Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Women in India - Law Violence and Change

Indian Elections 2014:
Rape, Violence and Law

Dr. Mozammel Haque

India’s polling will start on 7th of April, 2014 with results announced on 16th of May, 2014. A total of 814 million people will vote in India’s parliamentary elections, more than the population of Europe, making it the biggest the world has seen. The contest will be between the Hindu Nationalist leader Narendra Modi and the Nehru-Gandhi family’s ruling Congress Party. The people still did not forget the genocide and rape committed in Gurajat in 2002 when Narendra Modi was the state’s Chief Minister and continues still to be its chief minister. The rights of women were not only violated at that time, the recent gang rape of Nirvaya, the paramedic student of Delhi University on the streets of Delhi has aggravated the situation and made headlines in December 2012. That’s why, it is essential to see how the women are treated in India; whether there has any change took place after the women groups campaigned and how can they change the situation of women in the coming days and years.

Let us begin with the women situation in India; how they are enjoying their rights? Whether the rape committed on the streets of Delhi is a stray event or part of the culture? How the law is going to change that and what is the connection between Gujarat riot in 2002, Narendra Modi and Indian elections? I will try to discuss, analyse and narrate first the women’s rights or oppression of women in India, secondly, how the law is going to change to raise the status of women and then the connection between Narendra Modi and Gujarat riots and lastly Hindu Nationalist Party and Indian Elections.

Women, Violence and Law
Crimes against women are on an upsurge in one of the states of India. The major crimes against women include rape, kidnap, abduction, homicide for dowry, torture, molestation, sexual harassment and trafficking. Recently, the cases of all types except for dowry deaths have increased significantly in the last three years, reported in one Indian newspaper. It is recently reported that there has been a rise in the number of rapes. In 2011, a total of 1,468 rape cases had been registered in the state and by September this year, the number touched 2,505 cases, which is a 70.64% increase. Similarly, figures indicate a rise in kidnap and abduction cases by more than 47% this year compared to 2011 data.

The paper also mentioned that the “overall crimes against women have increased by 38% in the last three years in the state which portrays a sorry state of affairs for the weaker gender despite regulations getting stricter. Case studies indicate poorer sections of society and minors as prime targets of rape. Psychoanalysts believe that the conditions in which this social strata lives makes them vulnerable to inducements. Alarmingly, in almost 90% of the cases offenders were known to the victims and those involved included family members, relatives, neighbours or friends.”

Women in India, Law, violence and change
Recently, there was a lecture on “Women in India, Law, Violence and Change” by Ms. Vrinda Grover, an eminent lawyer, human rights and women’s rights activist from India at the Chatham House, London. It was chaired by Baroness Scotland. In her talk, Ms. Grover first mentioned about the women movement in India, then mentioned about the gang-rape of a paramedics student in Delhi and how that brought changes in the law.

Ms Vrinda Grover
Ms. Vrinda Grover is a very eminent lawyer, researcher, human rights and women’s rights activist based in New Delhi India. She has made a number of human rights landmark cases representing women and children survivors of domestic and sexual violence and victims of violent abuse; extrajudicial killings and custodial torture,  trade unions and also contributed to the creation of a number of acts; amendment of laws related to sexual assault, The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act  in 2012. She is presently a Research Fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, Delhi. She is a very prominent commentator in the media and an expert on jurisprudential issues relating to accountability for violence against women in India.

Women movement in India in the 1970s
While narrating the women movement in India, Ms. Grover classified the whole discussion into four parts. She said, Women movement has critically engaged in law and legal processes and legal system.

Ms. Grover set the first example, saying “If you want to look at a violence or sexual violence against women, historically, we had a watershed moment in India. She said, “A young tribal girl called Mathura who was gang-raped in a police station in mid-1970s in Maharashtra. Two police constables gang-raped her. The Supreme Court of India in 1979 while giving the judgement held that there was no mark of injury on her body and therefore this sexual intercourse in the bathroom of the police station must have been within consent. It led to the uproar in the country and law professors in Delhi wrote an open letter to the chief justice of India saying that while delivering the judgement it was rooted in the constitutional law rights guaranteed to the women and that’s where began the serious debate around the issues of consent versus submission. Jurisprudential debate perhaps continued in India right till December and only in recent amendment in law we have to some extent at least in the statute brought to an end to that rather pernicious debate.”

Those two constables did get acquitted but that case led to the search for liberation from the colonial and male-dominated notion of what may constitute the element of consent. Ms. Grover said, “That led to an amendment in Indian law and the notions of powery or custodial rape as a form of aggravated rape whether law required to be changed if that rape has taken place in jail, or police station or football ground or hospital or led to presumptions, of rape that it was without her consent she says so that was the first amendment in India law that we have made that however the patriarchal offence of the rape continued to be penovaginal rather than look at the rape perspectives.”

Security forces, military and insurgency
Another turning point in Indian law related to women came with regards to security forces and military in the insurgency areas.  Talking about the insurgency areas, Ms. Grover mentioned, “We do have, now at least three regions of India, in the north the Jammu & Kashmir, in the extreme east north and Central region. We do have security forces and military who are over the rape of democratically elected government for all purposes. The Women in Manipur which is a state in the north-east of India have had a history of insurgency. Woman, alleged to be member of insurgency group, picked up from house; body found; she was naked of very obvious marks of sexual violence and shot dead including in her private parts to erase any mark of the rape that has taken place. She was taken by the Indian army from her house. It led to the very very strong perhaps the most powerful protest in India. As witness the senior women who are called mothers in Manipur stripped themselves of their clothes and stood naked outside the army stations, with the very large banner which is the only thing covering them saying “Indian army came and raped us.” And then they turned their bodies as the very weapon that the army have used as vulnerability.”

Colonial legacy
Ms. Grover said that they demanded a change in a particular law which actually is a colonial legacy. “It was initiated by the British during the Quit India Movement but then continued to be as part of Indian law called the Armed Forces Special Powers Act imposed in the northeast since 1958 and in Kashmir since 1950 saying that this law gives absolute impunity to the armed forces commit any crime, there is no accountability whatsoever because impunity is embedded in the Statute and this part will protect us from review. The Prime Minister was compelled to visit the area and set up a judicial committee to review the law. The Judicial Committee gave its recommendations that the law needs to be repealed. Committee’s report has never been officially to be presented in any parliament or in any assembly or in many websites of newspapers published.”

Delhi gang rape on 16 December 2012
Then Ms. Grover mentioned about the Delhi Gang-rape in 2012 when the people, men, women, children, elderly and people of all professions raised their voices and demanded their rights of citizenship. Ms. Grover said, “Why this particular gang-rape was committed on16 December 2012?  It is neither the first brutal horrific strenuous , the adjective that we generally add to rape. Why this particular event were galvanised? I think there are multiple reasons for this; which I think, we have to do with. People are beginning to assert their citizenship; people have been taken to the street demanding accountability and you have more confident middle class today which is asserting citizenship and demanding answers and accountability.”

Sexual harassment, molestation, sexual abuse are routinely faced by girls and women within India as they are routinely go to schools, colleges, hospitals, in their homes. How important the gang-rape in Delhi in December 2012 is that it got the headlines in the newspapers. Ms. Grover mentioned, “Gang-rape of a young paramedics happened in Delhi in December 2012 led to public protest; they were demanding the change in attitude of the culture of rape and sexual harassment of women. What change up to December 16, 2012 these are the people they kept out of and across the country; belong to different classes; seeing in the public sphere they were men, women, and young women asserting their autonomy of their body. Post the Delhi gang-rape, Indian media have faithfully recorded each and every rape case, highlighted them for the world and continue o do so.”

Rape is not peculiar to India
Ms. Grover mentioned that Rape was discussed everywhere – it acquired a centrality of public discourse. She said, “We had not around rape and no longer could deny that there was systematic sexual violence that was taking place in India. However, I would add that a lot of the pitch that was that the national media has gave it and I have spoken to many journalists and film makers that they therefore say that some degree of responsibility. Rape is not peculiar to India and Delhi is not the rape capital of the world. Rape and sexual violence happen across the globe. It is very important we in India took a very tough; we spoke about it publicly we challenge it and we made it an issue. But it is not peculiar to India.”

Q & A Session
In the Questions and Answers session, Ms. Grover answers of a large number of issues, specially on women power, autonomy and democracy, Dalit women, caste system and non-religious basis of women organisations.

Women representation in Parliament
 “We are seeking representation in the parliament. That is an ongoing and it is not, of course, snatching power from men; it’s about how you create institutions which respect dignity,” Ms. Grover said and added, “The largest number of rape takes place, statistics show, in the extended families, neighbourhood, rape by police and other. They are not come forward; we have to break the silence of rape. So the way forward is not necessarily to take over military and police power but to see how do the military and police works in accordance with respecting rights of everybody.”

Democracy -giving more power to the women
Replying to a question on democracy, Ms. Grover said, “There was an outcry during that time I have heard the death sentence and social castigation as a way forward. And in fact, the women’s movements were at one voice held a press conference on 24 December 2012 and issued a long statement by the people across the country saying we say no to death penalty; and death penalty is not the way forward in diminishing and controlling sexual violence. This is not about giving more power to the state; it is about giving more power to the women and to democratise the power of the state and society.”

Sexual harassment in workplace
Particularly on the issue of sexual harassment; sexual abuse in workplace; Ms. Grover said, “This is one place where we tell the corporate sectors that you are not nice to the women who are working at the workplace; it is actually impacting on the productivity of your office; so look at it from that perspectives.”

“I think there is a cultural barrier; because they continue to see women as non-productive assets and household works for nothing. Women are not seen as an economic asset in the society but we need to move the conversations there; I completely agree with you,” she said 

Genocidal attacks in Gujarat riot
Ms. Grover said, “Women movements in India are very very diverse; which religion we are born in or religious affiliation in India is very very irrelevant to any women movement; and it has a fair representation from across the board. In fact, what I would say is when there have been or when there is targeted violence or sexual violence; during the communal riots between the Hindu and Muslims as most people are familiar with the Gujarat riots in 2002, almost genocide attacks on Muslims; there was a very specific targeting and gang rape of Muslim women and in order to counter that and to fact finding the state takes up the case, raise the issue across the board.
Women from different religions acted together and raised the issue.”
Autonomy of women
In reply to another question, Ms. Grover said, “When we talk about the autonomy of the woman; on the term we do not need the protection of the state. The state creates an environment that we can live a more liberated life and that conversation is just beginning and I don’t think we are there.”

 “People have turned around and said to the parliamentarians that you are not fit to lead us. So there is tension now and that tension is very helpful. What we need to make sure is that this remains to be the creative and dynamic process; because this change is not going to happen in two or three years or any time soon,” she mentioned.

Hierarchical; caste system
Replying to another question, Ms. Grover said, “In a country like India which is extremely stratified, very hierarchical. We are extremely violent society. All societies which are hierarchical in nature maintain those hierarchies through violence, either through caste hierarchy or oppressing women. In order to turn that around in that kind of cultural complexities law becomes an extremely essential; because we don’t have any other forum to tell to. That’s why I said right in the beginning women groups have engaged with law very critically. But who else do we engage with. That is the one space that we know we can push because there is a Constitution which says there is equality and then you build on that. We have to turn to law .That is the only one space,”

Sexual violence and Dalit
Talking about sexual violence against the lower caste, Ms. Grover mentioned, “The largest and most severe sexual violence is experienced by Dalit women who fall outside the caste system. Nobody experience sexual violence in time during their economic and social subordination that Dalit does in India routinely and we still do not see any justice coming their way.”

Muslim minority, Nurendra Modi and Women organisations
Replying to a question on Nurendra Modi and Gujarat Riots, Ms. Grover said, “I think it is a very important issue, not just for the women’s movement but I think for all the countries that engage with India also including those who make investments in India. I must say it was a very sad day when we heard that the EU has decided that they are not going to say that there is a human right record of Nurendra Modi which comes on the way of their engagement with him and the US refusal to give him a visa till now and we all know now on the slippery slope.”

“At least the women movement that I come from, we contest anybody who presided over mass killings, depolarisation or hate as a way forward and it just not the gang rape that was committed then. I have been representing the mother of Israt Jahan young Muslim woman who was killed in an extra-judicial killing and blamed to be terrorist. What the court has told us now was completely staged and countered under his behest. We may not have the evidence to prove in the court of law who is responsible but we do know when it was happening he was the chief minister and he continues to be the chief minister even now. When it is happening in a state, it cannot happen unless the power above are either in the not or completely complicit,” said Ms. Grover.

Baroness Scotland: sexual violence – a global issue
In her concluding remarks, the Chair, Baroness Scotland, thanked Ms. Vrinda Grover for the way she responded to all those questions; but Baroness Scotland reassured her that as you have said, “that definitely not an issue peculiar to India; most of you do know and have seen in the World Health Organisations (WHO) recent data which says that women sexual violence is one in three in the world. This is very much a global issue and one which is important to all of us. She has bravely said that India is a violent country and I will say which country is not. Before I complete we have to remember this is a global problem.”

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