The Weak Link

All coun­tries in South Asia, in­clud­ing In­dia, need to se­ri­ously re­visit their so­cial, po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and ad­min­is­tra­tive set­ups and work to­wards re­mov­ing the em­bed­ded bias against women.

Southasia - - VIOLENCE INDIA - By Zee­nia Shaukat

The most im­por­tant out­come of the tragic 2012 Delhi rape case was a string of mea­sures by the In­dian govern­ment, both cen­tral and the state, to ad­dress the loop­holes in the laws and the jus­tice sys­tem as they bru­tally dis­crim­i­nated against women. That it took the govern­ment an ex­tremely atro­cious case fol­lowed by tremen­dous pub­lic pres­sure, es­pe­cially from the mid­dle class, is a tes­ti­mony to the In­dian state’s re­ac­tive ap­proach to­wards cit­i­zens’ rights.

At the na­tional level, the cen­tral govern­ment of In­dia passed the Crim­i­nal Law (Amend­ment) Bill 2013. It also amended var­i­ous sec­tions of the In­dian Pe­nal Code, the Code of Crim­i­nal Pro­ce­dure, the In­dian Ev­i­dence Act and the Pro­tec­tion of Chil­dren from Sex­ual Of­fences Act.

The new law seeks to widen the scope of sex­ual as­sault as an of­fence and spells longer, stricter sen­tences for an of­fender, go­ing up to 20 years, to life im­pris­on­ment to even a death penalty for those who may have been con­victed ear­lier for such crimes. For the first time, the law de­fines stalk­ing and voyeurism as non-bail­able of­fences, if re­peated. Per­pe­tra­tors of acid at­tacks could face a 10-year-long jail term. In terms of pro­ce­dures, the record­ing of a state­ment by the vic­tim has been made “more friendly” in an at­tempt to change the tra­di­tional

In­dian (and even sub-con­ti­nen­tal) cul­ture of the po­lice’s tar­get­ing of the vic­tims of sex­ual as­sault by way of char­ac­ter as­sas­si­na­tion. It has been made an of­fence for the po­lice not to record a crime when re­ported.

On the state level, the Delhi po­lice has launched a round-the-clock all­women po­lice mo­bile team. It has also taken mea­sures such as in­creased pa­trolling, es­pe­cially at nights, along with a 24-hour po­lice cover around shop­ping malls and cin­ema halls. The reporting pro­ce­dure has also been up­graded, en­sur­ing im­me­di­ate reg­is­tra­tion of FIRs in cases of crimes against women in ad­di­tion to fil­ing of charge sheet against the ac­cused within three months.

The Delhi po­lice has also broad­ened the scope of its 'Pari­var­tan' scheme which en­gages schools, lo­cal­i­ties and po­lice sta­tions on the is­sue of safety of women. Un­der the scheme, woman con­sta­bles are di­rected to con­duct doorstep polic­ing for the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and re­dress of grievances of women within the com­mu­nity.

In­dia also set up a "fast-track" court to try the men ac­cused of the gang rape and mur­der of the 23-yearold girl in New Delhi. These courts that cover sex­ual as­sault and other crimes against women are man­dated to by­pass In­dia's overwhelmed reg­u­lar court sys­tem, where cases of­ten take years to be re­solved. The fast-track sys­tem is a repli­ca­tion of a sim­i­lar ef­fort launched in 2007 to deal with the prob­lem of ar­rears. The ini­tia­tive did not quite suc­ceed be­cause of a num­ber of struc­tural gaps.

While it is dif­fi­cult to ar­gue against the mea­sures un­der­taken by the govern­ment, the In­dian civil so­ci­ety feels that the govern­ment’s re­sponse to the grow­ing range of crimes against women is sim­ply in­ad­e­quate. There has been a 125 per­cent rise in the num­ber of rape cases in Delhi since De­cem­ber 16, 2012. Mo­lesta­tion cases are up by a mas­sive 417 per­cent. Till Novem­ber 2013, the Delhi Po­lice (Delhi is trag­i­cally called the rape cap­i­tal of In­dia) had reg­is­tered 1,493 cases of rape against 661 in the cor­re­spond­ing pe­riod last year, 3,237 cases of mo­lesta­tion against 625, and 852 cases of ha­rass­ment against 165.

De­spite the In­dian govern­ment’s jus­ti­fi­ca­tion that the sharp rise in the cases is a re­sult of in­creased reporting, it is also an in­di­ca­tion that the sever­ity of pun­ish­ments un­der the new mea­sures has hardly had a de­ter­ring ef­fect. “The ma­jor chal­lenge is not the ab­sence of laws but the lack of ef­fec­tive im­ple­men­ta­tion and ac­count­abil­ity,” says Anand Ku­mar, Chris­tian Aid’s Coun­try Man­ager for In­dia.. Even if the reporting of the cases has in­creased, the rate of con­vic­tion re­mains the same. The sever­ity of pun­ish­ment has not been ac­com­pa­nied by cer­tainty of pun­ish­ment, which ex­plains why life goes on as usual, both for women and the of­fend­ers.

Ex­perts also ar­gue that un­less the dis­crep­an­cies in the crim­i­nal jus­tice ad­min­is­tra­tive sys­tem are ad­dressed – cov­er­ing the func­tion­ing of the ju­di­ciary as well as en­sur­ing speedy jus­tice – the re­cently an­nounced mea­sures may re­main cos­metic at best.

There are two ma­jor is­sues with the ju­di­ciary: the enor­mous de­lay in the de­liv­ery of jus­tice and the ju­di­ciary’s fail­ure in deal­ing with the cases of crimes against women with the re­quired de­gree of sen­si­tiv­ity. "In­dia has roughly 12 judges per mil­lion. It is gen­er­ally es­ti­mated that for large, de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, the need is roughly 60 judges per mil­lion,” says Colin Gon­salves, a se­nior ad­vo­cate of the Supreme Court of In­dia and the di­rec­tor of the New Delhi-based Hu­man Rights Law Net­work. He also feels that the ap­proach of fast-track courts does not of­fer a so­lu­tion. Such courts just cover rape cases, but what about the cases of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, mat­ri­mo­nial is­sues – where women are in di­vorce or main­te­nance and cus­tody pro­ceed­ings for as long as 10 years in some cases – tribal dis­place­ment, slum de­mo­li­tion and la­bor is­sues? When you fast-track one type of case, you take away the re­sources of the sys­tem gen­er­ally. What, then, will hap­pen to all the other cases of the poor people in so­ci­ety?

Ac­tivists also cite the low con­vic­tion rate for crimes reg­is­tered un­der the Preven­tion of Atroc­i­ties against Sched­uled Castes and Sched­uled Tribes Act as a clear ev­i­dence of “poor im­ple­men­ta­tion of the strong law” that is aimed at pro­tect­ing dal­its and trib­als. The lack of sen­si­tiv­ity in the ju­di­ciary to­wards so­cially ex­cluded com­mu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing women, is the ma­jor weak­est link.

“Pa­tri­ar­chal val­ues are deeply rooted within the in­fra­struc­ture of In­dian so­cial, re­li­gious and po­lit­i­cal spheres. From com­mon people to high-pro­file bu­reau­crats, politi­cians and au­thor­i­ties, the con­cept of gen­der equal­ity is not per­cep­ti­ble any­where,” says Nee­lam Chaturvedi of the or­ga­ni­za­tion Sakhi Ken­dra. Chaturvedi has been run­ning a na­tional cam­paign to ad­dress the state’s women pol­icy for five years. Civil so­ci­ety, there­fore, feels that the mea­sures may re­main in­ad­e­quate un­less there is a change in the power and the pa­tri­ar­chal mind­set that ex­ists in so­ci­ety.

Tak­ing the ar­gu­ment of so­cial gaps for­ward, in an in­ter­est­ing and con­tro­ver­sial ar­ti­cle fol­low­ing the Delhi rape case, Ab­hi­jit Ban­er­jee, a Ford Foun­da­tion In­ter­na­tional Pro­fes­sor of Eco­nom­ics and Di­rec­tor of the Ab­dul Latif Jameel Poverty Ac­tion Lab, MIT, sug­gests that in­equal­ity to­wards ac­cess to sex can­not be ruled out as a fac­tor con­tribut­ing to the rise in sex­ual crimes against women. “There are few forces more pow­er­ful than sex­ual de­sire and few forms of in­equal­ity more pal­pa­ble than in­equal­ity of ac­cess to sex…if you are poor in ur­ban In­dia or even mid­dle class and 25, you have to be very lucky to have a room of your own in the fam­ily home, let alone a sep­a­rate apart­ment that you can call your own… What are we do­ing as a so­ci­ety to re­duce in­equal­ity of ac­cess to sex? I don’t mean pub­licly pro­vided broth­els…but just the right to a nor­mal con­ju­gal life.”

In­dia, along with its South Asian neigh­bors, needs a se­ri­ous re­visit of its so­cial, po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and ad­min­is­tra­tive set­ups that have an em­bed­ded bias against women. There is a need to ad­dress the pa­tri­ar­chal mind­set and rec­tify un­der-rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women in pub­lic life, in­clud­ing the leg­isla­tive and lo­cal bod­ies struc­ture as sev­eral re­searches have demon­strated that the po­lit­i­cal voice is an im­por­tant de­ter­mi­nant of ac­cess to jus­tice for so­cially dis­ad­van­taged groups. It re­quires a pos­i­tive so­cial en­vi­ron­ment for women with en­hanced space for eco­nomic par­tic­i­pa­tion along with a more gen­der-sen­si­tive state setup. This calls for a pro-ac­tive rather than a re­ac­tive ap­proach from the In­dian state as well as so­ci­ety.

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