protester, told the New York Times. She said that if the accused men weren't freed, "we will burn ourselves."
The lawyers, along with a group affiliated with India's ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, fight on the basis of religious prejudice, even though BJP supporters are vocal opponents of sexual violence. After the brutal gang rape and murder of a medical student in New Delhi in 2012, the government promised to introduce legal reforms and support services to help victims of sexual violence. To an extent, it did for example, the government amended the law to prosecute children older than 16 as adults in rape and murder cases. (Not much more has changed for rape victims, however, according to a November report by Human Rights Watch).
Notable BJP members have asked the case be moved out of the state police's jurisdiction and into that of the Central Bureau of Investigation, claiming the agency would act neutrally. The bureau, however, reports to the BJP-led government in New Delhi.
Asifa's case has shaken the state's Legislative Assembly. Weeks after her body was found, lawmakers still questioned the police's behavior in the days after Asifa disappeared: Police waited two days to file a report after Asifa disappeared, for example, and did not alert newspapers until days after she was killed, according to the Asia Times.
"The screams and cries of the girl were heard by neighbors. Why was there such a delay by police?" lawmaker Shamima Firdous said a few weeks after Asifa's body was found, according to the Asia Times.
Talib Hussain, a Bakarwal social activist working on behalf of Asifa's family, told the New York Times that Bakarwal nomads for generations have leased land from Hindu farmers so their animals can graze during the winter. In recent years, however, Hindus in the Kathua area have campaigned against the nomads. Believed to be at the campaign's helm is the accused custodian, Sanji Ram.
"His poison has been spreading," Hussain told the Times. "When I was young, I remember the fear Sanji Ram's name invoked in Muslim women. If they wanted to scare each other, they would take Sanji Ram's name, since he was known to misbehave with Bakarwal women."
Hussain could not be immediately reached for comment by The Washington Post.
Feelings of suspicion and animosity between the two communities run so deep that when Asifa didn't return from the meadow, her parents instantly feared she'd encountered danger. And when the Bakarwal nomads retrieved Asifa's body for her burial, "some baton-wielding goons appeared at the graveyard asking us not to bury her there," Hussain told the Asia Times.
The "goons," he said, feared that if Asifa was buried on their land, it would forever belong to Muslims.
Marwa Eltagouri is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post. She previously worked as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, where she covered crime, immigration and neighborhood change.
Wednesday April 11, 2018
Child sexual abuse victims face hurdle at every step By Sonam Saigal
Report brought out by Majlis, an NGO, highlights the problems they face at police station, hospital, court, child welfare committee, and govt. dept.
Victims of child sexual abuse face hardships when they approach the police, hospital, child welfare committee (CWC), court, and even the department of women and child development. Majlis, a non-governmental organisation, which has been working with such cases for the last 25 years, released a report, highlighting the teething problems in the system, at Jan Sunvayi (public hearing) on Tuesday.
Hours at police station
The report says filing an FIR and recording the victim’s statement takes around seven hours. Even though the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) states the statement can be recorded at a venue of the victim’s choice, the child is still brought to the police station. The victim is taken for a medical examination in the middle of the night or early morning immediately after the registration of the FIR, even though there is no emergency or likelihood of loss of evidence. The police record the victim’s statement, take for a medical test, and then take the child to the place of offence, without a break, and this lasts about 15 hours. Besides, there is usually a delay of weeks in the submission of the FIR.
Trauma at hospitals
The medical examination, the report points out, takes about nearly eight hours to complete. There is no single window, and the child has to keep visiting different departments. In several hospitals, the process takes almost four days due to lack of doctors. If the victim goes directly to the hospital, there is an inordinate delay in informing the police. Many times, the victim is not given a copy of the medical examination. Many hospitals have one-stop-help centres to report CSA cases to the CWC, but they fail to do so.
No relief at court
Majlis says there is an inordinate delay in recording the evidence of the victim, which often results in the victim turning hostile or getting pressured by the defence. Special courts are designated to hear the POCSO cases, but some judges and prosecutors lack the specialised training to handle sensitive cases. Public prosecutors do not spend adequate time studying the facts due to which objections are not raised during cross-examination. A better coordination between the police and the public prosecutor is essential to ensure a strong charge sheet. Some judges and public prosecutors are not well-versed with the role of ‘support person’ (a person assigned by the CWC to assist the child through investigation and trial).
CWC has no time
A thorough home investigation report, care plan, and progress report for each case at a child care institution is the CWC’s priority. It is required to hold sittings at different children’s homes to ensure accessibility, which rarely occurs. Some CWCs do not have fixed days and timings for sittings, resulting in inconvenience to the victim and family. There is no standardised method of maintaining documents, records, and hearings before the committee, and lack of digitisation leads to a loss of dockets.
Delay in disbursement
Recent changes to the Manodhariya scheme have caused a delay in disbursement of compensation. The department of women and child development has failed to set up ‘district trauma teams’ in each district as per the government resolution. There are also issues like vacancies in the CWC, non-payment of honorarium to members, and lack of adequate infrastructure.
Wednesday, April 11, 2018
Who will save these women and children? By Kalpana Sharma
This was probably one of the most gut-wrenching traumatic days I have spent in a long while. It was worse for the women who spoke, but those of us who listened came out with our equanimity shattered.
I have been writing about women, about violence, about neglect, about inequality, about injustice, for more than three decades. Yet, on April 10, 2018, as I sat with a panel of four other women listening to woman after woman testifying, I saw how little has changed.
Laws have been changed. But mindsets have not. New laws have come in. But their non-implementation is identical to what happened in the past. In other words, nothing has changed.
Majlis and several other non-governmental organisations working with women on issues concerning sexual violence, divorce, maintenance, child abuse etc came together to conduct a jan sunvai. The idea was to give women a chance to tell their stories, and then to strategise what could be done to address their individual problems, as well as the larger systemic issues that their individual experiences exposed.
Around 40 of the 72 who had recorded their testimonies with the different groups came in person to speak. These were women cutting across community -- Hindu, Muslim and Christian. Amongst them were middle class white-collar workers as well as poor uneducated women doing odd jobs or working as domestics. What was common was that all of them were victims of domestic violence in one form or the other and all of them were seeking some form of justice from the criminal justice system. And had failed in doing so.
This is why they turned to an NGO, in the hope that this would give them some respite. But Majlis and the others narrated their frustration too at the many roadblocks on the way to getting justice for these women, many of them systemic, embedded in a corrupt and uncaring system where the word of a poor person, and particularly a poor woman, simply does not count.
By the end of the three hours, my ears were ringing and my hands were hurting from taking down notes. Each testimony was searing. But some I will never forget.
She is small built and spoke quietly, without any drama. She told us that her husband is an alcoholic, that he would beat her even when she was pregnant. As a result, she had an abortion. She described the house where she lived. There were two rooms. She, her husband and the child slept in one and her father-in-law in the other. One night she found her father-in-law in bed next to her, with his hand on her chest, even though her husband was asleep on the other side. When she shouted and woke up the latter, he refused to believe her.
She also narrated how she had weaned her daughter off the breast and got her used to drinking milk from a feeding bottle. One night, she found her husband had the two-year-old on his chest, and then saw him slowly lower her so that she could suck on his penis. She shouted at him but he continued. Finally, she went to the police and filed a case under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO) in which it is mandatory for the police to register the offence. Despite this, the husband has not been arrested. She has also filed a case against her father-in-law for sexual harassment. But again, nothing has happened because the husband has contacts with the police through a local politician.
Then there is a dowry case. Who says the problem has disappeared? After she got married, this woman's husband demanded a motorcycle. When her parents could not pay for it, she was beaten and left for days without food. He would tell her that the only reason he married her was for sex. She was beaten so badly, that she had to be admitted to hospital and all this within three years of her marriage. Her father had sold his shop to pay for the marriage and had nothing more to give. Finally, she was compelled to move out and go to her parents. Yet when this woman went to the police to register a case against the husband, the police wanted proof of how much money had been spent on the marriage and how much had been given to the bridegroom. She says she stood for 15 days in the police chowky and they still did not take down her complaint. "Sometimes we went there are 12 midnight and stayed till three in the morning, waiting", she said. Instead of helping or taking down her complaint, the police keep sending her to another police station.
Even if the police do not help, under provisions of the Domestic Violence Act, the designated Protection Officer (PO) should come to the aid of such women. Yet several women spoke of how the PO told her that they never take note of a complaint the first time it comes and tell women to go back and try and work it out. Even if they went with a social worker, the latter was shouted at and insulted.
One of the most heart-rending cases was that of a four-year-girl who had been raped. When the family found her, and realised what had happened, they went to the police to register a complaint and took the child to the hospital. It took them hours to get the medical examination done. The child was traumatised and exhausted. A few weeks later, she was raped again. This time, she refused to let the doctors touch her when they wanted to examine her. The mother was asked to sign a document saying that "the victim" would not cooperate. The little girl's sister, who narrated all this, appeared equally traumatised. How can she believe that there is justice in the world if a little baby is put through this kind of treatment after being assaulted?
There were many more testimonies but there is a thread that runs through all of them.
First, the nature of the horrific violence they experience in their homes is virtually indescribable. One woman spoke of how her husband went out and bought leather belts to beat her and that her children had to apply balm to the welts on her back. Yet despite the relentless nature of such violence, and even after filing cases, many of these women have nowhere to go and choose to live in the matrimonial home because of their children. In one case, the abusive husband would enter the house, sit near the door, douse himself with kerosene and threaten to set himself and the entire family on fire if they complained.
Second, in almost every instance, when they did go an try and register a complaint with the police, most often because there was a social worker around to help, they were routinely told to go back and settle the matter as it was a domestic issue. At most, the police would take down an NC (non-cognisable) complaint whereby the abusive husband cannot be detained or arrested.
Third, even those who succeeded in filing cases, and sought help through the free legal aid service that was available, got no relief. The lawyers assigned to their cases were indifferent, inefficient and often demanded money. Most of them could not afford private lawyers and their exorbitant fees.
Fourth, under the Domestic Violence Act, Protection Officers (PO) are assigned to handle such cases. In Mumbai, these POs, although still not in adequate numbers, have been given extensive training and sensitisation courses. Yet, they continue to be rude and indifferent to the complainants, sending them home and telling them that they never register a first complaint. The women say that both the police and the POs seem to only care if a woman is either near death, or dead.
Fifth, the experience in hospitals is as bad as at police stations. There is a long delay before a medical examination is held, the victims are made to run around from one place to another and sometimes even turned away. The entire process, including having to narrate details of the attack to the doctor, with others listening, makes the victim revisit the trauma several times over. And although there are funds now for one-stop crisis centres, these exist mostly on paper.
I might add here that the media has failed to bring out sufficiently these systemic problems in the justice delivery system in cases of violence against women. Some select cases are reported in depth, but the widespread prevalence of this problem doesn't impinge on people because these issues are simply not reported.
For instance, there is hardly any reporting on dowry harassment or dowry deaths. If you skim through the print media, you might well believe that the giving and taking of dowry, and the torture of women in connection with dowry, has lessened. But clearly, this is not the case. In the 1980s, the anti-dowry campaign by women's groups, after many young women were killed within days and months of being married, brought to light the horrific nature of this crime. It remains condemnable even today, and needs to be monitored, reported and stopped.
The only detailed media report on this public hearing appeared in The Hindu this morning. It is a subject that is waiting for follow up by sensitive journalists who care about the lives of women, and who expect it a worthwhile cause to expose injustice.
Journalist, columnist, writer based in Mumbai. Author of "Rediscovering Dharavi: Stories from Asia's largest slum" (Penguin, 2000). Worked with The Hindu, Times of India, Indian Express and Himmat Weekly. Other books include "Whose News? The Media and Women's Issues" edited with Ammu Joseph (published by Sage 1994/2006), "Terror Counter-Terror: Women Speak Out" edited with Ammu Joesph (published by Kali for Women, 2003) and "Missing: Half the Story, Journalism as if Gender Matters" (published by Zubaan, 2010). Regular columns in The Hindu, Sunday Magazine and on The Hoot (www.thehoot.org).
This blog is written by a journalist based in Mumbai who writes about cities, the environment, developmental issues, the media, women and many other subjects.The title 'ulti khopdi' is a Hindi phrase referring to someone who likes to look at things from the other side.
Wednesday April 11, 2018
Domestic violence: women left to fend for themselves
By Sonam Saigal
Mumbai: The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (DV) was enacted in 2005 to include physical, sexual, emotional and economic abuse. But, due to various reasons, this has failed to bring relief to victims of domestic violence.
Majlis on Tuesday released a report that enlists problems faced by such victims:
Some protection officers (POs) do not file a domestic incident report (DIR) on the day the victim approaches them. Many victims are made to wait for hours and asked to visit offices several times to complete the paper work that need to be filed in court for relief. They do not coordinate and meet other stakeholders to discuss the case, cross-check documents, and strengthen the pleadings. Further, they do not conduct regular monitoring as listed under the Maharashtra State DV handbook.
The process of getting a lawyer is cumbersome and takes months. Some lawyers ask victims for money even though lawyers are appointed by the government to provide free services. They are not well-versed with the procedures and provisions under the Act. They do not coordinate with POs and NGOs that assist victims.
Some medical officers are completely unaware of their role and they do not fill the DIR and other forms mandated under the Act.
The police deter women from filing complaints and try to settle the matter informally. They do not inform women of their rights under the Act. They delay or avoid filing FIRs. They also delay summons and filing the report of service, which in turn holds up the victim’s case in court and to obtain interim relief. The police are not thorough on maintenance orders under the Act.
There is enormous delay in passing interim and final orders, and orders for relief are not passed before referring the case for counselling or mediation. This is in contravention of the guidelines under the DV Act. For example, the Thane court is completely uninformed about the guidelines. Documents are often misplaced and incorrect court dates are given due to which victims and their lawyers miss crucial hearings.
Officials at the homes for victims of violence are not well-versed with the Act and their role prescribed in it. They are not aware of the other laws applicable and not equipped to handle victims of trauma, distress and other challenges associated with running such shelters.
There are not adequate counsellors dedicated to victims of domestic violence. Private counselling services are not economical. Also, there is no help to avail of various schemes, financial aid, medical aid for themselves and their children, and vocational training.
Majlis Legal Centre is a forum for women's rights discourse and legal initiatives. We are a group of women lawyers and social activists committed to informing, educating and empowering women on their legal rights. Majlis offers legal services, conducts legal awareness trainings, engages in policy level interventions, public campaigns and public interest litigation in order to help women access justice.
Wednesday, March 28, 2018
Voices from CSW62
All photographs by UN Women/Ryan Brown
More than 4,300 civil society representatives from 130 countries participated in the 62nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW62), which focused this year on rural women and girls. Why do they come and what do they take back with them from this UN meeting? Here are some of their voices and perspectives.
Why I come to CSW
Alice Lesepen representing the Rendille peoples of Marsabit County, Kenya
“I'm here to represent the rural women from the indigenous community of Rendille. [Coming] from a pastoral community, our livelihood depends entirely on the land. [Rural and indigenous women] need to know how we can rightfully use our land without any interference. When we talk about food security, women are the ones providing for their families. Without land, we cannot do anything…we cannot keep our animals…we would lose our identity.”
Otilia Lux de Cotí Advisor to MADRE and part of UN Women’s Civil Society Advisory Group in Latin America and the Caribbean, Guatemala
“Socialization of the CSW agreed conclusions is very important. This is how women activists in their respective areas of specialties learn about the commitments that Member States have pledged to achieve. It allows them to hold governments accountable, and ask for those commitments to be transformed into social policies. We have to drive this change in order to really make a difference for rural women and girls.”
Catherine Mbukwa Project Officer with the Centre for Youth Empowerment and Civic Education, Malawi
“I'm here to learn from others. Being here means [learning] new skills. Let's say in Malawi, we are tackling child marriage, and our friends [in another country] are in the forefront of ending child marriages, what is it that they are doing in their country to promote and empower women?”
Marija Andjelkovic Director and founder of the Serbian NGO, ASTRA-Anti trafficking action, Serbia, grantee of UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women
“In our part of the world, the government listens more when there are recommendations from the UN, the EU, or the US State Department report on trafficking. For example, for years now, we have been advocating for compensation for victims of trafficking. Only two out of all identified victims (500 identified in Serbia) have received a decision of compensation in their favour. We have submitted a draft law on compensation for victims of violent crime, and included trafficking. Then, the Council of Europe and the CEDAW Committee adopted the recommendation for compensation for victims. That helped us. Now the government is working on a strategy for victims of crime and have said they will look into compensation as part of that. These recommendations, such as the CSW (agreed conclusions) give us tools to advocate with our own government. We produce shadow reports before CSW, and provide our own recommendations, and then we see if our recommendations are included.”
Rural women in my country want
Zoneziwoh Mbondgulo Rural women's rights activist, Cameroon
“Among several challenges, one is access to credit. They are not talking about petite grants or microcredit, but macro credit...Rural women also want better sexual and reproductive health services, with better access to contraceptives and family planning products. Even basic education in these areas will help them.”
Sepali Kottegoda Academic, activist and Technical Advisor on Women’s Economic Rights and Media, Sri Lanka
“Rural women want equal pay for the work they do. They also want more sharing of work within the house. There’s a lot of emotional rhetoric around women’s unpaid workthat they do this out of love for the family. But the reality is that women do much more unpaid work and have to also take part in paid work. The rural women from Sri Lanka also want land rights. The first preference is still given to men and the male child in terms of inheritance, and especially in government settlement schemes.”
Maria Leyesa (Daryl) Rural Women Coordinator for Philippine Peasant Institute and Convention Leader for the 1st National Rural Women Congress, Philippines
“They want their voices to be heard. They want their rights to be recognized as equally as men and boys have their rights recognized. To have control over their lives, land, water resources and their bodies, to have access to education and other services, to be protected against climate change and natural disasters, and to protect their countryside against rapid urbanization and encroachment by corporations.”
Wekoweu (Akole) Tsuhah North East Network, Nagaland, India
“Women in rural communities want to be recognized for their contribution to food and nutrition security for their families and the nation. Everyone does farming in my community, but women don’t have the status of “farmers” because they don’t own land and resources. They want a platform where they can be heard. They want access to technology that can alleviate the drudgery of their work and support for small-scale, sustainable, climate-resilient agriculture.
Rukmini Rao Co-Founder of Gramya Resource Centre for Women
“Rural women have the knowledge to change the world, but most of the work they do is unseen and unpaid. One of our demands at Gramya Resource Centre for Women is that women should have land titles in their names. So, we are pressing the government to recognize that women are farmers and to give them access to markets, economic goods, and all the other things that they need as farmers. Widows are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence. And when she is non-literate, she doesn't even know where to access any government scheme. A widow is considered to be a bad omen. We ask widows not to follow all the customary practices…We find that by organizing women, many issues can be addressed.”
Rural women say
Helda Khasmy Chair of SERUNI, Indonesia
“Most members of SERUNI are in rural areas, and one of their biggest challenges is access to land and ownership of land. There’s a monopoly of land ownership by big corporations in Indonesia. Women don’t inherit land as equals to men, but now their men too have very little or no land. This makes women even poorer. They go on to become low-wage workers in the palm oil, sugar or tobacco plantations, where they often work in poor conditions, for low wages, and are exposed to harmful pesticides that affect their health. When women menstruate, they can ask for holiday, but the plantation officials ask them to take off their pants to prove that they are menstruating.”
Mireille Tushiminina Shalupe Foundation, the Democratic Republic of Congo
“If you ask the Congolese people, what is peace for them, they will tell you that they want to live in a peaceful environment, where they can live in any neighbourhood, and not be afraid to walk to school or fetch water. Gender-based violence is not only happening in eastern Congo, it’s a disease that has spread to every corner of DRC. Mothers and fathers have watched their girls being raped at gun point. How can a girl grow up to push the African vision of progress and development, the African Agenda 2063, if all she learns today is to become a seamstress? We need to invest in girls’ empowerment in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”
Nehad Abo El-Komsan Lawyer, Co-founder and Chairwoman of the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights, Egypt
“In the recent years, there have been many positive developments in Egypt. Women's rights were included in our constitution in 2014 and since then many legislations have been changed, especially in relation to violence against women. The Egyptian Center of Women's Rights developed a national strategy for stopping violence against women. Sexual harassment, female genital mutilation and child marriage have been included in the law, with harsh penalties. Although these good developments have taken place, women still face challenges. Implementation of the law is a major challenge. It is very important to raise awareness of law enforcement authorities and [help them] understand it is not just a women's issue, it is protection for the whole society.”
Nandini Chami IT for Change, India
“Information and communication technologies are a vital part of the enabling technologies that women need for opening up various pathways to political and socio-economic empowerment. The most basic question we can start with is the question of access, because there is still a huge gender digital divide that needs to be bridged. We also know that there is a rural-urban divide. Rural women are less likely to be using the internet compared to let’s say urban educated and employed women. This intersectional divide is something we need to address. [In the meantime] governance is going digital by default. You need the internet for your basic services. Also, we have to think about the fact that many people don’t speak global languages such as English, and so how do you create context-appropriate content for women and girls?”
Purity Soinato Oiyie Maasai girl and anti-FGM activist, Kenya
“I was only 10 or 11 years old, when my father decided to circumcise me. I talked to my class teacher and she informed the police chief. Just two hours before the cutting ceremony, the police came and took me away. Today, I work with World Vision and the Kenyan anti-FGM Board to help raise awareness among people in the villages. It’s difficult to convince people to stop FGM because it’s a cultural practice. I go to the schools and talk to the girls and the teachers, I talk to the Maasai people in our language…I tell them about the importance of education. What we need is free education for girls. The Maasai are pastoral people and many parents don’t have money to send their girls to school.”
Sohini Shoaib Jan Jagran Shakti Sangathan, Bihar, India
“There are huge farmer uprisings that are happening [in India] and they are mostly people who don’t own land. Recently there were some 40-50,000 peasants who went on a long march to Mumbai, the capital city. They walked there to ask for their rights and highlight the farmers plight and ask for climate justice. I come from the Kosi flood basins in Bihar, and every year there are massive floods in the area, on a scale that hasn’t been seen before. In most cases, floods are triggered by or escalated by manmade reasons; one of the factors is climate change. This has made the communities very vulnerable, so every year they have to start from scratch. Women are rising up, and not just women, all these people who feel they have been silenced. For so many years farmer suicides have been going on…Then there’s large scale displacement because of the huge dams that are being built and the land being taken over, GMOS being introduced, leading to a lot of changes in the environment, which has affected farming. I pushed for our friends who are actually from rural communities to be able to participate [in CSW]. But there were so many issues, from language barriers to visa procedures. And so who gets to come? I do. That’s not fair, but hopefully things will change.”
The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is the UN’s largest annual gathering on gender equality and women’s rights. It brings together governments, women’s rights, gender experts and other actors to build consensus and commitment on policy actions to advance women’s rights. Learn more about what happened at the 62nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women.HERE
Saturday March 17 2018
“Marielle Franco Presente”: Global Protest Movements Denounce the Assassination of Brazilian Activist
Just a few days before her assassination, Franco condemning the military killing of Matheus Melo, asked: How many more need to die for this war to end?
People across the world have responded with outrage, sadness, and grief to the assassination of Marielle Franco and her driver Anderson Pedro Gomes on Wednesday night in Rio de Janeiro. Marielle Franco was a councilwoman from the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL) in the city of Rio de Janeiro, and an activist who opposed the militarization of poor neighborhoods.
Marielle - a black woman, a lesbian, and an activist - was from Maré favela. She was an ardent defender of the rights of women, black people, LGBTQI people, working class and poor people. Her identity and her political actions threatened the project of the Brazilian government and oligarchy.
News of Marielle’s assassination reverberated across the world, and protests were held in many different cities against the political assassination. The demonstrators demanded justice for her and Anderson, and called for ending the militarization of the city of Rio de Janeiro - one of the cities in the world with the highest rates of violence.
Reports released by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have characterized the Brazilian military and civil police forces as the world’s most violent. They were accused of torturing and killing citizens – especially young black men – during arrests.
In February, during the yearly celebration of Carnival, there was drastic rise in crime in the city and three Military Police agents were killed. In response to this and to the growing security problem, Michel Temer, the acting president since the 2016 coup, authorized military intervention in the city, mostly targeting the poor neighborhoods.
The Military Police have been involved in many different cases of human rights violations, execution of young people, mostly black and from the poor neighborhoods (or favelas). The deployment of military force - which are trained to combat ‘foreign enemies’ rather than to ‘protect public’ - have unleashed a violent repression in these areas.
When Temer declared the measure, Franco was one of the first to speak out against it, saying that it would bring “a false sense of security to the upper class” who think that “things will get better with the soldiers.” She stated that there will be more young black boys assassinated, and that the abuses by the Armed Forces will be judged by Military Justice, whose tribunals will be made up of other military members.
Denouncing the murder of a young person, Matheus Melo, Marielle said, only a few days before her assassination: “Another homicide of a young person at the hands of the Military Police. Matheus Melo was leaving the church. How many more need to die for this war to end?”
She had also denounced the police for the killing of two boys during a police raid in the Acari neighborhood. "What is happening now in Acari is absurd! And has always happened! The Battalion 41 of the Military Police is known as the Battalion of Death. Stop attacking the population! Stop killing our youth!”
Her death is the expression of the extreme racist, sexist, homophobic and violent ideology that currently has gained currency not just in Brazil, but all across the world.
Below are pictures and videos of vigils and protests from across the world.
“The death of Marielle was not in vain. We are going to start a revolution,” was the clarion call across Brazil, where thousands of people took to streets on Thursday and Friday to protest the brutal murder of Marielle and Anderson, and to reject the military occupation of Rio de Janeiro. Marielle’s home city of Rio de Janeiro had crowds of over 50 thousand. There were also protests in São Paulo, Sorocaba, Porto Alegre, Brasília, Salvador, Belo Horizonte, Recife, Natal, Fortaleza, Belém, Manaus, Curitiba, Florianópolis, Juiz de Fora, Londrina, and Campos dos Goytacazes.
In Argentina, Mothers of Plaza de Mayo denounced Marielle’s assassination in the weekly procession the organization has been holding since 1984 around the plaza in front of the Presidential palace, where they read out the names of the people disappeared and assassinated during the period of dictatorship in Argentina. Later there was a mobilization in downtown Buenos Aires.
Video: In Dublin people gathered to remember Marielle and demand justice.
Dozens of people in Montreal took to the streets to show their outrage over Marielle’s murder, and demanded an independent investigation into the killing to ensure there is real justice.
People gathered in the imperialist heartland in New York City and Washington D.C. to demand justice for Marielle.
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