The comprehensive reforms suggested by Justice Verma and his colleagues will protect the right to dignity, autonomy and freedom of victims of sexual assault and rape
Starting with Tarabai Shinde’s spirited defence of the honour of her sister countrywomen in 1882, women’s movements in India have been marked by persistent and protracted struggles. But despite this rich and varied history, we have in recent weeks found ourselves shocked at the decimation of decades of struggle.
At a time when despair and anger at the futility of hundreds of thousands of women’s lifetimes spent in imagining a world that is safe drive us yet again to the streets; at a time when our daughters get assaulted in the most brutal ways and our sons learn that unimaginable brutality is the only way of becoming men; at a time when we wonder if all that intellectual and political work of crafting frameworks to understand women’s subjugation and loss of liberty through sexual terrorism has remained imprisoned within the covers of books in “women’s studies” libraries; at a time like this, what does it mean to suddenly find that all is not lost and to discover on a winter afternoon that our words and work have cascaded out of our small radical spaces and transformed constitutional common sense?
The Report of the Committee on Amendments to Criminal Law headed by Justice J.S. Verma is our moment of triumph — the triumph of women’s movements in this country. As with all triumphs, there are always some unrealised possibilities, but these do not detract from the fact of the victory.
Rather than confining itself to criminal law relating to rape and sexual assault, the committee has comprehensively set out the constitutional framework within which sexual assault must be located. Perhaps more importantly, it also draws out the political framework within which non-discrimination based on sex must be based and focuses on due diligence by the state in order to achieve this as part of its constitutional obligation, with the Preamble interpreted as inherently speaking to justice for women in every clause.
If capabilities are crucial in order that people realise their full potential, this will be an unattainable goal for women till such time as the state is held accountable for demonstrating a commitment to this goal. Performance audits of all institutions of governance and law and order are seen as an urgent need in this direction.
The focus of the entire exercise is on protecting the right to dignity, autonomy and freedom of victims of sexual assault and rape — with comprehensive reforms suggested in electoral laws, policing, criminal laws and the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, and the provision of safe spaces for women and children.
Arguing that “cultural prejudices must yield to constitutional principles of equality, empathy and respect” (p.55), the committee, in a reiteration of the Naaz Foundation judgment, brings sexual orientation firmly within the meaning of “sex” in Article 15, and underscores the right to liberty, dignity and fundamental rights of all persons irrespective of sex or sexual orientation — and the right of all persons, not just women, against sexual assault.
Reviewing leading cases and echoing the critique of Indian women’s groups and feminist legal scholars — whether in the case of Mathura or even the use of the shame-honour paradigm that has trapped victim-survivors in rape trials and in khap panchayats, the committee observes: “…women have been looped into a vicious cycle of shame and honour as a consequence of which they have been attended with an inherent disability to report crimes of sexual offences against them.”
In terms of the definition of rape, the committee recommends retaining a redefined offence of “rape” within a larger section on “sexual assault” in order to retain the focus on women’s right to integrity, agency and bodily integrity. Rape is redefined as including all forms of non-consensual penetration of sexual nature (p.111). The offence of sexual assault would include all forms of non-consensual, non-penetrative touching of sexual nature. Tracing the history of the marital rape exception in the common law of coverture in England and Wales in the 1700s, the committee unequivocally recommends the removal of the marital rape exception as vital to the recognition of women’s right to autonomy and physical integrity irrespective of marriage or other intimate relationship. Marriage, by this argument, cannot be a valid defence, it is not relevant to the matter of consent and it cannot be a mitigating factor in sentencing in cases of rape. On the other hand, the committee recommended that the age of consent in consensual sex be kept at 16, and other legislation be suitably amended in this regard.
Rights advocates in Kashmir, the States of the North-East, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and other areas that have witnessed protracted conflict and communal violence have for decades been demanding that sexual violence by the armed forces, police and paramilitary as well as by collective assault by private actors be brought within the meaning of aggravated sexual assault. This has been taken on board with the committee recommending that such forms of sexual assault deserve to be treated as aggravated sexual assault in law (p. 220). Specifically, the committee recommends an amendment in Section 6 of the AFSPA, 1958, removing the requirement of prior sanction where the person has been accused of sexual assault.
Clearly a sensitive and committed police force is indispensable to the interests of justice. But how should this come about? There have been commissions that have recommended reforms, cases that have been fought and won, but impunity reigns supreme. If all the other recommendations of the Committee are carried through, will the government give even a nominal commitment that the chapter on police reforms will be read, leave alone acted on?
The Delhi case
The recent gang rape and death of a young student in Delhi has raised the discussion on the question of sentencing and punishment yet again. The first set of questions had to do with the nature and quantum of punishment. Treading this issue with care, the committee enhances the minimum sentence from seven years to 10 years, with imprisonment for life as the maximum. On the death penalty, the committee has adopted the abolitionist position, in keeping with international standards of human rights, and rejected castration as an option. The second question had to do with the reduction of age in respect of juveniles. Despite the involvement of a juvenile in this incident, women’s groups and child rights groups were united in their view that the age must not be lowered, that the solution did not lie in locking them up young. Given the low rates of recidivism, the committee does not recommend the lowering of the age, recommending instead, comprehensive institutional reform in children’s institutions.
The report contains comprehensive recommendations on amendments in existing criminal law, which cannot be detailed here except in spirit. The significance of the report lies, not so much in its immediate translation into law or its transformation of governance (although these are the most desirable and urgent), but in its pedagogic potential — as providing a new basis for the teaching and learning of the Constitution and criminal law and the centrality of gender to legal pedagogy.
(Kalpana Kannabiran is Professor and Director, Council for Social Development, Hyderabad. Email: email@example.com)
The Constitution of India provides for special treatment of women, guarantees equality and prohibits discrimination. The government of India has been strengthening various laws focused on women and children. This has been more visible since the Beijing CEDAW Conference. The recent years have been witness to some landmark interpretations and directives related to Violence against Women. Despite the constitutional mandate of equal legal status for men and women, the same is yet to be realized. The dejure laws have not been translated into defacto situation for various reasons such as illiteracy, social practices, prejudices, cultural norms based on patriarchal values, poor representation of women in policy-making, poverty, regional disparity in development, lack of access and opportunity to information and resources, etc. The ground situation more or less remains the same.
Most of the laws come with various institutional machinery, partnership between various stakeholders and active role of NGOs. These institutions need to be in existence in order for the law to be effective. Also the policies and programmes made at the top takes a long time to percolate to the bottom and there is an urgent need of sharing information and resoursces.
The awareness on laws and access to justice remains dismal. At the district and the state level sensitivity on women rights among judicial officers, administration and the police is very low. This leads to a situation where the implementation of the law becomes difficult. Recently India has increased its budgetary support for the implementation of various laws on violence against women and it becomes increasingly more important for the organization like Shakti Vahini to work on governance specially related to women and children issuesThe National Legal Research Desk (NLRD) has been instituted to strengthen the implementation of the laws related to Women and Children in India. NLRD focuses on documenting the recent changes in the law, collect and compile the Recent Landmark Judgments of the Supreme Courts of India & the High Courts and ensure wide scale dissemination of the same through the government and the non government machinery. The NLRD will work with Law Enforcement Agencies, Police Academies, Judicial Agencies, Government Agencies, Statutory Agencies, NGOs, Civil Society and Mass Media on promoting Access to Justice for Women and Children. The NLRD website is a knowledge Hub for compilation of all Laws, Judgements and Resource materials on Violence against Women and Children in India. In the first phase (2012) it will focus on the laws related to Human Trafficking, Domestic Violence, Juvenile Justice, Rape Laws, PCPNDT Act , Honour Crimes and Victim Compensation.
THE TRIBUNE Chandigarh, February 11
In a first, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has ruled that a husband cannot compel his wife to conceive and give birth to his child. Making it clear that relationships that know no limits too have boundaries, the high court has asserted intimacy is one thing, giving birth to a child another. “Mere consent to conjugal rights does not mean consent to give birth to a child for her husband,” Justice Jitendra Chauhan of the High Court has asserted. The judgment, pregnant with significance, also makes it amply clear that “to have and to hold, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness or in health” does not give a man the right to prevent his wife from going in for an abortion.
The ruling came on revision petitions filed by Chandigarh-based gynaecologist Dr Mangla Dogra and others petitioners. The controversy in the case hovered around the decision of a wife to go in for medical termination of pregnancy without her husband’s consent. Married in April 1994, the couple and their son were initially staying in Panipat. Due to “hostilities and strained relations”, the wife started staying with her parents, along with her son, at Chandigarh. The wife conceived after she agreed to accompany her husband to Panipat during the pendency of her application for maintenance. She then underwent an MTP carried out by Dr Mangla Dogra, who was assisted by Dr Sukhbir Grewal as anesthetist.
The husband, subsequently, filed a civil suit for the recovery of Rs 30 lakh towards damages for mental pain, agony and harassment against his wife, her brother and parents and Dr Dogra and Dr Grewal for getting the pregnancy terminated illegally. Taking up the plea, a Civil Judge asserted: “There is a cause of action in favour of the plaintiff against the defendants (wife and others) at this stage”. Aggrieved by the orders, Dr Dogra and other petitioners preferred the revisions. Justice Chauhan asserted: “The wife knew her conjugal duties towards her husband. Consequently, if the wife has consented to matrimonial sex and created sexual relations with her own husband, it does not mean that she has consented to conceive a child. It is the free will of the wife to give birth to a child or not…
“The wife is the best judge and is to see whether she wants to continue the pregnancy or to get it aborted… Keeping in view the legal position, it is held that no express or implied consent of the husband is required for getting the pregnancy terminated… “A woman is not a machine in which raw material is put and a finished product comes out. She should be mentally prepared to conceive, continue the same and give birth to a child. The unwanted pregnancy would naturally affect the mental health of the pregnant woman…” Imposing costs of Rs 50,000 on the husband, Justice Chauhan concluded: “It is held that the act of the medical practitioners Dr Dogra and Dr Grewal was legal and justified.”
KALPANA SHARMA IN THE HINDU
The Supreme Court clears the way for women to become In-Flight Supervisors in Air India. Thanks to those women who believed in and fought for equality at the workplace.
This judgment passed virtually without comment. The media ignored it. Why should the rights of a relatively small group of women concern the rest of us? Yet the November 17 Supreme Court judgment, by Justices Altamas Kabir and Cyriac Joseph, upholding Air India’s 2005 decision to remove the precondition that an In Flight Supervisor could only be a male, and that women cabin crew could also be appointed to that position, is significant. The troubled airline has not been a shining example of gender equity. Yet, finally wisdom dawned and it did accept that there was no justification for a rule that held a particular job only for men when the men and women on flights had the same training and did virtually identical tasks.
What is fascinating about this case is the manner in which the male cabin crew opposed the new rule and challenged it in court. In 2007, the Delhi High Court upheld Air India’s right to make this change and held that it saw nothing wrong in the rule. That judgment is worth reading in its entirety as it spells out the history of the struggles of women cabin crew in Air India to assert their right to equal treatment. There have been innumerable court cases, on issues ranging from a different retirement age for male and female crew members to a rule at one point where women who became pregnant within four years of being appointed had to quit to one where women cabin crew were grounded if they exceeded a certain weight.
It is hard to fathom why a ‘national’ airline should lag so behind the times on these issues. The women employed by Air India have had to turn to the courts on all these issues. These were not battles for additional powers. The women were simply asserting that they should have the same rights as other employees in a country where equality is guaranteed and where one is working for a ‘national’ airline that ostensibly wishes to promote India’s ‘national’ image.
This last battle, to get the airline to remove the anomaly where a particular job was virtually kept as a ‘male only’ designation for no reason at all, was in some ways the strangest. Senior women cabin crew members of Air India, some of whom trained other cabin crew members including men, had to contend with serving under the same men they had trained simply because, regardless of seniority or experience, they could never get the designation of In-Flight Supervisor. Even after private airlines came on the scene where there was no discrimination between male and female cabin crew, Air India persisted. And when it finally changed the rule, the male cabin crew objected, calling this positive change “discriminatory” and challenged it in Court.
In 2007, the Delhi High Court was quite clear in its ruling. It stated: “The Court finds that IFS (In-Flight Supervisor) is no longer a post, much less a promotional post. It is a function that one among the cabin crew, on the basis of seniority, is asked to perform during the flight. This Court is unable to discern in any of the settlements any assurance or promise held out to the pre-1997 male cabin crew that a female colleague of theirs will never ever be asked to perform the function of an IFS. Nor do the judgments of the Supreme Court say so. The impugned order dated 27.12.2005 is not discriminatory to the male cabin crew. In fact, far from eliminating the possibility of the male cabin crew performing the function of IFS, it provides a chance to their female colleagues as well. In effect it removes the ‘ men only’ tag on the function of IFS. We are asked by the pre-1997 male cabin crew to hold this to be unreasonable. We decline to do so. This Court finds nothing arbitrary, unreasonable or irrational in the pre-1997 male cabin crew being asked to serve on a flight which has their female colleague as an IFS. This then is the jist of the lengthy judgment that follows.” (LPA Nos. 122-125 of 2006, Date of Decision: October 8, 2007.)
Representatives of the male cabin crew had argued that they would not work under women, even if they were senior. The job had been promised only to men and they were determined to hang on to it. And women could not claim the right to equality in this matter because the job of a woman on flight and a man on flight were substantially different, they argued. Yet passengers on flights can observe for themselves that the men and women in the cabin crew do exactly the same things — welcome you, make announcements about safety regulations, serve you food and drink, clear up after you, help anyone needing help, remain alert in case there is an emergency and act if such an occasion should arise.
All this is so obvious that it does not need repeating. Yet, none of this convinced the flight pursers employed by Air India who challenged the Delhi High Court judgment. The Supreme Court ruling, one hopes, has settled the matter and Air India will now be permitted to join the 21st century. And perhaps it will finally also decide to use gender-neutral terms to describe the men and women who are part of the cabin crew.
The court battles fought by women cabin crew of Air India are significant for other reasons. Many of the women who went to court could just have sat back and accepted conditions as they prevailed. After all, they had a secure job and a reasonable salary. But because some of them took the risk of even losing their jobs and challenged these discriminatory provisions, those who join the airline now will be much better placed than their seniors. The lesson these battles hold out is that discrimination does not disappear on its own and that managements are not struck by a sudden realisation that they should be fair to their employees. Positive change is more often than not the result of battles fought by those who believe strongly in equity and justice.
Email the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org
A Hindu woman cannot be evicted out of the matrimonial home after divorce except through procedure established by law, as there is no provision for her automatic eviction, the Supreme Court has ruled. A bench of justices G S Singhvi and S D Mukhopadhyay, in a judgement, said that though a woman may not have a legal right to continue in the house of the ex-husband, yet the latter cannot forcibly evict her. The apex court gave the ruling while upholding an appeal filed by Ranjit Kaur challenging the decisions of the Punjab and Haryana high court which had upheld her eviction from the house of a disputed property upon a decree of divorce granted to the husband Major Harmohinder Singh, an Army officer. “Learned counsel is right in his submission that even though in the decree of divorce, the appellant has not been given a right of residence and her occupation of the suit property can be treated as unauthorised, respondent No 1 (Singh) cannot evict her except after following the procedure established by law. “The material placed on record shows that the appellant had entered into the property as the wife of respondent No. 1. Therefore, even though, after passing of the decree of the divorce she may not have a legal right to continue to remain in possession of the suit property, respondent No. 1 cannot be given liberty to forcibly evict her,” the bench said.
- No forcible taking of vehicles on default of loan payment: SC (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
Violence against women in the private realm is relegated to secondary status, whether in India or in the United States. Strong laws and public policies are essential steps toward combating such violence. But the real solution lies in a culture shift, in the world, and in each of our homes
MALLIKA KAUR TRIBUNE CHANDIGARH
Three friends walked home after another tiring rehearsal for the school function. It was barely dusk. When the man leapt out of nowhere to pounce on Bandana (name changed), no one was sure what happened. Then a yell grew out of one belly and found its way down the road, down their backs, and into small eighth-grade fists that pounded on the man. He ran. The girls were proud they had fought. When they got home, they told the story solemnly. “Well, that’s what happens when you go walking around in the evenings, going out like that alone!” Bandana’s father message was clear — Chandigarh, 1997.
Brushed under the carpet
The message young girls begin receiving from our families, friends, and society becomes engrained by the time they reach womanhood: that we must not make the unforgiveable mistake of becoming victims of violence. While violence by strangers at least provides some room for women expressing their agony and demanding redressal, violence within the home remains a taboo topic. And this taboo crosses geographic, ethnic, and racial borders.
Victims of domestic abuse
On 17 August 2011, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights published its opinion finding the United States on the wrong side of human rights and domestic violence survivors. The Commission had considered the case of Jessica Lenahan (formerly Gonzales) whose three young daughters were abducted by Lenahan’s abusive husband, Simon Gonzales, in Castle Rock, Colorado in 1999. Despite Lenahan’s repeated calls and pleas to the police, reporting that she already had a domestic violence restraining order (a legal remedy the US has made relatively easily accessible to its residents) against Simon, the police failed to act for 10 hours. Eventually, Simon Gonzales drove up to the police department and opened fire. He was shot dead by the police. The three girls were subsequently discovered shot to death inside Simon’s truck. Jessica’s legal battle for this tragic loss yielded no results.
In 2005, the US Supreme Court even found that the police involved had not violated the US Constitution by their inaction. However, the Inter-American Commission found that the US had indeed violated human rights by failing to uphold its laws to protect its nationals from domestic violence.
Laws alone not enough
In India too, domestic violence is a punishable offense under the law, even if only rather recently. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, which became effective starting October 26, 2006, clearly recognised domestic violence as a punishable offence. However, the recent shaming of the US—a country that has innumerable times more extensive legal protections and services for domestic violence survivors-provides a moment of pause from comparing the wide (perhaps incomparable) chasm between the two legal systems and rather understanding a sad commonality. Laws alone cannot curb violence in the homes as long as domestic violence continues to be treated ‘special’. When it comes to such crimes, we often hear: “There must be two sides to the story” or “they both have strong personalities” or “he is frustrated since he lost his job.”
But, consider this scenario: if my neighbour loses his job, and proceeds to pick fights with me every day, gets drunk and curses me, breaks a window, wouldn’t you agree with my decision to call the police, whether or not he ever physically touches me? But if my partner does the same, why shouldn’t he conform to the standard of behavior, the law and society demand from my acquaintance-neighbour?
Breaking uneasy silence
Such uncomfortable discussions are thus largely missing in our living rooms. The domestic violence movement in the US has been asking precisely such questions more publically, loudly, and brazenly, than in many other parts of the world. For example, during October, nationally recognised as ‘Domestic Violence Awareness Month’ in the US, several public awareness activities are undertaken country-wide. During ‘Standing Silent Witness’ hours, women and men line up in busy city squares holding placards or wearing T-shirts with slogans acknowledging someone they know (or know of) who has faced domestic violence. During ‘Remembrance Days,’ survivors, allies, advocates, join together to remember those who have died because of domestic violence and also celebrate those who have survived. Purple ribbons, which have become the symbols of solidarity with anti-domestic violence work, are made into pins and passed out at local events; worn on bags and jackets; and hung on doors.
In India, we saw the Bell Bajao campaign, by the non-profit Breakthrough in 2008. TV, radio, online and print media were employed to circulate catchy calls for action by society to take a stand against domestic violence. To break the uneasy silence.
Measuring domestic violence
The anti-violence movement in the US has also promoted the measurement of domestic violence crimes, and the publicising of the statistics, so as to respond to the universal reaction—“We aren’t that kind of a family!”
On an average, according to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than three women and one man are murdered by their intimate partners in the US every day. The Center for Disease Control has found that one in four women and one in nine men in the US report being victims of domestic violence at some points in their lives. Also, more recently, teen dating violence has been studied as a priority: approximately one in five female high school students report being physically, sexually, or emotionally abused by a dating partner.
In India, the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), 2005-06, recorded that 37 per cent women reported being survivors of spousal abuse; that is more than 1 in 3. These statistics show that most of us know someone who is a survivor of such violence, and all of us then are in fact ‘that kind of a family.’
Violence knows no bar
When I began representing domestic violence survivors in Californian courts, one of my mother’s friend’s asked her in all earnest, “So is wife-beating really a problem with Americans too?” (She clarified later that she meant ‘white’ Americans, of course.) My work has borne out the statistics that domestic violence knows no race, class, or religious boundaries. However, socio-economic factors can increase vulnerability for such violence: for example, if someone has no source of income, her abuser knows that her economic situation will prevent her from speaking about the violence or seeking help.
Domestic violence is a human rights problem that exists across borders, as the Inter-American Commission recently reminded the US—It is not a ‘women’s issue’ rather affects boys and men very severely. Indeed, India’s Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, does not cover men, and most commentaries on domestic violence-including this one-refer to the perpetrators of violence as male and the victim as female. This is simply because domestic violence victims are disproportionately female. However, men can be and are victims of violence by their partners in some cases as well, both in homosexual and heterosexual relationships. Moreover, this violence does not take place in a vacuum.
Children, girls as well as boys, are witnesses to such violence. Even if they are themselves never the direct targets of the violence, they bear the emotional costs of growing up in an environment of repeated cycles of fear, escalation of tensions, outbursts of violence, and misleading periods of calm. Studies show that children who grow up in violent homes, either themselves become vulnerable to being abused as adults or have a higher likelihood of becoming abusers in the future. This ‘cycle of power and control,’ which broadly describes domestic violence, has its immediate and collateral victims.
Move beyond campaigns
Campaigns such as ‘bell bajao’ or ‘standing silent witness’ or ‘remembrance days’ focus on cases where there are identifiable victims, in already violent relationships. Some of us might then still participate in these campaigns and still claim, “We aren’t that kind of a family!”
What would truly make us not one of ‘those’ families is if we start to check our everyday responses to gender inequalities and discrimination. Unless we stop calling street harassment ‘eve teasing;’ stop worrying about protecting our girls’ reputations even at the costs of their safety; stop spending more time, money and energy on weddings than on talking about healthy relationships and marriages, we will not stop domestic violence. Only when three friends can walk with safety as well as the security of the knowledge that they will not be judged should they face harm by someone, whether on the street or in the home, can we begin to feel assured that we are progressing towards equal justice for all.
Cycle of Power and Control
Intimate partner violence or domestic violence (DV) is controlling, abusive, and aggressive behavior in an intimate relationship . It includes verbal, emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse.
DV usually comes to public notice only in extreme cases of physical abuse.
However, behind closed doors, such violence typically follows a regular pattern of three phases that repeat themselves:
One, the ‘tension-building’ phase. The abuser becomes increasingly irritable, moody, impatient, resulting in his partner “walking on eggshells,” not knowing what might make the abuser more angry.
Two, the ‘acute’ phase. There is some sort of explosion and violence that may be verbal, physical, and/or sexual.
Third, the ‘honeymoon’ phase. There is calm again. The abuser may apologise or pretend like nothing happened and may bring flowers and chocolates. The partner starts to feel relief. That is till the ‘tension-building’ phase begins again.
There is thus a clear difference between common, everyday disputes between couples and domestic violence.
Three things to tell someone who is facing such violence: I believe you / You are not alone /You have options
The writer is a lawyer who focuses on gender and minority issues in the United States and South Asia.
VANDANA SHUKLA IN THE TRIBUNE CHANDIGARH
The rhetoric on remedies of rape moves in circles – from capital punishment for rape to financial compensation to the victims to out of court ‘settlements’ to getting the victim married with the culprit. The woman’s need for dignity of course takes the back seat.
Despite an uninterrupted discourse on the subject over the past several decades, governments and society are yet to evolve a cast-iron system to deal with the crime and the criminals.
From the year (1971) the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) began collecting data on rape cases, it has shown an eight-fold increase. In 2008 over 21 thousand complaints were recorded in the country with various agencies conceding that over 80 per cent of the cases never get reported. Incest has shown a 30 per cent increase— these are disturbing social trends, which need to be researched and addressed. This stands in marked contrast to the other serious and violent crimes like murder, robbery, dacoity, kidnapping and rioting.
The NCRB has also concluded that only one in 69 rape cases get reported and only 20 per cent of the reported cases result in convictions.
Cash compensation ?
Compensation for rape is not a new idea. Courts have ordered for compensation to be paid under provisions contained in the statutes. Several state governments too have found it convenient to pay sums depending upon the extent of the public outrage and media exposure. But this is the first time the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare has launched a country-wide scheme and has offered to reimburse the state governments the cost they incur in its implementation.
But compensation — call it restorative justice or whatever —is tricky.
It is instructive to recall the experience with Prevention of Atrocities Act 1989 ( for SC and ST). Tribal and dalit victims of rape, were required to produce a certificate of their tribal/dalit status for receiving a compensation of Rs 25,000.
Getting the certificate in itself became a profit making proposition for brokers. Poverty also induced many to file false cases, thus defeating the well-meaning provision, points out Pratiksha Baxi from JNU.
The law also appears to assume unfortunately that standards of dignity are different for a woman from a well- off family and for a dalit woman. So, a dalit woman’s compensation money for rape can be shared by the rapist under the Act.
The compensation is paid if the victim belongs to either a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe and the rapist does not. The law does not specify what happens if the woman is from a Scheduled Tribe and the man is from a Scheduled Caste or vice versa. Even before the Act was passed in 1989, since 1978 in UP women from SC and ST were paid compensation of Rs 5000 for rape.
The website of the Department of Social Justice and Empowerment, Govt of Gujarat, lays down that for outraging the modesty of a woman under section 3(1) (11) the Government pays a compensation of Rs 50,000, but in case the accused marries the rape victim, the ‘assistance’ ( here it is not termed as compensation) of Rs 50,000 is disbursed in the joint names of the couple.
It does not require great imagination to understand how these laws end up as bait for attracting more abuse for women. The website does not offer any data on how many women actually received the compensation or assistance!
Compensation, obviously, can be paid only after the charge is established in court, which is a tall order in itself. Strangely, the scheme is sought to be justified by the need to help the victim financially so that she can fight it out in court. How this contradiction gets resolved , remains to be seen.
A study conducted by MARG in Uttar Pradesh throws up more questions.
Of the 33 registered victims or their family members the researchers spoke to, they found 13 victims were minors, 2 were six years old, one was between four and five years of age. One was 12 years old, others less than 14 years of age.
But in only four cases did the medical report confirm rape. Of the 13 minor victims, only one minor’s rape was confirmed. Two girls had the noting ‘no opinion’ and of the rest there was no medical record with the police. Yet, the compensation was ‘liberally’ sanctioned.
Although the police had no ‘medical examination report’ in their record, compensation was still sanctioned in as many as 28 cases, including nine in which there was no finding of rape. In one case the rapist and victim belonged to the same caste, hence the case was withdrawn!
The money, in case of minor victims, was received by the parents. Only two women spent Rs 2000 out of the received money to hire a lawyer.
Of the 13 minors, only four could attend school while most victims relocated to escape the stigma attached to rape. Their humiliation was compounded by the CM of U P, Mayawati , who had ordered the money to be delivered by the Director General of Police in person. He was also asked to take a helicopter and fly to various places for the purpose.
On the one hand rape cases are held in camera, on the other hand this display of ‘help’ discourages victims to report rape. The compensation, as and when paid, is often grabbed by the rest of the family, and makes the police indifferent and even more reluctant to pursue the cases. The attitude is, since the money has already been paid, why fuss over prosecution ?
In most countries, policies and laws are framed based on research based findings. But there are very few studies on the subject funded by the Government.
A few studies, mostly done by individuals who feel strongly about the issue, are however eye openers. Social activist Flavia Agnes’ study was based on observations drawn from her own legal practice and judgements involving rape cases; while Pratiksha Baxi’s ( Assistant Professor, Centre for Law and Governance, JNU, Delhi) study was based on what goes on inside the court rooms, where a 12- year- old is also asked sexually explicit questions a lawyer may hesitate putting to a 30- year-old.
Even after the much talked about Mathura case, which led to the amendment of Evidence Act in 1983, which allowed the woman’s word to be trusted for her non-consent, there has been no monitoring of judgements.
From 1860 to 2002, the colonial law based on the moral history of the woman was in application while looking at a rape victim, which meant that a woman’s sexual history would have a say on the writing of the verdict. Despite deletion of this clause, not much has changed in courtrooms.
A Google search for kanoon.com and rape cases will throw up several judgements, which are deeply patriarchal and explain why conviction rates are so abysmally low.
Doctors are surprised if the victim cooperates with them on examination (a victim is supposed to go stone-silent, weep and should have injury marks), policemen’s wives cannot complain of being raped by husbands ( because it is a husband’s right) and while the defence tries to prove that the victim is a consenting adult because anyone over 16 is thought to have given consent, judges worry about marital prospects of victims ( many rapists thus get lighter sentences when
they agree to marry their victims). Incest of course hardly ever gets reported because of the family’s insistence on silence.
Marry the rapist
Sakshi, an NGO, had released a study called ‘Gender and Judges’, in which it analysed the views of 119 judges from all over India, along with experiences of female lawyers, complainants and observations on court room trials.
Most judges found it impossible to believe that men could perpetrate the crime without any element of consent or provocation. ‘Judges were of the view that penetration of a woman is physically impossible without her ‘consent’ and that in any case women are ‘partially to blame for such abuse.’
Another ludicrous idea often encouraged by the judiciary is that of compromise. Whenever witnesses turn hostile, victims are advised to accept a compromise, which the court witnesses, but is unable and unwilling to act upon.
The court thus ‘restores’ her chastity in the public eye. Fortunately, the courts are prohibited from compounding a rape case. Being a non-compoundable offence, compromise in rape cases has been confined to the bargains between community elders, victims’ kin, local authorities and the police, with judges looking the other way for the most part.
Women are often subjugated by men in power. In the Ruchika Girhotra molestation case, the protector, an IG, Haryana Police, S P Rathore became the tormentor. After 19 years, 40 adjournments, and more than 400 hearings, the court finally pronounced him guilty under Section 354 and gave him six months imprisonment.
In case of Anjana Mishra, it was the Advocate General of Orissa, Indrajit Roy, who attempted to rape her when she went to seek his help for getting custody of her children in 1998. Since she dared to report the case, she was gang-raped by three men, to teach her a ‘lesson.’ Roy was given anticipatory bail but was never arrested due to his political clout. Under public pressure when he finally resigned, his junior was made AG, putting Anjana in her place.
It is reminiscent of Bhanwri Devi’s case, a Sathin volunteer in Rajasthan, when she tried to stop a child marriage in 1992, she was gang raped by five men, including Ramkaran Gujjar, whose daughter’s marriage she had tried to stop. The male doctor at the primary health centre refused to conduct medical examination and at a Jaipur hospital the doctor certified only her age. Subjected to sustained humiliation, she was asked by the policemen to leave her lehenga as an evidence of rape. Bhanwri’s case inspired Visakha case, which brought about legislation against sexual exploitation of women at work place but Bhanwri could not get justice in a caste -ridden system.
Society must change first
I enacted the role of a rape victim in three films; Bawandar, Pitah and Laal Salaam. So, I can claim to have some idea of what a woman goes through in a situation like gang- rape. While shooting the gang-rape scene for Bawandar, I saw some members of the crew nudging each other with suppressed and suggestive giggles, and I screamed. It was something I never do. But I felt violated. This was just an enactment, after all. I could immediately empathise with what an actual victim has to go through.
It is sad the way we treat this kind of abuse of women—with total disregard for the feelings of a woman. The society has to change—this is not something outside us, they come from within us. We need to shame the perpetrators, we need to talk more and more—in the open about these issues because, as we know, a rapist gets caught usually after a number of successful or unsuccessful attempts. What makes the rapist so daring is the silence of the women.
As far as monetary compensation is concerned, it finds justification in offering help to the victim to fight her case legally, which is often long-drawn. Otherwise it becomes like the flesh-trade. One must understand that the person is scarred for the rest of her life, simply because we have shrouded a crime under such weight of shame for so long that we do not want to deal with it.
What’s wrong if state takes responsibility?
There was a time when, after the Bhawnri Devi case, women’s groups demanded compensation, because Bhawnri was raped in the course of carrying out her duties as a government functionary, albeit an informal one (she was paid not as an employee but as a volunteer, something that enables the govt. to pay less than the minimum wage); therefore she was entitled to compensation. She was eventually given compensation but she did not use it, it created more problems for her— the community started saying rape was an excuse for taking money… so there is that element also. But if the state takes responsibility, then that can’t be altogether a bad thing
Amendment to Article 243 D of the Constitution of India for enhancing reservation for women in Panchayats
The Cabinet today approved the proposal for moving an official Amendment to the Constitution (One hundred and Tenth Amendment) Bill, 2009 for enhancing reservation for women in Panchayats at all tiers from 1/3rd to at least 50%. The Constitution (One hundred and Tenth Amendment) Bill, 2009 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 26.11.2009. The official Amendment proposes to add word ‘rural’ before the word ‘population’ as and where the same occur in 1st Proviso of Clause (2) (iii) of the Constitution (One hundred and Tenth Amendment) Bill, 2009. This Provision will apply to the total number of seats filled by direct election, offices of Chairpersons and seats and offices of Chairpersons reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Enhancement of reservation for women in Panchayats will facilitate more women to enter the public sphere and this will lead to further empowerment of women and also make Panchayats more inclusive institutions, thereby improving governance and public service delivery. The addition of word ‘rural’ before word ‘population1 occurring in the 1st Proviso of Clause (2)(iii) of the Rill will reflect appropriate demographic representation of categories of population for whom reservation is made.
At present, out of the total elected representatives of Panchayats numbering approximately 28.18 lakh, 36.87% are women. With the proposed Constitutional Amendment, the number of elected women representatives is expected to rise to more than 14 lakh. Having more elected women representatives would benefit the entire population of the States and UTs where Panchayati Raj is in existence.
Ministry of Panchayati Raj had moved a Bill for amendment to Article 243D of the Constitution on 26.11.2009 after approval of the Cabinet for enhancing reservation for women in (i) the total number of seats to be filled by direct election, (ii) offices of chairpersons and (iii) in seats and offices of chairpersons reserved for SCs and STs, to 50% in all tiers of Panchayats. The proposed official amendment, as indicated above, in the original Amendment Bill will be moved in the Lok Sabha at the earliest.
All States / UTs are parts thereof to which Part IX of the Constitution applies would be covered (Part IX does not apply to Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram, tribal areas of Assam and Tripura and hill areas of Manipur).
The Constitutional Amendment Bill for enhancing reservation for women in Panchayats at all tiers from one third to one half was introduced in Lok Sabha on 26.11.2009 with the approval of Cabinet in its meeting on 27.08.2009. The Bill was referred to Parliamentary Standing Committee on Rural Development by Hon’ble Speaker on 21.12.2009. The Committee has recommended that word ‘rural’ be added before word ‘population’ occurring in Clause 2 (iii) of the original Amendment Bill in order to maintain better demographic representation to SCs and STs class. In view of this, it has been decided to make official amendment accordingly in the Bill already under consideration of Lok Sabha.
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DHANANJAY MAHAPATRA IN THE TIMES OF INDIA
It is too early to say whether Dominique Strauss-Kahn was framed by a woman employee of a hotel. It cost him his job as IMF chief and cast a shadow on his ambition to become French president. After prosecutors developed doubts over veracity of the victim’s charges, Kahn got unconditional bail. Will the relief save his image, reputation and political prospects? It is difficult to say but, generally, allegations of sexual assault or exploitation against the rich, powerful and famous are taken to be true.
But the most equipped investigation, able prosecution and hawk-eyed judicial scrutiny sometimes fail to unravel the facts. Actor Shiney Ahuja, who probably would be finding similarities of his case with that of Strauss-Kahn, will agree. The Supreme Court faced an identical dilemma just last year, relating to dowry harassment cases under Section 498A of Indian Penal Code. “It is common knowledge that unfortunately, matrimonial litigation is rapidly increasing in our country… this clearly demonstrates discontent and unrest in the family life of a large number of people of society,” it said.
On the one hand, the law was the social legislation giving women protection against harassment at the hands of the husband and his relatives, who demand more and more dowry. The court was concerned with the rapid rise in such cases. But on the other hand, it was aware that “a large number of such complaints are not bona fide and are filed with oblique motive”.
It admitted, “To find out the truth is a herculean task in a majority of these complaints. The tendency of implicating husband and all his immediate relations is also not uncommon. At times, even after the conclusion of criminal trial, it is difficult to ascertain the real truth.”
The SC wanted a way out of the vicious cycle of litigation that mostly ruins innocent husbands and in-laws, who are falsely roped in, but seldom affects the real perpetrators who exploit loopholes in the system to escape the law.
The court was worried by the overkill of Section 498A. It did not want a socially beneficial legal framework to be turned into a mechanism of legal terrorism. It requested the Law Commission to examine the issue and suggest changes that could help create an ambience where the perpetrators could be adequately punished and at the same time, leave some room for negotiations to arrive at an amicable settlement. The commission invited suggestions from all quarters, including NRIs. And the overwhelming response was in favour of thorough investigations into the complaint of the wife under Section 498A before police arrested the husband and in-laws.
The commission is in the process of finalizing its decision which appears to be in favour of providing for a settlement clause between the victim and in-laws, which could be a welcome breather. However, it is against making the offence under Section 498A bailable.
Before any change is made in the law that was enacted to protect women from dowry harassment, it needs to be debated whether a woman’s complaint under Section 498A be thoroughly probed before effecting arrest of the husband and her in-laws.
Right now, once a Section 498A complaint is lodged, the police arrests the person named by the wife. The SC had said, “The allegations of harassment of husband’s close relations who had been living in different cities and never visited or rarely visited the place where the complainant resided would have an entirely different complexion. The allegations of the complaint are required to be scrutinized with great care and circumspection.”
The commission, before sending its recommendation to the government, must examine this aspect — what should be the protection to husbands and in-laws who have been framed in a complaint under Section 498A. But it must also not lose sight of the gruesome treatment meted out to women who fail to satisfy the greed of husbands and their in-laws.
- Consultation Paper-cum-Questionnaire regarding Section 498-A of Indian Penal Code (indialawyers.wordpress.com)