For Indian Rape Laws, Change Is Slow to Come

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By NILANJANA ROY  IN THE NEW YORK TIMES  SEPTEMBER 21,2010

NEW DELHI — Should a woman’s sexual experience and history be introduced as evidence in the trial of her accused rapist? Will the Indian legal system ever recognize forced sex between husband and wife as rape? What constitutes the “modesty” of a 10-year-old girl?

A recent report by Human Rights Watch examining the common practice in India of subjecting unmarried women who say they have been raped to what the law calls a “finger test” has reopened a series of questions about the country’s laws governing sexual violence. The report, compiled by Aruna Kashyap, a women’s rights researcher, called for an end to the test, which as the name suggests, involves inserting fingers into the woman to measure “vaginal laxity” and thereby ascertain whether she was “habituated to sex” before the alleged assault.

Although there has been no official response to the report, its findings have provoked widespread outrage in India and elsewhere, with many agreeing that the test is an archaic and scientifically unsupported practice that could exacerbate the trauma of the victim.

In the same week the report was released, less noticed but telling were the routine police reports filed around the country of alleged crimes under Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code, which makes “outraging the modesty of a woman” a criminal offense. One of the cases that came to trial concerned a teacher who had “outraged the modesty” of a 10-year-old in his care. The euphemism effectively veiled the impact of what had really happened — three separate incidents of sexual assault on a child.

In a country where legal reform has been progressive in many spheres, and where the judiciary has often taken an active role in protecting human rights, the slow pace of change in the rape laws is evidence of a larger cultural silence regarding violence against women.

Urvashi Butalia, a prominent feminist scholar and publisher, is blunt in her analysis of the decades of official indifference that have surrounded India’s laws on rape.

“Laws that relate to violence against women, as the rape law largely does, are, in the eyes of the state, best forgotten or not bothered about,” she said in an interview. “Or at least they don’t have the same kind of urgency as, say, corporate legislation might.” “This is still a society that somehow sees women differently, or does not see them at all,” she said. “To me, indifference is much more difficult to fight than active resistance. Resistance is visible. Indifference is often so naturalized that it remains invisible and therefore a major obstacle.”

The first major changes to the laws on rape, which had been inherited almost intact from the days of British rule, only came in 1983. Before then, a woman who said she had been raped had the obligation to prove she had not given her consent.

And it was only this year that the government set up a committee to consider whether the laws should be changed to define sex without consent in marriage as a crime, whether they should be gender-neutral to include the sexual abuse of men and boys, and whether the definition of rape should be expanded to include penetration with objects. The finger test — which ostensibly provides evidence of a woman’s level of promiscuity and has, in some cases, led to rape charges being dropped — is not the only hangover from the days of the Raj.

For Ms. Kashyap, the author of the Human Rights Watch report, the issue goes beyond how the legal system handles rape to the question of how rape is viewed by Indian society. The need for reform goes beyond the law, she said; the need is to change how Indians see rape in the 21st century, as an act of violence rather than an assault on a woman’s chastity.

“Even in its current law-reform phase, the Indian government has retained the coinage of ‘outraging’ or ‘insulting’ the ‘modesty’ of women,” Ms. Kashyap said. “Sexual violence should be completely delinked from patriarchal notions of ‘modesty,’ ‘chastity’ or ‘virginity,’ because ideas of so-called ‘modesty’ themselves perpetuate violence and discrimination. The Indian government should acknowledge that sexual violence is a violation of women’s dignity, equality, sexual autonomy and bodily integrity.”

Underlying the finger test is an unspoken but very strong belief: the idea that a promiscuous woman, or a sexually liberated woman, is fair game, her “modesty” no longer the responsibility of the government to protect.

“Outraging the modesty of a woman” now covers a wide range of cases, many of them unequivocal instances of violence.

The newspapers regularly report incidents in which women, chiefly from the lower castes, are stripped and sometimes beaten as a act of revenge against their communities or families.

In a case in July in a Mumbai slum, a young, lower-caste woman was stripped by a mob of about 20 assailants in a case arising from a dispute between families from different castes. Some of the attackers recorded the assault on their mobile phones. Women’s rights advocates have asked that the prison sentence for those convicted of such attacks be extended from two to seven years. The news media still often refer such assailants as “molesters.” A softening and denial of violence is built into the system.

One 36-year-old woman knows this firsthand. She runs her own garment export company in Ludhiana, the largest city in the northern state of Punjab, and could be the prototype for the modern, successful Indian woman. She is also divorced, from a man who raped her so brutally during their 10-year marriage that she has had to undergo vaginal reconstruction surgery. The law only recognizes a form of rape within marriage in the case of girls under the age of 15, who are considered minors whose unions are not legally valid. So she had to obtain her divorce on other grounds.

“I want to tell the world, my family and friends, the truth — my husband was a rapist,” said the woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity to shield her family. “I can tell them about the beatings, but not the rapes. We aren’t supposed to talk about these matters, because they’re shameful. But if there was shame, there was also anger. The anger of being told, ‘He was your husband, he had the right to do this.’ Maybe for others, it will change. My pain has no voice.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/22/world/asia/22iht-letter.html?pagewanted=1&tntemail1=y&_r=1&emc=tnt

DIGNITY ON TRIAL – THE CASE OF RAPE VICTIMS IN INDIA A HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH REPORT

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India: Prohibit Degrading ‘Test’ for Rape

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH

Forensic Exams Should Respect Survivors’ Rights to Health, Privacy, and Dignity

(Mumbai) – Many Indian hospitals routinely subject rape survivors to forensic examinations that include the unscientific and degrading “finger” test, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. It urged the Indian government to ban the practice, used to determine whether the rape survivor is “habituated” to sexual intercourse, as it reforms its laws on sexual violence. The 54-page report, “Dignity on Trial: India’s Need for Sound Standards for Conducting and Interpreting Forensic Examinations of Rape Survivors,” documents the continued use of the archaic practice and the continued reliance on the “results” by many defense counsel and courts. The practice, described in outdated medical jurisprudence textbooks used by many doctors, lawyers, and judges, involves a doctor inserting fingers in a rape victim’s vagina to determine the presence or absence of the hymen and the so-called “laxity” of the vagina. These findings perpetuate false and damaging stereotypes of rape survivors as “loose” women. Defense attorneys use the findings to challenge the credibility, character, and the lack of consent of the survivors.

“This test is yet another assault on a rape survivor, placing her at risk of further humiliation,” said Aruna Kashyap, women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Indian government should heed demands of Indian activists to abolish this degrading and useless practice.”Finger test findings are scientifically baseless because an “old tear” of the hymen or variation of the “size” of the hymenal orifice can be due to reasons unrelated to sex. Carried out without informed consent, the test would constitute an assault, and is a form of inhuman and degrading treatment, Human Rights Watch said.”I was so scared and nervous and praying all the time: ‘God, let this be over and let me get out of here fast,” the report quotes one rape survivor as saying as she described her experience of a forensic examination.

The Indian government amended its evidence law in 2003 to prohibit cross-examination of survivors based on their “general immoral character.” The Indian Supreme Court, whose decisions are binding, has described opinions based on the finger test as “hypothetical and opinionative,” and has ruled that they cannot be used against a rape survivor.Although these developments have helped curtail the practice, the Indian government has yet to take steps to ensure that all states eliminate it.  There are no nationwide guidelines or programs to standardize forensic examinations and to train and sensitize doctors, police, prosecutors, and judges to survivors’ rights. But the Indian government is currently reviewing laws regarding sexual violence, presenting a unique opportunity for change.

“The Indian government has paid little attention to how health care and forensic services are delivered to survivors of sexual violence,” Kashyap said. “The Indian government should set right this injustice with a comprehensive policy and program for such services.”The report is based on 44 interviews in Mumbai and Delhi with activists, rape survivors and their parents, prosecutors, other lawyers, judges, doctors, and forensic experts. Research also included a review of forensic examination templates used in those cities, and an analysis of 153 High Court judgments on rape that referred to the finger test findings from 18 states. It finds that the finger test-related information continues to be collected and used.

Forensic examinations are a harrowing experience for many rape survivors, who are shunted from one hospital or ward to another for various aspects of the examination. Often doctors insist that the survivor must make a police complaint when she approaches them directly, which can intimidate her. Further, inserting fingers into the vaginal or anal orifice of an adult or child survivor of sexual violence during a forensic examination can cause additional trauma, as it not only mimics the abuse but can also be painful. Some doctors in India conduct the finger test with little or no regard for a survivor’s pain or trauma, Human Rights Watch found.

Many High Court judgments reveal that doctors have testified in court that having one or two fingers inserted into the vagina is “painful” or “very painful” for the survivor.  And when the survivor did not experience any pain –  if two fingers could be inserted “painlessly” or “easily” – then she was described as being “habituated to sex.””Survivors of sexual violence have the right to legal recourse without being further traumatized in the process,” Kashyap said. “The health and criminal justice systems should work together to ensure that they do not perpetuate damaging stereotypes of survivors.”

The Maharashtra and Delhi governments continue to recommend the finger test in their forensic examination templates. For example, as recently as June 2010, the Maharashtra state government introduced a standard forensic examination template that includes a series of questions about the hymen, including the number of fingers that can be admitted into the hymenal orifice. Early this year, the Delhi government introduced a forensic examination template that asks questions about the hymen, including whether it is “intact” or “torn,” the “size of the hymenal orifice,” whether the vagina is “roomy” or “narrow” and has “old tears,” and even asks the examining doctor to give an opinion whether the survivor was “habituated to sex.” Much of the Delhi template resembles a template created by the Indian Medical Association and disseminated to doctors across the country between 2006 and 2008.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) “Guidelines for medico-legal care for victims of sexual violence” recommends that health care and forensic services be provided at the same time, and by the same person, to reduce the potential for duplicating questions and further traumatizing the survivor of sexual assault. It states that health and welfare of a survivor of sexual violence is “the overriding priority” and that forensic services should not take precedence over health needs. It also says forensic examinations should be minimally invasive to the extent possible and that even a purely clinical procedure such as a bimanual examination (which also involves the insertion of two fingers into the vagina) is rarely medically necessary after sexual assault.

The Indian government should use its ongoing reform process for laws relating to sexual violence to prohibit the finger test and standardize the medical treatment and forensic examinations of survivors of sexual violence in line with the rights to health, privacy, dignity, and legal remedy, Human Rights Watch said. The government should introduce special programs to sensitize doctors, police, prosecutors, and judges to the rights of survivors, and set up multidisciplinary teams in every government hospital with doctors trained to be sensitive to survivors and with training and equipment to conduct forensic examinations in a manner that respects survivors’ rights.

Sample Testimony From the Report

The clerk told me a male doctor will conduct the test [forensic examination] and asked me whether that was ok. I said “yes.” But other than that, I did not know what they were going to do. I was so scared and nervous and praying all the time: “God, let this be over and let me get out of here fast.” I did not even know it was going to be like a delivery examination [an internal gynecological examination].

– Sandhya S. (name changed), adult rape survivor, Mumbai, August 2, 2010

In cases of very young girls – girls below [age] 12 or 13 – they [police officers and hospital staff] believe it is a case of sexual abuse. But if they are older, then they believe that the girl is trying to falsely frame someone. Their belief changes the way they address the survivors. They are very rude and disrespectful. They will say things like, “Why are you crying?” “You have only been raped.” “You are not dead.” “Go sit over there.” And order them around.

Dr. Rajat Mitra, director, Swanchetan, a nongovernmental organization that provides counseling services to rape survivors, Delhi, May 25, 2010

Where the defense takes the line that there was consent [to sexual intercourse], usually they also look to medical evidence for support. And if the medical report says anything about the finger test, then they draw it out in court – saying she was “habituated” so consented and is falsely implicating the accused.

– Dev D. (name changed to maintain anonymity as requested) a former public prosecutor, New Delhi, May 22, 2010

The finger test is relevant for the defense especially if the prosecutrix [term used to refer to a rape survivor during trial] case is that the woman is unmarried [as opposed to a married woman who is assumed to be “habituated to sex”]. Then if the medical report says that two fingers have passed, the defense can show that she is habituated. This shakes the testimony of the prosecutrix.

– Radha M. (name changed to protect identity), a former chief public prosecutor, location withheld, May 11, 2010

Sample Extracts From Judgments

“Though the girl was aged about 20 to 23 years and was unmarried but she was found to be “habituated to intercourse.” This makes her to be of doubtful character.”

– Jharkhand High Court, 2006

“She was complaining pain and the vagina was admitting 1½ finger [sic] …. From the medical report it is clear that the prosecutrix was not a girl of lax moral and she was not “habituated to sexual intercourse” and most probably, that was her first experience as the doctor has observed reddishness on her vagina and blood secretion and pain on touching the vagina.”

– Chhattisgarh High Court, 2007

THE COPY OF THE REPORT

Can a woman rape a man?

DIVYA A  IN THE TIMES OF INDIA

The government recently decided to amend the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and replace the word “rape” with “sexual assault’’. The proposal would make the offence of rape gender-neutral. But can a government change the meaning of the word “rape”?  Can a man rape a man? Can a woman rape a woman? And finally, unimaginably, can a woman rape a man? Even dictionaries offer gender-specific meanings for rape.  So, does that make a nonsense of the amended IPC? Flavia Agnes, Mumbai-based lawyer and activist, says it is certainly far-fetched. “To presume that women can rape men is rather outrageous,” says Agnes. “While women can sexually harass men, they can’t sexually assault them. There have been no such cases anywhere.” In fact, rape is a “deeply gendered construction”, with several social implications for women such as stigma, she adds.  One rape case is registered every 54 minutes somewhere in India. Many more incidents go unreported. Take the case of 19-year-old Sulabha Rani* from Uttarakhand’s Chamoli village. In 2004, her uncle took her to Dehradun to work as a domestic help. He sold her to two men who raped her in a moving car. The next morning, she found herself lying half-naked and bruised on a sidewalk. Back with her parents now, and with her uncle absconding, Sulabha reportedly hasn’t been able to leave her bed or utter a word since that day.

Then there is Radha, an Agra college student, who tried to take on a bunch of rowdy goons making lewd remarks about passing girls. One evening, as she returned from college, Radha was raped by the goons, who said they were punishing her for her ‘bravery’.

So, can a woman ever do the same to a man? Agnes says rape is not just a physical assault, but an expression of power and control by men over women. “As we do not live in a gender-neutral society, having a gender-neutral rape law will only make the situation worse for women, as many may get accused of rape,” she says. Legal experts are apprehensive the IPC amendment will open the floodgates for other gender-neutral laws, such as those governing domestic violence, dowry death, cruelty to wives or even maintenance to women after a divorce.  But some aspects of the proposed amendment are being welcomed. Sexual assault is to cover crimes such as sodomy, insertion of a foreign object and other offences that are not currently covered by the legal definition of rape. The rape law was amended in 1983 and ever since, women’s groups have campaigned for a law on sexual assault, which would cover issues of incest and non-penetrative child sexual abuse. Author-activist Pinki Virani, who filed a plea for the mercy killing of Aruna Shanbaug, a paralysed and brain-dead Mumbai nurse who was attacked and raped in 1973, says, “The amendment may not help women too much but it will help minor victims. I’m glad boys will be included in the category of victims who can be sexually preyed upon by older men without sodomy being the only criteria of boy-rape.”  The provisions can also help in cases such as that of Ruchika Girhotra, who was sexually molested by Haryana DIG, SPS Rathore as a teenager, 19 years ago. Aradhna Gupta, who fought for justice for her dead friend, says this is a commendable move. Speaking to STOI from Sydney, Gupta says: “Now, more culprits can be booked for committing heinous sexual crimes. Had it happened two decades back, Ruchika would have been alive.”

Virani says the amendment raises questions about whether cases pertaining to children can be clubbed with adults. What about incest, arguably more traumatic than a single assault by a total stranger? Agnes says the government must take these complexities into account before amending the law of the land governing rape.  *The names of victims have been changed

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/sunday-toi/view-from-venus/Can-a-woman-rape-a-man/articleshow/5733229.cms

COMMENTS HAVE BEEN INVITED BY THE MINISTRY OF HOME AFFAIRS ON THE CHANGES IN CRIMINAL LAW WITH REGARD TO RAPE AND SEXUAL ABUSE

Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2010