India: Child marriage as solution to Haryana’s shameful rape epidemic sparks justifiable outrage Print E-mail

 

Friday October 12, 2012

Child marriage as remedy for rape sparks furore

Scroll down to also read dire facts, and links made with Haryana's dismally skewed sex ratio

By Sandeep Joshi

The Hindu Indian National Lok Dal leader Om Prakash Chautala and his party’s legislators emerging from Haryana Raj Bhavan after submitting a memorandum to Governor Jagannath Pahadia in Chandigarh. (Akhilesh Kumar)

Chautala echoes Haryana khap panchayat demand; rape not a black-and-white law and order issue, says Renuka Chowdhury

Even as the former Haryana Chief Minister, Om Prakash Chautala, backed demands for new laws that will allow marriage of teenagers saying it would help end the surge in sexual crimes reported from across the State in recent weeks, a senior Congress leader has said that the State’s rape crisis was not a “black-and-white law and order issue”.

Speaking to journalists on Wednesday, Congress spokesperson Renuka Chowdhury defended Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda against charges that he had failed to act against the wave of attacks, in many of which the victims were dalit women and the perpetrators, upper-caste men. “Crime against women has risen. Not only in our country but all over the world. This is an issue that challenges all intelligent people,” Ms. Chowdhury said.

Ms. Chowdhury said the State government was working “discreetly to reassure the families that they will be safe and they will not have to worry about the social support they need. It is not a very simple black-and-white law and order issue only.”

Communist Party of India (Marxist) MP Brinda Karat criticised Ms. Chowdhury’s argument, noting that “in several of these cases the perpetrators videotaped and circulated their crime, while in others the victim had been murdered”.

“Whereas the protection of the victim’s identity is a very important concern, this should not become a pretext not to condemn the State government for its failure to act against the perpetrators,” Ms. Karat said.

Pinky Anand, a New-Delhi-based Supreme Court lawyer, also attacked Ms. Chowdhury’s remarks, describing them as bizarre: “So, murder is a law and order issue. And so is robbery. But not rape? There are these terrible crimes taking place in Haryana, and the State government is doing nothing about them ­ that is the problem here.

Ms. Chowdhury was responding to questions on comments made earlier on Wednesday by Mr. Chautala, after he met with Governor Jagan Nath Pahadia to present a memorandum on the rape crisis. Mr. Chautala gave his support to Khap panchayat proposals for lowering the age of marriage, saying it would “help [curb] such crimes against women”.

Sube Singh, a prominent Khap representative, recently said “boys and girls should be married by the time they turn 16, so that they do not stray”.

Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, however, appeared to be more critical of the State government, saying he was “constantly monitoring” the situation. “We are discussing [strict measures]. My people have spoken to the Director-General of Police and I will also speak to the Chief Minister,” Mr. Shinde said.

Both Mr. Shinde and Ms. Chowdhury condemned Mr. Chautala's remarks. “In India, we have to abide by Indian law. Fifteen rape cases have been reported in Haryana in last one month ­ at least two of them on Tuesday ­ even as Congress president Sonia Gandhi visited the State to meet with the family of a 15-year-old Dalit girl who committed suicide by immolating herself after she was gang-raped on October 6 at Sacha Khera village in Jind district.

The wave of sexual assaults began on September 9 when a Dalit girl was gang-raped in Hisar town. Multimedia clips of the assault were circulated by the accused on mobile phones. The incident came to light on September 18 when the father of the girl committed suicide on learning about them.

Following this, a newly-married 19-year-old woman was abducted and raped by four men in Gohana town near Sonepat; a 30-year-old married woman from a backward community was gang-raped at gunpoint by three men in Jind district while her family members were held hostage and the crime was videotaped; and a teenaged girl was gang-raped in a moving car by three young men in Bhiwani. Both major parties in Haryana have been reluctant to challenge the Khap panchayats frontally on the rape issue, fearing losing electoral capital.

(With inputs from Smita Gupta)
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 Sunday Magazine ~ October 14, 2012

THE OTHER HALF

Just a number

By  Kalpana Sharma

She may have a mobile phone and satellite television, but if the impoverished low-caste woman seeks justice, she will draw a blank.

There is an epidemic of rape in the state of Haryana. Literally. Twelve instances of rape in the last month, 367 in the first six months of this year, 733 last year. And these are only the reported ones.

The shocking news of a 16-year-old Dalit girl in the state immolating herself after she was gang-raped is not just another statistic. (She was from Jind district, where the majority of these rapes have occurred in recent weeks.) It speaks to at least two depressing realities in this sordid tale. One, that if you are a poor woman who is raped, you cannot even imagine a life where there will be justice. Second, if you are a poor woman and a Dalit, then the chances of justice are even slimmer.

The list of the recent rape cases in Haryana makes depressing reading:

  • Nineteen-year-old newly-married girl abducted by four men in Gohana town near Sonipat and gang raped.
  • Thirteen-year-old girl raped by her neighbour in Rohtak.
  • Fifteen-year-old mentally challenged Dalit girl raped in Rohtak.
  • Thirty-year-old married backward caste woman gang raped inside her house by three men with guns.
  • Class XI teenage girl gang raped by four men in Gohana town.
  • Sixteen-year-old Dalit girl gang raped in Jind district
  • And so on.

Marriage at 16?
In some ways Haryana is a case apart. It has one of the lowest sex ratios in India – 833 women to every 1000 men. A decade back, when data about the extent of the declining sex ratio became known, an increase in sexual assault and violence on women was predicted. But for Haryanvi women, an additional factor is the continued dominance of caste-based khap panchayats, consisting exclusively of men, who lay down the law for everyone regardless of the laws of the land. These rules include special rules for women, how they should dress, behave and exercise their rights. Only the brave or foolhardy dare to question or defy the diktat of the khaps. Even if women obey khap laws, their lives are not free of violence as is evident from the increasing incidence of rape. Incidentally, the khap suggest that rapes will decrease if girls are married off at 16, even if the law of the land makes 18 the minimum age, because then they will not ‘stray’.

Against these realities, we have to worry about all women in Haryana. But Dalit women face a dual burden, that of caste and gender. According to a report in this paper (The Hindu, September 26, 2012), a study by the organisation Navsarjan of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, revealed that there were 379 cases of atrocities against Dalit women between 2004 and 2009. Of these, 76 were cases of rape or gang rape. By early 2011, only 101 cases (26.6 per cent) or under one third, had been decided.

Clearly, Haryana is not alone when it comes to atrocities against Dalits, including Dalit women. But what has to be addressed urgently is the complete lack of any belief that the criminal justice system can work for the poor and the lower castes. It is only this type of frustration, combined with the shame that society heaps on the victims of rape instead of turning its wrath on the perpetrators, that can force a 16-year-old to end her life in one instance, and the father of another teenager who was raped to end his.

Not friendly places
There is no point in speaking in statistics. Go to any rural area practically anywhere in India and ask women whether they have the courage to go on their own to a police station to report a rape or any other crime. Nine times out of ten they will tell you that they don’t consider police stations friendly places. And this is three decades after campaigns by women’s groups led to important changes in the rape law and in the rules governing the police in their dealings with women. The only women who have been able to put these changes to effective use are those who are organised, have the backing of a collective and know what it is to fight the system instead of just despairing of it.

These recent reports of crimes against women in Haryana are just one more reminder of the contradictory trends in a so-called modernising India. On the one hand, you have technology – like mobile phones or satellite television – that is giving people, including women, the freedom to communicate and to access information even if they are unlettered. On the other hand, there is little that has changed for millions of women in rural India who continue to be burdened by the realities of daily existence without adequate water, sanitation, power, access to health or education. In addition, they have to face the growing conservatism of entrenched anti-women beliefs. And the knowledge that when they are attacked, raped or even killed, they will end up as a crime statistic with no one really caring whether there is any justice.

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~~ Sunday Magazine ~ April 1 2012

The Other Half:

Money and marriage

By KALPANA SHARMA

Will changes in laws make a difference... Illustration: Keshav

Why the recent Marriage Laws (Amendment) Bill may not make much difference to a majority of rural women.

Should women cheer now that the Union Cabinet has approved the Marriage Laws (Amendment) Bill 2010? If it becomes law, women will have the right to an equal share of property acquired after marriage and divorce will become easier. The additional ground of “irretrievable breakdown of marriage” has been added and there is a shorter waiting period when both parties want to end a marriage.

Most television talk shows have focused only on the urban, educated, middle class women. There is an assumption that divorce and partition of marital property affects only them. There are also crazy scenarios being created about a “divorce epidemic”.

Exercising rights
In fact, we have to ask whether such a change in law will make any difference to the majority of women, especially those living in villages. Most women do not know that under law they are granted many rights. Even if they do know ­ such as the right of daughters to inherit a share of their parents' property ­ they are forced or persuaded to sign away their right. A recent study by the Rural Development Institute (RDI) of women's land rights in Andhra Pradesh and Bihar noted that more than half the Hindu women surveyed had signed away their right to land they would have inherited.

Inheriting property or land is crucial for many women seeking some form of economic security. Yet, this is precisely where their lack of knowledge or ability to exercise the right forces them to continue living in abusive and violent marriages. To walk out of such a marriage means walking into destitution. But if they fight for their right and succeed in getting their share, they are ostracised by their own community. Nothing has changed the entrenched belief that a woman, once she leaves her natal home, has no right to anything there and that the dowry she carries with her is adequate compensation.

The other side of ignorance about rights is the absence of supportive structures to help women claim their right. According to the RDI study, 61 per cent of women said they had never gone to a revenue office and of these 99 per cent said this was because men handled such matters. Of course, it did not help that the majority of the lower level revenue officials were also men. A simple step like appointing more women to such posts might begin to make a difference.

Several studies have shown that women who have the ability to stand on their own feet are less likely to tolerate an abusive marriage. Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule as is evident from the searing essay written by the young poet and writer Meena Kandasamy, “I Singe The Body Electric” (http://www.outlookindia.com/ article.aspx?280179) where she speaks about the abuse she suffered within the first four months of getting married. Economic independence did not protect Meena from domestic violence but it gave her the courage to walk out.

Double-edged
What about women living in villages, in highly patriarchal societies, where the majority of women accept that beatings and abuse are part of what marriage is all about. In such societies, inheriting property can become a double-edged sword.

A fascinating study on the link between economic independence and domestic violence is by feminist scholar Prem Chowdhry for UNWomen. She could not have picked a more appropriate state for such a study. Haryana has one of the lowest female sex ratios in the country. It has become known for the horrendous incidence of so-called “honour” killings where young men and women are murdered merely for marrying a person of their own choice. According to the National Family Health Survey-3, 27 per cent of married women in Haryana have seen physical, emotional and sexual violence and 46 per cent of women and 33 per cent of men felt that a husband beating a wife was justified in certain circumstances. In such a State, where girls are not allowed to be born, can women escape such violence if they assert their right to a share of property?

As in the States surveyed by RDI, in Haryana too women tend to sign away their right to parental property. But now this has begun to change. With the spread of urbanisation, property prices are hitting the roof. Girls are now demanding their share, often egged on by their in-laws. Of course, there is no guarantee that they will have control over the money if they manage to get it. But the study cites many instances where the situation of women, and even of their daughters, has changed dramatically once they have money or property in their own name.

Studies like the one by Prem Chowdhry and many others firmly establish the link between women's economic independence ­ either by way of property or an assured income ­ and a reduction in domestic violence. Even as laws are changed in the name of empowering women, we have to take the first steps ­ of informing women of their rights and creating the supportive structures that will guarantee that they can exercise these rights.
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 Friday October 12, 2012

Lost in Haryana rape debate, a girl’s story

By Smriti Kak Ramachandran

For the first 10 days after she was savagely assaulted and raped by eight men, 16-year-old Reshma (name changed) shuttered up her heart and mind, hoping silence would kill her memories of the violence, wrenching physical pain and the waves of shame, anger and fear.

The men had threatened to circulate photographs of their crime if she complained, and sworn to kill her family.

Now, everyone knows Reshma and her story ­ and is telling it their particular way. Dalit groups have camped outside her home, using her case to illustrate caste iniquity and violence in Haryana.

Leaders of the powerful Khap panchayats, or caste panchayats, have used the case to call for rolling back progressive reforms that made it illegal for women to be married before the age of 18. Sonia Gandhi, Congress president, chose another Dalit rape victim to express solidarity during her recent visit to Haryana ­ but other leaders have made a beeline for the modest two-room home Reshma shared with her parents and brother.

Even a western television crew has arrived, recording her story ­ a task for which she was equipped with a broom, perhaps to appear an authentic Haryana villager.

Her voice, though, still isn’t being heard ­ and neither is that of dozens of other women, Dalit and upper caste, young and old, fair and dark, who have been sexually assaulted across Haryana.


Police records tell the bare bones of Reshma’s story. She was kidnapped, blindfolded, gagged and later sexually assaulted on September 9, while she was on her way to her grandmother’s place.

It was only on September 18, though, that her family, the village and the police came to know what had happened. Reshma’s father, a gardener, had been shown a photograph of his daughter being raped, which the perpetrators had circulated using their mobile phones. He committed suicide, and the story came out into the open.

Inside of hours of the crime being reported, though, many versions began to emerge from the community ­ each placing pressure on Reshma. Her recorded statement, key to the eventual prosecution, had to be amended several times.

For Pradeep Ambedkar, a student activist who has camped out in Dabra since the news broke out, Reshma’s story is principally about caste.

“Our [Dalit] women in this region have always been sheltered and fearful,” he says, “and this incident has scared everyone. Parents don’t want to send their girls to school anymore. Women don’t want to step out alone.”

Pradeep says the police recorded Reshma’s “correct statement” only after he and other activists put pressure on them.

Lawyer Rajat Kalsan, who is representing Reshma, says the police were compelled to take action, after the family, backed by Dalit organisations, refused to carry out the last rites of Reshma’s father.

Their argument on caste oppression in Haryana springs from experience ­ but the police insist caste isn’t the only factor driving rape. Senior Superintendent of Police B. Satheesh Balan says that “of the 38 cases that we registered in Hisar, six were found false, in 26, the accused and the victim were from the same caste, in three cases the accused were from the dominant caste and in two cases the victims were from the upper caste.”

Mr. Balan’s figures appear consistent with criminological data, which shows that rapists are most likely to be men known to the victim ­ family members or close friends. “This isn’t about caste,” says Mr. Balan, “it’s about gender.”

For upper caste residents of the area, though, neither caste nor gender appear to be issues. Instead, the problem is attributed to social change. “What these boys have done is truly terrible; they have ruined several lives, caused indescribable misery and brought disrepute to the entire village. They should be punished to the maximum extent possible,” says Puran Singh Dabra, a former MLA from the area.

However, he goes on to ascribe the perpetrators’ conduct to “social problems.” “Parents allow their children too many liberties. They lose the sense of right and wrong and when that happens, these cases occur.”

Sube Singh, spokesperson of the Khap panchayats, is vociferous in arguing that the answer to rape lies in lowering the age of marriage and blocking purportedly-obscene television and film content.

Like Mr. Dabra, though, he has only gentle words of rebuke for the perpetrators. “Parents try to teach their boys the right things,” he says, “but what can we do when they learn wrong things from TV and films. In such a situation it is better for parents to marry off their girls early.”

He can’t explain why married women get raped and why rapists are not always unmarried men. Two of the accused in the Reshma rape case are married.

Mr. Singh argues that the real problem is the government’s hostility to the Khap panchayats. “If the government had not taken on the Khaps and labelled them Taliban, we would have dealt with these boys more sternly.”

Long battle ahead

Even as Reshma struggles to reclaim her life, long battles seem certain to lie ahead. National crime data shows that just a third of rape prosecutions end in a conviction, a stark reminder of her chances of justice. Her mother says she is focussed on this one objective; other relatives, though, have already started speaking of seeking jobs or cash as compensation ­ pressures that could influence her eventual testimony.

“Life is hard for her, she has seen the worst,” says sub-inspector Saroj, who is now charged with Reshma’s security. “Even her friends have turned their back on her.”

“I have to move on, maybe leave the village,” Reshma says. “I have to study; I have to become an Indian Police Service official.” She does not once look up.

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India ~ October 3, 2012

Haryana’s continuing shame: 4 more rapes reported in a day

By Geetanjali Gayatri/TNS
Haryana’s growing rape shame couldn’t get worse. Four more rape cases were reported from different parts of the state today, raising the the total number of such cases to 10 during the past one month.
While two Dalit women fell prey to perverted minds, two minor girls, one of whom allegedly eloped with a boy, were hapless victims of what is beginning to assume alarming proportions in a state which has earned notoriety for an acutely skewed sex ratio with boys outnumbering girls. Observers feel that the rising number of rapes is also, in a way, reflective of the disintegration of the social fabric of the society.

In Narwana subdivision of Jind district, a 26 year-old girl of Gurthali was raped by a “middleman”, allegedly entrusted by her kin to sell her off on the pretext of meeting a relative in an adjoining village. The incident took place in a secluded field while they were on their way back after the party “rejected” her. The accused was arrested after the driver of the vehicle they were travelling in raised an alarm. This is the third case of rape in Jind alone in the last month or so.

The Chief Minister’s home district, Rohtak was in the news for the wrong reasons for the second day running. A 12-year-old student of Class VI was raped by a middle-aged man when she was alone at her home. Her father, an autorickshaw driver and her mother, a labourer, were away for work. The perpetrator of the crime fled after the shameful act even as the victim’s shocked aunt tried to nab him. Only yesterday, the case of a 17-year-old girl been raped was reported from the district.

Days after a girl was picked up from the market in Gohana and gangraped, a newly married girl of Banwasa village was allegedly kidnapped on September 28 from a level crossing in Gohana town by four youths. She was released on October 2. She was reportedly raped by the kidnappers.

In yet another case, a youth allegedly raped a minor girl in Kalanwali in Sirsa. The girl was lured by the youth on September 28 and was traced after her parents lodged a police complaint. Medical examination of the victim confirmed rape.

Meanwhile, the police top brass has cancelled the leave of policemen till November. Sushila Sharma, chairperson of the Commission for Women, expressed shock over the growing incidents of rape and said that they would write to the CM for prompt action against the culprits.

The cases
* Narwana subdivision (Jind): A 26 year-old girl of Gurthali was raped by a “middleman”
* Rohtak, CM’s home district: A 12-year-old Class VI student raped by a middle-aged man when she was alone at her home
* Gohana (Sonepat): A newly married woman of Banwasa village allegedly kidnapped on September 28 by four youths and reportedly raped
* Kalanwali (Sirsa): Minor girl lured by a youth on September 28 and raped

Hooda slams police, DGP puts onus on parents

Haryana CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda on Wednesday pulled up the police force and asked it to get its act together. “Any culprit involved in such heinous crimes would not be spared,” Hooda said at a meeting of the State Police Board and reviewed the working of the police and various steps taken to maintain law and order. Director General of Police RS Dalal had an unusual advisory for parents: Keep an eye on the activities of your boys to check crime. (Details on Haryana Page)
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 India ~ October 17, 2012

Another woman allegedly gangraped in Haryana, 20th case in five weeks

Press Trust of India

Rohtak: In yet another incident of crime against women in Haryana, a 30-year-old married woman was allegedly raped in Lakhan Majra village under Meham sub-division in Rohtak in Haryana.

Though the crime was committed on the night of October 13, the victim lodged a complaint with the police in this regard on Tuesday.

The alleged rapists are close relatives of the victim's husband.

"Both the accused have been arrested and will be produced before a court tomorrow. The accused are also being interrogated to get further information about the crime," said the Rohtak SP.
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 October 6, 2012

Girl gangraped, sets herself afire in Haryana

Chandigarh, (IANS)A 16-year-old girl set herself on fire after she was gangraped by two people in Haryana's Jind district Saturday, police said. She later died of burn injuries. Police have arrested two people in the case.

The girl, who was from the Balmiki community, had told the police that she was dragged by one Pradeep into his house in Sachhakhera village and raped. One Naveen also raped her, she had said.

A third man, Sanjeev, had bolted the house's door to stop her from escaping while Pradeep's sister-in-law Meenu stood on the terrace to keep watch, she had said in her complaint.

After she was raped, the girl went home and sprinkled kerosene on her body and set herself on fire, police said. She was take to a hospital in Jind from where she was referred to Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences (PGIMS) in Rohtak. She later died at PGIMS.

A Haryana Police spokesman said the police acted promptly on the complaint and arrested Sanjeev and Meena. All the four accused are from the Balmiki community.

Haryana has seen over 10 rape cases in the past one month.