With the rising graph of crimes against women, it is imperative to lay more focus on prevention strategies
By Aruti Nayar
A s one watches the news about the rape of a young 22-year-old photo journalist in Mumbai, and the television debates that follow, one feels a sense of having heard it and seen it before. With a sickening feeling in the pit of the stomach you feel nothing, it seems nothing at all, has changed and nothing ever will. The same pious platitudes, the same rhetoric, the same banal arguments and blamegame. It seems an action replay of the way events had unfolded post-Nirbhaya rape case that, it appeared then, had jolted the middle class out of its cocoon. This time it has occurred in Mumbai, a metropolis which is generally considered safe for women where they could walk around with a taken-for-granted freedom and without fear. Women did not feel threatened because Mumbai treated them as equals. Not any more.
Protesters raise slogans during a demonstration against the rape of a photojournalist by five men inside an abandoned textile mill, in Mumbai on August 23. The attack triggered protests and an outcry on social media, with many people shocked that it took place in Mumbai, widely considered as a safe city for women. (Reuters)
What is worrisome is that we might become so immune to the news of ghastly gang rapes, each more revolting than the other, and our responses become so atrophied that even the most gruesome crimes will not make a dent into our conscience (and consciousness). TV debates and long-winded analyses generate more heat than solutions. After venting out our anger, fears and frustrations we feel satisfied that we, the complacent middle class, have salvaged our conscience.
What about effective policing? More stringent laws need not translate into more convictions and act as a deterrent. Even eight months after the gruesome Delhi rape case, there has been no conviction, despite it being a fast-track court. The onus on safety is on the women themselves as proved by many studies (see box). What needs to be put in place is effective policing and neighbourhood safety measures, manning police kiosks at night and most important of all, preparing a data base of criminals to track hardened criminals and keep tabs on their migration and anti-social activities. The government has failed abysmally to put in place a prevention mechanism. Petty thefts flourish with the tacit approval of the police and the “subculture” of a metropolis often perceived as safe bustles with crimes that go undetected. No punishment for petty crimes allows bigger, more heinous crimes to flourish with impunity. A big city is bound to afford greater anonymity to its inhabitants and it is this that offers a ‘hideout’ to criminals. The area where the Mumbai incident occurred was frequented by drug peddlers and addicts. It is difficult to believe that the police, just a short distance away, was oblivious to the den. One of the most effective ideas about crime prevention to come out in recent years is the “broken window theory.” According to this theory, small acts of deviance: littering, graffiti, broken windows, will, if ignored, escalate into more serious crime. So today’s petty thief, if allowed a free run, can become a hardened rapist tomorrow.
Notions of masculinity The notion that law does not catch up with the deviant, who is often glorified, is also reinforced by Bollywood. Similarly, if one were to go by rules of Bollywood, that occupies so much of mental and psychological space in our collective consciousness, a woman is an object to be wooed and ‘acquired,’ often aggressively. Our film industry, despite a host of fresh ideas and out-of-the-box storylines, reinforces the macho hero who can use force to woo the heroine and never takes a no for a no. Objectification of women in urban spaces where kinship markers have already dissolved and a state of anomie prevails, makes them objects of fantasy as well as passive and powerless recepients on whom it is perfectly acceptable to vent out aggression and frustration. Add to that our flawed notions of masculinity. We need to confront our construction of masculinity. Our society constructs masculinity in a way that valorises aggression and violence in men. We need to teach our boys differently and this must begin at the level of schools. Sensitivity and respect for girls and women should be taught and demonstrated at home. We do not need to worship our women, let’s just treat them like human beings who deserve a humane treatment. Reinforcing confidence As young women come out in large numbers and join the work force as professionals, we cannot afford to instil fear into their hearts and for this the state cannot abdicate its responsibility. The onus is on the state to afford safe public spaces to its citizens. For this even the youth needs to move beyond Facebook activism and become more proactive. After all they have more stakes in the future of the country, unlike the fossilised and defunct political class that only works for its own survival as well as perpetuation. Demonstrating a zero-tolerance for rape and crimes against women, even if the offender is a highly placed politician or an influential official would go a long way in ensuring compliance with law and serve the cause of justice more than a host of legislative measures. Once the message goes out that even the rich, the powerful and the politically well-connected are not a class apart and cannot escape the noose of the law if they commit a crime against women, it will be an effective deterrent. The reason is notions of caste, hierarchy and entitlement due to being a part of the power structure are deeply embedded in the psyche and the collective consciousness of the average Indian.
We need much more than mere statistics that tell us how much crime against women has risen or oft-repeated theories of what leads to such horrendous crimes being bandied about. All most of us ask for is a safe space for all citizens, which includes children, women and girls. The din of empty talk and even more empty promises should not drown the silent screams of suffering women.
Safe City The 2010 study, ‘Safe City Free of Violence Against Women and Girls’ – brought out by Jagori, a women’s resource group, revealed that women of all classes had to contend with harassment as part of their daily lives, with young girls and women being particularly vulnerable. It also showed that the burden of ensuring safety remained on the women themselves. They had to somehow try and ensure their own security by not visiting certain places, staying indoors after dark, and so on. While the study focused on Delhi, it could have been speaking for any Indian city anywhere
Hope this is a one-off incident ?The Mumbai gang rape incident made my heart sink. Apart from the horror of the crime on its own, the next worse thing was that it happened in Mumbai. You just don't associate such a horrid crime with the cultural fabric that Mumbai possesses. What has been absolutely welcoming about Mumbai's culture is the agnosticism it has towards its people's eccentricities. The autorickshaw driver who would cite the Bhagavadgita in his conversation, our awesome internet service provider who'd operate out of a thatched shanty, the police constable who would sit me down and educate me about insurance policies, the LGBTI filmmakers you had to be good at what you did and that was it. Gender, unlike in the North of the country, was the least of the issues you would have to deal with. Why, if you stared at women, they stared back at you! The police have done their job well it seems. There has been the requisite amount of outrage in the media. The court trials would probably and hopefully be swift. But is Mumbai now safe for women? I hope this turns out to be a one-off incident. - Mohit Sharma, Demand Forecasting Analyst for the Pharmaceutical sector, Aspect Ratio, Pune
Urban milieu not gender equal What does the gang rape of a young woman photographer in an Indian metropolis, considered the country's most progressive and modern, tell us about ourselves? It points, first of all, to an urban milieu that does not recognise the principle of gender equality; a society that still has not internalised the principle of every person's right to free movement and bodily integrity. Secondly, it reflects that the more our urban centres grow bursting as they are with malls, markets and traffic-clogged streets the less secure they are becoming for those who inhabit them.
Responding to the social crisis demands rational solutions, not an ostrich-like retreat into medievalism. Circumscribing the lives of women by laying down restrictions in terms of dress, location or activity cannot be the answer. Instead we need to make our public spaces more safe in the way they are designed, in the way city infrastructure and public transport function, and in the way everybody in the city has a sense of ownership of that urban space.
What is at stake, after all, is not just women's safety, but the safety of everyone living in it. As one Delhi-based architect and town planner put it, "We have to stop seeing the world as an environment for the adult male. The time has come in urban India to retrofit our urban spaces to conform to the principles of equity." - Pamela Philipose, Director, Women's Feature Service, New Delhi
After all, Mumbai is in India "So Mumbai's not safe any more either," is what everyone in the country seems to be saying. I wonder if I sense some schadenfreude (pleasure derived from others' misery) there. I've lived in Delhi and endured its haunting and unrelenting male gaze. Mumbai's has perhaps been more discreet. Women here too avoid travelling in lonely train coaches but they are able to stroll on Marine Drive at midnight. Mumbai's not perfect and neither are its people. It's a city, at the moment, grieving for the tragedy that's happened and, hopefully, a city that will stand up and not let this happen again. Having lived here for over six years I have encountered my set of creeps but it's not a daily struggle like most of India is. I will not be leaving the city in a hurry. It's made me feel safer than others. But that doesn't mean I'm totally safe. After all, Mumbai is as much a part of the India that thinks the woman always deserves it.- Sonal Jhujj, Strategy Planner, Mudra Communications, Mumbai
Community must pitch in The Criminal Law Amendment Act 2013 has brought in a stronger, a more deterrent law for dealing with incidents /crimes of sexual assault on women, primarily in response to the Delhi rape case. Deterrence is just one way of dealing with crime and harsher punishments are not the only solution. The damage to the victims also has to be healed on priority. Sadly, all these responses come after an incident takes place. It is easier to blame the police after such an incident takes place. The focus should be on crime-prevention strategies to deal with crimes against women at the primary and secondary levels. Sole reliance on the criminal justice system is no solution to crime. Campaigns for a safe city need community involvement. Causes of crime are complex and cumulative and may be embedded in personal and social histories of offenders.We have to engage men in violence prevention and broaden and diversify our responses to violence against women. Crime is best controlled with community as the primary controller and active participant, with no silent bystanders.- Upneet Lalli, Deputy Director, Institution of Correctional Administration, Chandigarh
The fact that there is still no verdict in the Delhi rape trial is a sobering reminder that the Criminal Law Amendment Act 2013 is insufficient reform
Over eight months have passed since the horrific events of December 16, 2012, yet the wave of rapes still rage across the nation. The spring and summer of 2013 were marred by barbaric events such as the rape of five-year-old girls in Delhi and Gurgaon, the acid attack on a young woman getting off a train in Mumbai, the gruesome rape and murder of a 20-year-old college girl in Kolkata, and, most recently, the gang rape of a photo journalist in Mumbai as well as countless other incidents. Despite the recurring frequency of these crimes, the public discourse on law reform has come to a halt following the passage of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013 in April. While the Act certainly introduced long, overdue changes in the law, it is but a first step in the long journey to ending violence against women in India through criminal law, police reforms and curricular reforms intended to change the mentality of future generations. The necessity of further reforms to criminal procedure is glaringly evident from the fact that, although six fast track courts were set up, the verdict in the Delhi rape trial still has not been passed even after eight months of litigation.
Overdue changes The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013 (“Act”) took the historic step of amending the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to provide for the new offences of rape causing death or a vegetative state, sexual intercourse by a person in authority, gang rape and repeat offences. Importantly, the Act also introduced several other new offences such as causing grievous hurt through acid attacks, sexual harassment, use of criminal force on a woman with intent to disrobe, voyeurism and stalking. Importantly, the Act further amended the IPC to criminalise the failure of a public servant to obey directions under law. It has also made the non-treatment of a rape victim by any public or private hospital an offence. While these amendments to the IPC constitute a major legislative stride forward, corresponding steps forward have not been taken in the amendment of criminal procedure.
The Act amended the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) to provide for a woman officer to record evidence from a woman against whom certain offences have been committed. If the victim of such offences has been mentally or physically disabled, temporarily or permanently, then the woman officer must record the evidence at the victim’s residence or the victim’s place of choice. These requirements apply to offences such as causing voluntarily, grievous hurt by the use of acid, sexual harassment, assault or use of criminal force against a woman with intent to disrobe, voyeurism, stalking, rape, gang rape, sexual intercourse by a person in authority, and a word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman. The CrPC was further amended to provide for a court to ensure that when the evidence of a victim of rape below 18 years has to be recorded, the accused does not confront the victim. However, many procedural issues critical to making the criminal justice system functional in the case of rape and serving as a deterrent against further crime have not been addressed by the Act.
Areas to be looked into The starting point is of course the registration of the FIR itself. The courts are divided over whether the police have an obligation or not by law to investigate allegations of rape before registering an FIR. If a police investigation has to take place before the registration of an FIR, delays will inevitably occur and the failure to register FIRs in rape cases will continue. Moreover, the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems (CCTNS), an ambitious Rs.2,000 crore project of the Home Ministry, which would enable at least the e-filing of FIRs, is expected to be implemented only in 2015.
The second procedural issue is fast track courts. Section 309 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), as amended by the Act, provides that the trial of offences under Section 376 (rape) and Sections 376A-D (covering punishment for causing death or resulting in persistent vegetative state of the victim, sexual intercourse by husband upon his wife during separation, sexual intercourse by a person in authority and gang rape) must be completed within two months from the date of filing the charge sheet. However, the Delhi rape case, prosecuted in a fast track court, has already taken over eight months. Therefore, procedural rules must be examined including the grounds for an order of in camera proceedings. They are usually ordered only where a matter of national security is involved or a party asserts that communications are privileged. In camera proceedings are not ordered on the grounds that the accused’s safety is at risk as in the Delhi case. Indeed, the court’s order of in camera proceedings in this case has resulted in it being secluded from media attention, thereby reducing public pressure for further reforms.
Samaritans & jurisdiction A third issue is the protection of good Samaritans. The CrPC must be amended to provide that members of the public who act as good Samaritans should not be treated as wrongdoers and unnecessarily questioned or harassed by the police. The current situation in which bystanders do not help victims of crime reflects a sad state of societal affairs and must be addressed.
While the Act has made limited changes to criminal procedure, the police have been left out of legislative reforms altogether. The only reforms were those announced by the then Delhi Police Commissioner, Neeraj Kumar, on January 18, 2013, including that Zero First Information Reports (FIR) may be registered on the basis of a woman’s statement at any police station irrespective of jurisdiction. Jurisdiction is a very important issue as, in the Delhi case, the victim’s friend stated that the police wasted 30 minutes arguing over jurisdiction, although the victim and her friend were lying on the road for two hours. The police chief also announced a series of other measures such as the recruitment of 418 women sub-inspectors and 2,088 women constables, PCR vans to be deployed outside women’s colleges, provision for women to call ‘100’ to seek assistance to be given a lift home at night by a PCR van, and 24-hour police cover for areas around entertainment hubs with increased security between 8 p.m. and 1 a.m. Despite these reforms, in the succeeding months, police actions in subsequent rape cases have caused much alarm. In the case of the rape of a five-year-old child, the police were accused of offering a bribe of Rs. 2,000 to the victim’s family to refrain from filing a case. Police officers have also been filmed on video beating women of all ages because they had the audacity to protest a rape.
Model Police Act Despite the clear need for reform of police handling of rape cases, the Model Police Act of 2006 drafted by the Police Act Drafting Committee (PADC) constituted by the Ministry of Home Affairs in September 2005, and chaired by Mr. Soli Sorabjee, is in cold storage. The Model Act, which was intended to replace the archaic Indian Police Act of 1861, was drafted with the purpose of not only meeting the challenges of policing but also fulfilling the democratic aspirations of a modern society. The PADC envisioned a modern police force which was responsive to the needs of the people while being accountable to the rule of law. A few of the key concepts underlying the police Act were: 1) functional autonomy; 2) encouraging professionalism; 3) accountability; and, presciently, 4) jurisdiction.
First, functional autonomy was viewed as a means of removing the nexus between police and politicians who treat the police as their personal security service. It proposed the establishment of a panel to receive complaints from police officers of pressure from higher officials to commit illegal or unconstitutional acts. The PADC felt that the law should be the master of the police, not politicians. A fixed tenure of two years was suggested to avoid transfers arbitrarily.
Second, the Model Act focussed on encouraging professionalism. The PADC recommended abolition of the rank of constable and replacing it with a primary rank of Grade II civil police officer. However, a recruit can attain this officer rank only after undergoing a three-year training course as a stipendiary cadet, culminating in a bachelor’s degree in police studies. As a result, even the lowest level of the police force will have a bachelor’s degree.
Third was the principle of accountability. The police Act proposed introducing criminal penalties for the most common defaults of the police such as non-registration of FIRs, unlawful arrest, detention, search or seizure.
Fourth, and most presciently, was the issue of jurisdiction. Underpinning the Model Police Act is the notion that police officers should be duty-bound to assist victims of sexual offences irrespective of the crime’s jurisdiction. As the Model Police Act was never implemented, it took the tragic Delhi case for reforms regarding jurisdiction to be announced. In short, while the passage of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013 is a milestone in criminal law reform in rape cases, the creation of offences is not sufficient. Instead, the punishment of those committing these offences through the police and the criminal justice system is critical in providing effective deterrence against future crimes.
The call for police escort to women reporters is a denigration of their professionalism and shows a poor understanding of media freedom
In the wake of the gang rape of a woman photojournalist in Mumbai, Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil said his government had always advocated that women journalists who have to visit secluded places or undertake difficult assignments at late hours, should apply for police escort.
It was not surprising that Mumbai’s women journalists declined Mr. Patil’s paternalistic offer with anger, saying that while they want a secure environment in which to function as professionals, just like everybody else, it is absurd to imagine that they would want to discuss their work with police personnel or settle for a gender-centric set of rules designed ostensibly for their safety.
Aside from what it means for media freedom, how does such a statement play out in the real world, quite removed from the ersatz universe of political expediency? Most journalism, by its very nature, entails visiting “secluded places” and “undertaking difficult assignments.” Going by a back-of-the-envelope calculation, if all the women journalists working in the State’s 11,229 publications (2011 figures from the Registrar of Newspapers for India) not including the innumerable news channels and webzines located in the State ask for police escorts, think of the number of policepersons “on media duty” that Mr. Patil would have to mobilise for this onerous task.
The fact is that women journalists are a significant presence in India today. While they may not be in the top echelons of decision making, and may be poorly represented in the districts, the last two decades have seen what some have termed as the “feminisation” of the media. Women journalists have proved that they are as competent as their male counterparts, whether in conducting investigations, breaking news, or critically analysing political and social developments.
It wasn’t always like this. Several hurdles had to be crossed over generations for media women to get recognised as professionals in their own right. After family disapproval, there were bosses who patronisingly assumed that their young women underlings were only whiling away time before getting down to the serious business of marriage and were therefore not worth even training. Newspaper establishments long resisted creating infrastructure to accommodate women employees, including providing basics like separate toilets, forget night transportation facilities and the rest.
Change, even in the larger media establishments, took decades to come about. Razia Ismail, who joined the Indian Express in 1967, once described the metamorphosis: “It was in the course of the late 1960s and the 1970s that the ‘lady’ frame finally broke…The day finally came when we did not find only ‘flower show’ …or ‘find out what Mrs Gandhi is wearing’ against our names on the assignment sheet. The day came when ‘ladies’ covered hard news and even got to be special correspondents with ministry beats…” Women broke many invisible cordons in the process: they did night duty, cultivated sources, interacted with unfamiliar people, entered theatres of conflict.
It is this important process of emergence, self-actualisation, and professionalism which incidentally has contributed immensely to the democratisation of the Indian media and its content that could be compromised if the patriarchal responses to the recent Mumbai gang rape get actualised. There are many, in would appear, who would like women journalists to go back to covering flower shows.
In fact, the reason why women media professionals often court danger and take personal risks is precisely because they still fear not being taken seriously as professionals. In 2011, a few months after a woman television correspondent was sexually assaulted during the tumultuous events at Cairo’s Tahrir Square in 2011, the Committee to Protect Journalists spoke to four dozen journalists who have undergone varying degrees of sexual violence. They were either gang raped or subjected to aggressive groping, in retaliation for their work or during the course of their reporting. What was striking about their testimonies was a common thread: they chose not to speak about their assaults, not just because they feared stigma or had no faith that justice would be done, but significantly because talking about it could have put their careers at risk, since they would then be perceived as unfit for challenging assignments and bypassed in future.
Cost cutting measures that managements now routinely adopt is, of course, not helping matters. A 2004 Press Institute of India study, ‘Status of Women Journalists In India,’ revealed how there was no such thing as permanent employment for most women professionals and even long-term contracts were elusive, with journalists often employed like daily wage labour.
It seems that the security of women journalists is linked with their conditions of work. Media freedom demands that journalists, both women and men, are allowed to do their job safely and effectively, and this can only happen when the risks that are present are taken into account and addressed.
But there is also the larger issue of the general security of all professional women in a milieu where sexual assaults have become so normalised that ‘rape’ has become just another four-letter word of abuse. The only way to respond to this ubiquitous and inchoate threat is to refuse to get intimidated by it. The photojournalist survivor of Mumbai has already displayed evidence of such exemplary courage when she made two significant statements: that she wants to get back to work as soon as possible and that rape is not the end of life.
Two Births: A Gilded Arrival and a Poisoned Legacy
” … war in our time is always indiscriminate, a war against innocents, a war against children.” (Howard Zinn, 1922-2010.)
On 22 July two babies were born – in different worlds. Prince George Alexander Louis, son of Britain’s Prince William and his wife Catherine, arrived in the £5,000 a night Lindo Wing of London’s St. Mary’s Hospital, weighing a super healthy 8lbs 6 oz.
According to the hospital’s website: “The Lindo Wing offers private en suite rooms, designed to provide you with comfort and privacy during your stay. Deluxe rooms or a suite are available on request. Each room has a satellite TV with major international channels, a radio, a safe, a bedside phone and a fridge. You and your visitors can access the internet and ... a daily newspaper is delivered to your room each morning throughout your stay. Toiletries are also provided.”
Also on hand is a: “Comprehensive wine list, should you wish to enjoy a glass of champagne and toast your baby’s arrival.”
Moments away, are also some of the world’s finest medical facilities and specialists, in the event of complications.
To mark the birth, the band of the Scots Guards played at Buckingham Palace, the fountains in Central London’s Trafalgar Square were lit with blue lights for six days and the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery and the Honourable Artillery Company staged a forty one gun royal salute. At least, breaking the habits of the centuries, and recent decades, this time they didn’t kill anyone.
On the same day, a universe away, in Falluja, Iraq – poisoned by weapons armed with uranium, chemically and radiologically toxic, and white phosphorous, a chemical weapon, and other so far unidentified “exotic weapons” – baby Humam was born. In a city relentlessly bombarded in 1991 and again in two further criminal, inhuman US decimations in 2004.
Humam was born with Retrognathia, a congenital heart disease , Omphalocele and Polydactly of upper and lower limbs. Omphalocele is an abnormality that develops as the the foetus is forming. Some of the abdominal organs protrude through an opening in the abdominal muscles in the area of the umbilical cord. Polydactly is the manifestation of extra digits on the hands or feet, in Humam’s case, both.
Humam translates as: “Brave, noble, generous.”
Dr Chris Busby, whose appointments have included sitting on the UK Ministry of Defence Oversight Committee on Depleted Uranium, and is a visiting Professor in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Ulster, has made extensive studies in Falluja. He tested parents of : “children with congenital anomalies and measured the concentration of 52 elements in the hair of the mothers and fathers. We also looked at the surface soil, river water and drinking water. We used a very powerful (mass spectroscopy) technique called ICPMS ... the only substance we found that could explain the high levels of genetic damage was the radioactive element uranium.” (i)
Much has rightly been made of the use of depleted uranium (DU) in Iraq in 1991 and the subsequent decade-plus illegal bombing of the country by the US and UK, then the 2003 and subsequent onslaughts, but, says Busby:
“Astonishingly, it was not depleted uranium. It was slightly enriched uranium, the kind that is used in nuclear reactors or atomic bombs. We found it in the hair and also in the soil. We concentrated the soil chemically so there could be no mistake. Results showed slightly enriched uranium – manmade.”
This enriched uranium was found in Falluja’s: “soil, water and in the hair of parents whose children had anomalies.”
Relating to the near Dresden-like bombardment of November 2004, Busby is convinced of a connection between cancers, deformities and the uranium weapons:
“Uranium is excreted into hair and hair grows at a known rate: one centimeter per month. We obtained very long hair samples ... and measured the uranium along the lengths of the hair, which gave us historic levels back as far as 2005. In one woman, whose hair was 80 centimeters, the uranium concentration went up toward the tip of the hair, showing very high exposures in the past (and) “ the uranium was manmade, it was enriched uranium, ...”, he stressed.
Busby believes: “ ... these results prove the existence of a new secret uranium weapon. We have found some US patents for thermobaric and directed charge warheads which employ uranium ... to increase their effect ...”
His team also: “ investigated bomb craters in Lebanon in 2006 after the Israeli attacks and found one which was radioactive and containing enriched uranium. We found enriched uranium in car air filters from Lebanon and also from Gaza. Others have found evidence of its use in Afghanistan and possibly also in the Balkans ...an astonishing discovery with many global implications.”
Dr Busby claims that: “It is clear that the military has a secret uranium weapon of some sort. It causes widespread and terrifying genetic defects, causing cancer and birth anomalies and poisoning the gene pool of whole populations. This is a war crime and must be properly investigated.
“This material ... is slowly contaminating the whole planet. It is poisoning the human gene pool, leading to increases in cancer, congenital anomalies, miscarriages and infertility ... It has probably been employed in Libya, so we must wait and see what levels of cancer and congenital disease appears there.” (Emphasis mine.)
Further, Dr Busby’s report, compiled with Malak Hamdan and Entesar Ariabi, found infant mortality in Falluja in eighty of every thousand births,.in neighbouring Jordan it is seventeen.
Robert Fisk describes a visit to Falluja General Hospital last year:
“The pictures flash up on a screen on an upper floor of the Fallujah General Hospital. And all at once, Nadhem Shokr al-Hadidi’s administration office becomes a little chamber of horrors. A baby with a hugely deformed mouth. A child with a defect of the spinal cord, material from the spine outside the body. A baby with a terrible, vast Cyclopean eye. Another baby with only half a head, stillborn like the rest ... a tiny child with half a right arm, no left leg, no genitalia ... a dead baby with just one leg and a head four times the size of its body.” (ii)
One British trained obstetrician somehow raised funds for a £79,000 scanner, for detection of congenital abnormalities. Why, she asked, would Iraqi’s Ministry of Health not hold a full investigation into Falluja’s birth defect epidemic?
Answer, surely: because the cause would be weapons used by the US – to whom the government of Iraq owe their positions and their mega money accumulating enterprises.
(Ironically the Ministry of Health under Saddam Hussein moved mountains, under the uniquely difficult circumstances of the embargo, to collect statistics from throughout the country and to press the relevant world bodies for widespread investigation into the cancers and abnormalities, to no avail.)
Dr Samira Allani talks of: “the increased frequency (of congenital abnormalities) that is alarming.” Congenital heart defects, a research paper she has written states, had reached “unprecedented numbers” by 2010. Still births and premature births also continue in an upward spiral.
Falluja lacks even laboratory equipment to facilitate the treatment of foetal infections which are curable.
But this is an Iraq-wide phenomenon, ongoing since the 1991 bombings and simply multiply escalating.
In the southern holy city of Najav, Dr Sundus Nsaif says: “After the start of the Iraq war, rates of cancer, leukemia and birth defects rose dramatically in Najaf. The areas affected by American attacks saw the biggest increases ... When you visit the hospital here you see that cancer is more common than the flu.” (iii)
Dr Nsaif comments on an active push by the government not to talk about the issue, speculating the reason is perhaps in an effort not to embarrass coalition forces. Never mind embarrassment, the implications for claims for compensation could be a world first in the potential size of damages, where ever these weapons have been used.
In Basra it is reported that birth defects increased seventeen fold in under a decade after the 2003 invasion and, as Falluja, over half of all babies conceived since are “born with heart defects.”
“The Pentagon and the UN estimate that US and British forces used 1,100 to 2,200 tons of armor-piercing shells” made of depleted uranium during attacks in Iraq in just two months, March and April 2003. Enriched uranium is not mentioned of course. That added to the up to 900 tons in 1991, the subsequent illegal bombings and the bombardments including Falluja, March 2003-December 2011, when the US forces slunk out of their killing fields under cover of darkness.
The warning after 1991 by none other than the UK Atomic Energy Agency must never be forgotten: ”If fifty tonnes of the residual (depleted uranium) dust is left in the region, there will be an estimated half million cancer deaths by the end of the century” (2000.) The further horror of enriched uranium was not, seemingly, a known factor then.
There is surely a vast cover up on the effects of these weapons. As Mozhgan Savabieasfahani has written: “The joint (World Health Organisation) and Iraqi Ministry of Health Report on cancers and birth defect in Iraq was originally due to be released in November 2012. It has been delayed repeatedly and now has no release date whatsoever.”(iv)
He writes: “The back-breaking burden of cancers and birth defects continues to weigh heavily on the Iraqi people”, in an article which draws attention to the fact that fifty four eminent academics from a number of countries have written to the WHO demanding the release of the Report.
He adds that in November 2006: “The British Medical Journal published an article entitled ‘WHO suppressed evidence on effects of depleted uranium, expert says.’ It suggested that earlier WHO reports were compromised by the omission of a full account of depleted uranium genotoxicity.
“Additionally, recent revelations by Hans von Sponeck, the former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations, suggest that WHO may be susceptible to pressure from its member states.
“Mr. von Sponeck has said that ‘The US government sought to prevent WHO from surveying areas in southern Iraq where depleted uranium had been used and caused serious health and environmental dangers.’ “
Further, adding fuel to radioactive fire, there are reports that the latest WHO Report does not even touch on depleted uranium (yet alone enriched.) We will have to wait and see – and wait and wait ... The WHO of course is an arm of the UN, so read US.
One of the first people arrested in Iraq on the asinine US playing cards of the “most wanted” in 2003, was Dr Huda Ammash. Dean of Baghdad University, and internationally renowned environmental biologist, who earned her PhD at the University of Missouri.
She extensively researched and wrote papers on the effects of DU and other pollutants after the 1991 war and cited the International Treaties outlawing such weapons and stressed depleted uranium weapons not being “depleted” but a “radioactive waste”, the all in minutely detailed, careful, hard hitting, scientific, incontrovertible fact. “DU is radiologically and chemically toxic to humans and other forms of life.” (v) She was way ahead in what she had detected.
Her contribution to the widely acclaimed “Iraq Under Siege – the Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War” (Pluto Press, 2000, updated 2003) was a wake-up call on the environmental Armageddon wrought on Iraq by the toxic weapons of 1991.
Her introduction read: “The Gulf war ended in 1991, but the massive destruction linked to it continues. An unprecedented catastrophe resulting from a mixture of toxic, radiological, chemical and electromagnetic exposure is still causing substantial consequences to health and the environment …. much of Iraq has been turned into a polluted and radioactive environment.”
The highly publicized book surely made her a marked woman. She was one of the first arrests of the Iraq invasion, dubbed “Dr Anthrax” in US disinformation, remaining in US custody until November 2005.
Robert Fisk, in his graphic article, cited above, writes: “This is too much. These photographs are too awful ... They simply cannot be published.” He cites the pain of the parents, many who wanted to talk to him and the world to know.
The facts, the pictures, should be on the front page of news outlets across the globe until these obscene weapons are outlawed. Iraq’s plight is being, and will be replicated where ever they have been and are again used.
They are the new Hiroshimas and Nagasakis, with the genetic burden loaded on future generations for possibly millennia.
If the WHO Report ever comes out, it will anyway be no good to baby Humam and uncounted others.
The birth was “very emotional” said Prince William’s wife, Catherine, of that of Prince George Alexander Louis. Imagine being Humam’s mother, or any mother in Iraq, who has no idea what horrors her precious offspring may present with.
The little Prince is to be feted from the day of his birth onwards – uncounted children of Iraq and where ever these weapons have been used, are fated from the day of theirs.
Ironically the Prince’s father and uncle, Prince Harry, both belong to the UK armed forces, with the US, partners in crime in these horrors.
i. http://rt.com/news/uranium-birth-defects-fallujah-729/ http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/fisk/robert-fisk-the-children-of-fallujah–the-hospital-of-horrors-7679168.html http://www.countercurrents.org/cc230713B.htm http://www.globalresearch.ca/rise-of-cancers-and-birth-defects-in-iraq-world-health-organization-refuses-to-release-data/5344530 http://www.commondreams.org/views05/1220-31.htm
Scroll down to also read of the country's "Education Emergency" and early 2013 promises of "Education for every girl"
Although the literacy rate in Pakistan has increased over the years but because of high population growth, the absolute number of illiterates has increased. (White Star)
Education is considered a fundamental human right and an essential ingredient for individual as well societal development. Article 37-B of the Constitution of Pakistan, given under the heading ‘Promotion of social justice and removal of social evils’ reads as follows:
The state shall “remove illiteracy and provide free and compulsory secondary education within minimum possible period.”
Recently, under the 18th amendment, a new sub-clause 2-A, pertaining to Right to Education has been added, which reads: “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to 16 years in such manner as may be determined by law.”
In addition to these constitutional provisions, Pakistan is also signatory to many international treaties and conventions which obligate it to provide equal access to education to all of its citizens without any discrimination on the basis of gender, race and ethnicity. Apart from other indirect provisions, two important conventions are worth mentioning: the 1990 Jomtien World Declaration on Education for All (EFA) and the Dakar Framework for Action 2000.
The Jomtien Conference reaffirmed the right of every person to receive education, which satisfies his or her basic learning needs. This declaration announced the six goals of EFA, which are to be achieved by the year 2015. These EFA goals include expanding early childhood care and education; providing free and compulsory primary education for all; promoting learning and life skills for young people and adults; increasing adult literacy by 50 per cent from the level of 1990; achieving gender parity by 2005 and gender equality by 2015; and improving the quality of education for all.
The Dakar Framework of Action (Senegal, 2000) was adopted in which the international community once again recognised illiteracy as a priority issue; it set a number of goals to be achieved by the year 2015. By signing these two documents, the international community, including Pakistan, affirmed their commitment to eradicate illiteracy within a stipulated period of time. It is believed that illiteracy not only hinders the development of individuals’ full potential and their participation in a democratic society, but also has repercussions for the rest of their lives. It affects personal and family life of the individuals, deprives them of the benefits of development and hinders the enjoyment of other human rights.
The Dakar Framework of Action not only announced eight goals, commonly known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) pertaining to various aspects of human life, but also set measurable targets and indicators to monitor progress of the societies in this direction. Out of these goals, two exclusively relate to education.
Goal two pertains to achieving universal primary education, and the relevant target reads “ensure that all boys and girls complete a full course of primary schooling by 2015”. Attainment of this target requires an increase in the net enrolment ratio of children at the primary level and improving the completion rate of primary schooling.
Goal three encourages the international community to promote gender equality and empower women; it reads “eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education preferably by 2005 and at all levels by 2015”. Achievement of this target requires improving the ratios of girls to boys in primary, secondary and tertiary education.
Twenty-three years down the road since the declaration of EFA, and just about two years away from the target year 2015, it is high time to assess Pakistan’s achievement and progress in this direction, particularly with reference to universal education and gender parity. According to MDGs, Pakistan was expected to achieve 100pc net primary enrolment rate by 2015 and 100pc completion/survival rate to Grade V by the same year.
In terms of literacy, it was expected to achieve overall 88pc literacy rate for 10+ years aged population. To achieve steady progress in this regard, Pakistan announced three education policies in 1992, 1998 and 2009 and a number of development plans, including National Plan of Action 2001-2015 and Education Sector Reforms (ESR).
These policies and plans set different dates to achieve the millennium development goals. The National Plan of Action on EFA (2001-2015) declared to achieve increase on the following indicators by 2005.
Literacy from 49pc to 60pc:
Net primary enrolment from 66pc to 76pc
Middle school enrolment from 47.5pc to 55pc
Secondary school enrolment from 29.5pc to 40pc
Higher education enrolment from 2pc to 5pc
The Medium Term Development Framework (MTDF) 2005-2010 set the target to achieve 77pc net primary enrolment ratio, 80pc completion/survival rate to Grade V and 77pc overall literacy rate for 10+ years population by 2010. Similarly, in terms of gender equality, Pakistan was expected to achieve full gender equality in primary enrolment ratio as well as youth literacy by the year 2015. The relevant target set under MTDF was to achieve 0.94 Gender Parity Index (GPI) for primary enrolment and 0.85 GPI for youth literacy.
The analysis of available data reveals that progress of Pakistan toward achieving the MDGs is not only unsatisfactory; rather highly disappointing. We are not only far away from achieving these goals by 2015 rather under the current pace of development these goals seem to be totally unachievable.
Although the literacy rate in Pakistan has increased over the years but because of high population growth, the absolute number of illiterates has increased. At present, the literacy rate of 10+ age population as well and the net enrolment rate at the primary level is about 58 and 68pc respectively, with higher gender disparity index in literacy rate than in primary enrolment rate.
The overall literacy rate is higher in Punjab and Sindh, with lowest in Balochistan. Similarly, the lowest literacy and enrolment rates are observed in the female population in Balochistan. The achievement of MDGs requires an expansion of primary education opportunities for children and reducing the drop-out rate. In post-9/11 era, Pakistan received a lot of aid for various sectors, including education. There was a huge campaign of increasing educational opportunities for different age population.
However, the available statistics about primary schooling in Pakistan reveals a negative trend. This is particularly true for female literacy rate in the country. As discussed earlier, to fulfil the commitments made by the government of Pakistan for achieving MDGs, Pakistan was expected to achieve full gender equality in primary enrolment ratio as well as youth literacy by the year 2015.
However, literacy figures recently released by the Unesco Institute for Statistics reveal that absolute number of female illiterates has risen from 31,101,011 in 2005 to 32,106,848 in 2009. That is, about one million females were added to the illiterate lot. On the other hand, it is encouraging to note that there was a decrease of about 0.6 million in the number of male illiterates during the same period. However, this has resulted in an increase in gender disparity.
This is mainly because of the faulty education policies during the previous regime. Available data indicates that during the Musharraf government, instead of expanding primary education in the public sector, the number of primary schools decreased from 159,330 in 1998-99 to 156,400 in 2009-10. His government implemented a devolution plan and accordingly the primary, middle and secondary education was devolved to the district governments. This was done on the pretext that the decentralisation process would enable the district governments to effectively manage the education system. However, the devolution policy resulted in decreasing the enrolment rate, especially in the public-sector schools and closure of about 3,000 schools during the last decade.
Primary schools are the basic unit of education and an important instrument for imparting literacy and basic education. These figures also reveal that despite increase in primary age population, primary schools were not increased proportionately. Instead, higher expansion in middle and secondary schools was achieved. Against about 29pc increase in the primary school population, about 2pc decrease in the number of primary schools has been observed during the same period.
If the same trend is continued, this will be in total defiance of the MDGs and Pakistan will never be able to achieve the MDGs’ targets, particularly in the case of the female population. Taliban are condemned for eroding female schools in Fata, Swat and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but what if the government does the same thing in the name of rationalisation policy or uses other pretext to close public schools?
Education for all, gender balance, better equipped educational institutions, new uniform curriculum and much more. Will the PTI be able to achieve its ambitious education goals? By Tahir Ali
As per its commitment during elections, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has declared education emergency and planned various initiatives to improve education standard in the province.
The main focus of new projects is to ensure education for all, create a gender balance and fulfil the requirements of educational institutions regarding staff, equipment, furniture, teachers training and essential repairs. It also intends to devise a new uniform curriculum in the near future.
A working group comprising education experts, coalition partners and education administrators deliberated on the problems of education sector and prepared its elaborate recommendations for the sector.
The budget for both the elementary and secondary education (E&SE) and higher education has been increased to Rs29.7 billion against Rs22.12 billion in 2012 with the E&SE being the biggest beneficiary, accounting for Rs24 billion in the total ADP of Rs118 billion.
KP Chief Minister, Pervez Khan Khatak, says schools will be run by Management Councils comprising parents of students, local bodies’ members, elders of the localities, teachers and former students of schools. “It is a revolutionary step, first of its kind in the country. Teachers’ progress will be conditioned with the result of their students,” he adds.
A Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Education Commission is being formed with eminent education experts as its members who would work for uniform curriculum, transparent examination system and education for all.
For efficient and proper monitoring of schools and offices, a modern monitoring system is being developed comprising 500 impartial monitors with an expenditure of Rs500 million. It will also be supported by a third party monitoring system.
Female education administrative officers will get 50 per cent of their basic pay as incentive in six less developed districts for one year which will be made permanent if teachers’ attendance and performance improve.
Some other schemes include ‘Chief Minister’s Endowment Fund’ for sponsoring higher education of needy students and Iqra Education Promotion Scheme’ for poor children both of Rs500 million each; Expansion of Rokhana Pakhtunkhwa Public-Private-Partnership in Education Programme of Rs800 million; ‘Education Fund’ for establishing private school in areas having no public schools worth Rs500 million; the ‘Stori da Pakhtunkhwa’ initiative worth Rs360 million and increase in the number of beneficiaries from 10 to 20 position holders for all boards of intermediate and technical education.
The E&SE department has asked all the heads of schools to give their demands for staff, furniture, books, funds and other requirements immediately. These, according to an official, will be fulfilled before August 31st.
“The government has asked us to repair and whitewash all the rooms, lavatories and boundary walls around the schools. Water availability must be ensured. We were also asked to get telephone and internet connections and the government says IT teachers and labs will be provided in all schools,” according to a school principal.
Clusters: “To improve standard of education in public sector schools, clusters have been formed wherein 6 primary and 2-3 middle schools will be given under the supervision of one principal or head master of a high or higher secondary school. The latter will be responsible for monitoring the attendance and working of teachers and will also serve as their salary drawing and disbursement officers,” he said.
“CM Khattak, in his first assembly address, had asked teachers to improve upon their performance or face the music. But education standard could hardly be improved in a situation where schools lack teachers, books, and labs. Also, the head masters/principals will have to be empowered to take appropriate action against the staff found negligent in duties. And political intervention will also have to be eradicated,” added the principal.
Management of a school requires strong commitment and sustained and fullest attention towards it on part of the principals. “We’ll have to monitor the schools, report to district education officers of any irregularity and ask the district accounts officer to issue/stop payment to teachers and other staff at the cluster schools which will consume a lot of our time. Monitoring of schools will take much time especially when there is no transport facility available. Those having no vehicle would either avoid or only nominally do the monitoring job. They should be given vehicles or sufficient travelling allowance. Then, principals and head masters should have vice-principal and assistant head masters at schools,” he said.
Curriculum change: The PTI government also wishes to change the curriculum. KP E&SE Minister Atif Khan has given a tentative date of March 2014 to enforce uniform curriculum across the province.
The diverse curriculum taught in the public and private sectors and ‘religious’ madaris has divided the nation in water-tight compartments. To promote national cohesion, moderation and tolerance in our society, uniform curriculum is the need of the hour.
Curriculum change is, however, an arduous process that requires strong will and competence on part of executers, billions of rupees, lot of time and mutual consultations and spirit of compromise between coalition partners and stakeholders, political stability and support from the federal government. Will the PTI be able to successfully cope with these issues?
As KP is dependent on federal transfers and donor funding for implementation of its plans and projects, it will have to approach donor agencies like World Bank, USAID, Asian Development and UK’s DFID and the Agha Khan Foundation. Donor agencies are ready to finance the process but they want due representation in the working groups and the committees for the purpose. They would also attach some strings to their support.
The Jamat-e-Islami has been vocal in opposing heavy presence of donor agencies personnel in working groups and authoritative role for them in the process. It fears that giving too much leverage to the donor agencies would give them enough powers to exclude religious contents from syllabi which would be unacceptable. But beggars, after all, can’t be choosers.
While the JI presses for all-encompassing religious contents in curriculum, donor agencies may consider it an attempt to spread extremism.
Curriculum from first to intermediate level was changed by the previous ANP provincial government and the process was to complete in next academic year. The ANP had to face severe opposition from the JI, then in opposition but now a coalition partner in the PTI-led government.
There is still ambiguity whether or not seminaries and their boards and the private schools chains would be included in the process. And whether it’ll be done by banning private schools or by privatising public schools?
There will be opposition from certain quarters. “The elite class and their private education systems, the text book commission mafia and incompetent teachers would resist the move,” a professor said, adding that the government should implement the curriculum in stages.
Hitches The PTI wishes to introduce uniform curriculum, increase state spending on education to five per cent of GDP, reduce the dropout rate at elementary level by offering incentives, encourage greater public-private partnership in qualitative improvement and quantitative expansion of education. But there are many hitches.
Ghost schools, teachers absenteeism, outdated teaching techniques, low admission and high dropout ratio, dilapidated school buildings with no facilities, outdated curriculum, flawed examination system, faulty monitoring system, indifference of teachers and administrators, overcrowded classrooms, weak supervision, mounting political interference and little attention and resources to developing teachers’ competencies, etc., are some of the main problems in the sector. Without removing these, any hope for improvement in the system will only be wishful thinking.
Teachers’ competencies should be the main focus as high quality teachers are the most important factor in a child’s education. With computer based learning tools, educational institutions can provide the supportive productive environment teachers need to reach, teach, and support each student’s learning needs and potential.
But the KP’s provincial assembly was informed last year that only around 300 high and higher secondary schools in KP had computer labs while around 2000 lacked computer labs and 4,500 computer teachers were needed.
While the government says it will achieve millennium development goals in the educations sector by the end of 2015, KP MDGs Report-2011 says they are unlikely to be achieved in KP by then. The net primary enrolment ratio in 2011-12 was 67 per cent and the Primary Completion Rate and Literacy Rate stands at 67 per cent and 50 per cent against the targets of 100 and 88 respectively.
There should be a mandatory uniform national curriculum from class one to twelve. At the intermediate level, all the students in the country should take a federal examination on the pattern of developed countries.
Like other parties, the Jamaat-e-Islami also places emphasis on education for all to woo voters By Javed Aziz Khan
Almost all the political parties have announced their election manifestos with claims to bring revolutionary reforms into the system and make Pakistan a model state. The season of claims and promises is on and political parties are trying something new to attract more voters and get their sympathies for election candidates.
Most of the political parties are claiming to give top priority to education once they come into power in the country. There are claims of establishing more universities, upgrading the already existing institutions with providing them all the basic facilities and setting up more primary schools to improve the literacy rate.
The Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) has also announced its election manifesto recently with more emphasis on educating every child with quality education for free.
“Our slogan is Ilaj, taleem, rozgar har fard kay leye….Saaf pani, bijli aur gas har ghar kay leye (health, education and job for every individual and clean water, electricity and gas for every house),” says deputy chief of the Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan, Sirajul Haq.
Siraj, who has served as senior minister in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa during the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal government, is of the opinion that this is the responsibility of the state to provide free quality education to its people.
The JI is more focused on education for girls and want to launch educational emergency in the country for this purpose. “We want to launch educational emergency in the country so that every girl gets education because an educated female can prepare a better nation,” says Sirajul Haq, who headed Islami Jamiat Talaba, a student wing of the JI, for years. He stresses for arrangements so that every girl can get higher and professional education without any harm to culture as well as local and Islamic values.
The Jamaat-e-Islami wants a law that could penalise parents for not sending their children to schools. “We want the private educational institutions should work in partnership with the government. Private schools, colleges and universities should not be an industry but it should be part of the mission to educate the Pakistani nation,” says Sirajul Haq.
The JI was part of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, a six-party alliance of the religious groups that ruled the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province between 2002 and 2007. The MMA was part of the opposition in the center during the five years. In 2008 general elections, the component parties of the MMA parted ways. The Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl, the largest party in the MMA, and other parties contested the polls while the JI boycotted the last general elections.
The Jamaat is contesting the coming general elections without forming any alliance with religio-political groups. It has, however, started negotiations with various political groups for seat adjustment in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and other parts of the country.
Besides improving the education standards, the JI manifesto has a number of targets to achieve after winning the general elections. “We want to make Pakistan an Islamic welfare state. Our model is the Islamic state established in Madina where people will rule the country and there will be no difference between a common man and a ruler,” says Sirajul Haq.
In the sector of education, the party wants changes in the syllabus as its leadership believes that every year changes are made in the curriculum on foreign pressure. He believes that primary education would improve if the nation starts giving respect to teachers.
“We will develop a system under which a student will be required to choose his profession after 12th grade. After intermediate level, every student will be given education in a specialised field so we can produce more specialists in every field,” says the JI deputy central chief.
As a religio-political party, the JI wants to bring reforms in the seminary system too. “We want to develop a system in seminaries where a student graduating from these institutions would have adequate knowledge of literature, science, computer and other required fields. We also want to introduce one system for all the religious schools in the country so that no one could trigger any sectarian issue,” says Sirajul Haq. He says there are five different boards of the religious schools all over the country which have thousands of schools affiliated with them. “We will bring reforms and introduce one standard course for these schools after consulting heads and senior members of all the five boards. This will help end sectarian differences.”
Some JI leaders are running modern seminaries while others are supervising few chains of regular schools with a touch of religious education all over the country. The party is having a student wing which is organised in most of the universities and colleges of the country. The student wing arranges educational related activities on regular basis.
The JI has floated a novel idea of planting one tree by every student. “A student will be asked to plant a tree and take care of it. This way, we will have millions of trees planted every year to help us improve the environment,” Siraj suggests.
“Our government in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had established a female university and a medical college so that female students could get higher and professional education without any difficulty. We also established 61 new colleges and recruited 46,000 teachers on merit. There was no college in Kohistan and other remote areas, but we established colleges and schools there. If we come into power, we will establish a separate university, medical college and engineering college in Fata,” says the JI deputy amir.
“We will increase the budget for education from 2 per cent to 11 per cent so we are not left behind India and Bangladesh,” says Sirajul Haq.
The writer is senior reporter of The News at Peshawar and can be contacted
and followed on twitter @JavedAzizKhan
Does the presence of disability mean the absence of rights? Divya Sreedharan reports on how hysterectomies are often forced on disabled women. Scroll down for link to the “Draft Disabilities Bill“ and media report “Panel prepares draft to secure rights of people with disabilities”
Farheena was just 10 and a half when she attained puberty. Doctors asked her mother Farida Rizwan to do a hysterectomy on Farheena. To stop her periods. Because Farheena is a special needs child she has cerebral palsy.
“I was told the hysterectomy would help avoid hygiene issues during menstruation,” says Rizwan, who lived in Byndoor, a coastal town in Udupi, Karnataka, at the time. Other parents nearby had removed the uterus of their own young, disabled daughters. Rizwan refused. “I asked doctors about the side effects of such a surgery on someone so young. I never got an answer,” she says.
Farheena is 18 today, lives in Bangalore with her mother and brother, and attends a special needs school. She is active on Facebook, plays on her mother's iPad, and manages her menstrual cycle on her own. “It took a while but I showed her how to use sanitary napkins, made her understand menstruation. She freaked out at first but with time the fear has gone,” says Rizwan.
The 2001 Census says there are 9.3 million disabled women in India. Farheena is one of them. She is luckier than most because her mother fights for her right to live with dignity. India is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2007, which guarantees all intellectually disabled women “the right to full bodily integrity”. But it is common practice to conduct hysterectomies or sterilisations on mentally challenged girls, both by parents and by state agencies in government-run homes or shelters.
Denying basic rights According to Shampa Sengupta, Director, Sruti Disability Rights Centre, Kolkata, forcible hysterectomies are a violation of human rights, apart from legal, moral and ethical rights. “It’s a denial of a woman's basic right her right to bear a child”. What happens when girls as young as 9 or 12 are sterilised? There is no specific study in the Indian context but the Hysterectomy Association in the UK lists some of the risks as pelvic inflammatory disease, endometriosis, depression and back pain.
The practice of forced hysterectomies became public in 1994, when they were found being conducted on mentally challenged women between the ages of 18 and 35 at Sassoon General Hospital, Pune. A 1994 article in the British Medical Journal said “...health authorities claim consent was given by the women's parents or other lawful guardians and that the operations were done to maintain the women's hygiene during menstruation...” The same reason was cited in 2008 by the Maharashtra government seeking to conduct hysterectomies on 300-odd women in five government homes.
This, in the face of guidelines laid down in the early 1990s by the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics that recommended setting up a qualified panel to examine the girls. The guidelines stressed that “hysterectomy in the absence of a conscientious effort at helping the woman to maintain personal hygiene cannot be justified”.
What can such panels actually achieve? Says Akhil Paul, Director of Sense International India, an Ahmedabad NGO that works with deaf-blind children and adults: “The panel can only take action if a complaint is made.”
The real picture But what’s worse is what’s left unspoken. Hysterectomies are often carried out, as Sengupta notes, so that the girl does not become pregnant if abused. It’s a larger conspiracy where parents and society stay silent about the abuse; and about the hysterectomies or abortions after the abuse. Says Paul, “Often, the abusers are people who meet them everyday. Auto drivers, rickshaw wallahs, family and peers.”
Do hysterectomies then merely perpetuate the sexual abuse of the disabled? Last July, a young woman's body was found buried within the compound of the NGO Dulal Smriti Samsad in West Bengal. It was that of Guriya, a mentally-ill destitute woman. The Home, although registered under the Persons with Disabilities Act, the National Trust Act and the Juvenile Justice Act, was not monitored by any agency. Sengupta was one of those who investigated the incident. “Many women had been subjected to routine sexual abuse, some even had Copper-Ts (contraceptive) inserted in their bodies,” she says.
And what happens when the abuser is a family member, a father, sibling, family friend or uncle? “Many doctors speak of carrying out hysterectomies on the request of the girls' mothers. My own gynaecologist has told me of a disabled girl brought in by the mother for an abortion. Some mothers know their daughters are being abused but keep quiet,” Sengupta says.
Farida Rizwan, though, has vowed not to keep quiet. She is fully aware of how vulnerable her daughter is. “One day, Farheena told me her classmate (a girl) had grabbed her breast. Farheena knew this was wrong because I have taught her about 'good' touch and 'bad' touch. But what about the girl who touched her? Someone must be abusing her which is why she touched my daughter inappropriately. Who will help that girl?” she asks. Award-winning blogger Rizwan is vocal on the issue of the rights of the disabled, and one thing she is sure of: “Removing her uterus will not protect my daughter”.
Silent Conspiracy India's Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995 is silent on the subject of violence towards and sexual exploitation of disabled girls and women. Now, a Draft Disabilities Bill is ready. It strongly advocates:
The right of women and girls with disabilities to be protected from all forms of abuse, violence and exploitation.
Protection in all settings including homes, care-homes, educational institutions, and workplaces.
Safe, accessible complaint mechanisms to report abuse, exploitation, and violence
Setting up gender-, disability- and age-sensitive protection services. And full support for the survivors of abuse.
Panel prepares draft to secure rights of people with disabilities
NEW DELHI,: Unhappy with the Government’s inability to come up with a holistic legislation for disabled persons, the Disabled Rights Group (DRG) has come up with the draft of a comprehensive law that seeks to provide access to properties, including securing the rights of inheritance of people with disabilities. If required, legal aid may be provided to persons with disabilities, to protect their rights on property.
Based on “all rights of all persons with disabilities with a framework for accountability”, the proposed draft, Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2012, seeks to repeal the existing four laws on disabilities, to avoid multiplicity of authority and duplicity of institutions, Javed Abidi of the Disabled Rights Group, told The Hindu .
The draft puts on the government the responsibility of developing strategies and schemes to help persons with disabilities to attain and maintain maximum independence, full physical, mental, social and vocational ability, and full inclusion and participation in all aspects of life. The comprehensive rehabilitation services and programmes, particularly in the areas of health, employment, education and social services, will be available to persons with disabilities in the communities they live, and will extend to the rural areas as well. Products and technology to guarantee participation will comply with the standards and norms, as outlined in the accessibility strategy.
The Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995, the Rehabilitation Council of India Act, 1992, the National Trust for Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities Act, 1999, and the Mental Health Act, 1987, are the four existing laws.
“There is no synchrony between the various legislations that will impact the lives of persons with disability, and complete dissonance between the proposed Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill and the proposed Mental Health Care Bill brought out by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare,” DRG told the Union Social Justice and Empowerment Minister, Mukul Wasnik, while presenting the draft on Wednesday.
The government will make sure that persons with disability can, and will, effectively participate in political and public affairs on an equal basis with people, including the right and opportunity for persons with disability to vote and be elected, form and join organisations of persons with disability to represent people with disability at international, national, regional and local levels. Reasonable accommodation shall be provided in all cases where persons with disabilities exercise their right to franchise, the draft suggests.
The appropriate government shall make sure that every person with disability shall be entitled to support in decision-making, which would help the person to exercise legal capacity with safeguards to implement his/her will, the draft says, while saying that the mechanisms for providing support in decision-making shall be developed by the Disability Equality Commission.
A person with disability, who is denied the services, or faces discrimination in accessing any services and the facilities, shall be at liberty to make a complaint before the Grievance Redressal Committee.
In cases where a person with disabilities is of the opinion that he/she is unable to comprehend and/or retain the information that is required to make a decision, support may be sought by that person in arriving at that decision. The person may contact the Disability Support Officer, to seek such support, which will make sure that the person gets support to help him/her to arrive at a decision according to his/her will.
In extreme situations, where it is felt that a person with disabilities is unable to comprehend and/or retain information to make a specific decision, despite all support options being provided, total support for the said decision for a fixed period of time may be provided by the Committee.
There is a provision for the constitution of the ‘Disability Equality Commission’ to develop mechanisms to provide support to persons with disabilities, to live within their own families or independently. ******* Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2012, seeks to repeal the existing four laws on disabilities
Legal aid may be provided to persons with disabilities to protect their rights on property ******* ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~