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Violence against women: India needs uniform mechanism  

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Violence against women, India, Sexual Assault on Women  
 
"While the case of Delhi drew considerable attention from administration, political leadership, media and general public, the same is yet to happen in many such cases occurring with poor people and in remote, outreach India. For example, on December 27 the media reported that a girl in Punjab committed suicide a month after she was gang raped because police were unwilling to register her complaint or arrest the accused."  
HNF Correspondent  
   

In its reaction over the death of a 23-year-old student, on December 29, 2012, who was gang raped and assaulted, international rights organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) demanded that death of the victim should spur decisive action by the Indian government to combat sexual violence.

The woman, a paramedical student, was gang raped by five men and a youth (under 18) on December 16 while travelling with her boy friend in a private bus in New Delhi. In the incident, the woman suffered severe injuries and had to be transferred to a hospital in Singapore, where she died. The police have arrested the accused and are expected to file charges in the first week of January 2013.

 

The particular case mobilised the urban Indian mass to stage demonstrations all over the country and reopened public debate about reforming India’s inadequate laws and practices concerning sexual assault and harassment on women.

Condemning the incident, South Asia Director of HRW, Meenakshi Ganguli, said, “This murderous gang rape is a sobering reminder of the pervasive sexual violence that women and girls across India suffer”. She also added that “the government needs to act now to prevent sexual assault, aggressively investigate and prosecute perpetrators, and ensure the dignified treatment of survivors.”

Taking it as a point that establishes that sexual violence remains a nationwide problem in India, Human Rights Watch placed as fact that “according to the National Crime Records Bureau, 24,206 rape cases were registered in India in 2011, and experts say the number of unreported cases of sexual assault is much higher.”

While appreciating the formation of a three-member commission, headed by former Indian Supreme Court Chief Justice Jagdish Sharan Verma, to “review the present laws so as to provide speedier justice and enhanced punishment in cases of aggravated sexual assault,” HRW sought actions for reformation of laws to deal with growing cases of assault on women saying, “While the government’s swift action to create a commission to review punishment for aggravated sexual assault is an important step, reform of the criminal law and procedure, plus improved treatment of survivors, is needed to ensure justice for sexual assault victims.”

Need of uniform mechanism

While the case of Delhi drew considerable attention from administration, political leadership, media and general public, the same is yet to happen in many such cases occurring with poor people and in remote, outreach India. For example, on December 27 the media reported that a girl in Punjab committed suicide a month after she was gang raped because police were unwilling to register her complaint or arrest the accused.

State security forces have at times been implicated in sexual assault, but the government has not taken action against them. For example, in October 2011, police in Chhattisgarh were accused of sexual assault of an adivasi teacher, Soni Sori, while she was in their custody. There still have been no arrests and prosecutions in the alleged rape and murder in 2004 of Manorama Devi, who was taken into army custody from her home in the north-eastern state of Manipur.

Citing its research findings that say,  survivors usually find it difficult to register police complaints, and often go from one hospital to another even for a medical examination, and often report suffering humiliation at police stations and hospitals, the release mentioned that, in May 2012, about 90 civil society organizations and individuals, including Human Rights Watch, wrote to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urging reforms in responses to sexual assault and calling for greater police accountability. The groups called on the Indian central government to constitute a high-level task force to develop a coordinated response to gender-based violence, especially sexual assault; instruct state governments to monitor police handling of sexual assault reports and investigations, and hold accountable officers who mishandle their duties; and fund an existing scheme for financial assistance for rape victims and monitor its implementation.

Saying that the level of care – including counselling – provided to the New Delhi gang rape victim and her family, demonstrates that political will can ensure support and care for victims of sexual assault, Human Rights Watch said, “India does not have a uniform protocol for medical treatment and examination of survivors of sexual assault, making responses ad hoc and unpredictable, and in the worst cases, degrading and counter-productive. This is reflected in the continued use of the so-called “finger test,” which Human Rights Watch documented in a 2010 report. While conducting medical examinations, many doctors record unscientific and degrading findings, which involve noting the “laxity” of the vagina or hymen, apparently to determine whether the victims are “virgins” or “habituated to sexual intercourse.” Often doctors, police, and judges look for evidence of “struggle” or “injuries,” especially hymenal injuries, in the medical examination report, discrediting those who do not report such injuries.”

While demanding that the Indian government should establish national standards and a uniform protocol for the medical treatment and collection of medical evidence in cases of sexual assault, and to eliminate the use of finger tests on sexual assault survivors, Ganguly said, “The Indian government needs to adopt and enforce measures to ensure the dignified treatment and examination of sexual assault survivors.” Ganguly also said, “Dignity and accountability should underscore the police and medical responses to sexual assault throughout India.”

 
 

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