We are a booming economy and our GDP numbers are a testimony to that fact. But despite this, India, the world’s largest democracy, is failing to ensure basic fundamental rights to its citizens. Most importantly, we have failed to ensure our women’s right against exploitation. We are failing them by the minute. Perhaps, the second.
Tip of an iceberg: Crime against women in India
- Much recently, a man whose daughter was sexually harassed was shot dead, allegedly by the main accused out on bail since 2018 and his associates, in Hathras district of Uttar Pradesh.
- Another video has gone viral on social media where a young woman, can be heard announcing her decision to commit suicide. She committed suicide soon afterwards jumping into the Sabarmati River.
- CJIs’ recent ‘marry the victim’ remark to rape accused has sparked another controversy. It has greatly trivialized sexual violence, denuded survivor of rights and personhood.
Crime against women: What NCRB has to say
- Crime against women increased 7.3 per cent from 2018 to 2019 says the annual National Crime Record Bureau’s “Crime in India” 2019 report.
- Majority of cases under crime against women under IPC were registered under ‘cruelty by husband or his relatives’ (30.9%), followed by ‘assault on women with intent to outrage her modesty’ (21.8%), ‘kidnapping & abduction of women’ (17.9%) and ‘rape’ (7.9%).
- UP reported the highest number of crimes against women (59,853), accounting for 14.7 per cent of such cases across the country.
- It was followed by Rajasthan (41,550 cases; 10.2 per cent) and Maharashtra (37,144 cases; 9.2 per cent).
- The problem of underestimation of the gender-based crime is compounded by failure of the justice system of the country in securing convictions.
Various types of violence against women in India
- The problem of gender-based violence runs very deep in India.
- The rape crisis is just one facet of the multitude of problems that reflect the gender discrimination scenario.
- These prejudicial attitudes are seen right from womb to tomb.
They start with the practice of sex-selective abortion and infanticide, and continue through adolescent and adult life with high levels of female infant mortality, child marriage, teenage pregnancy, lesser wages for women, unsafe workplaces, domestic violence, maternal mortality, sexual assault and neglect of elderly women.
[I] Domestic violence
- Domestic violence is abuse by one partner against another in an intimate relationship such as dating, marriage, cohabitation or a familial relationship.
- It is also categorised as domestic abuse, spousal abuse, battering, family violence, dating abuse and intimate partner violence (IPV).
- It can be physical, emotional, verbal, economic and sexual abuse as well as subtle, coercive or violent.
(a) Female infanticide and sex-selective abortion
- Female infanticide is the elected killing of a newborn female child or the termination of a female fetus through sex-selective abortion.
- In India, there is incentive to have a son, because they offer security to the family in old age and are able to conduct rituals for deceased parents and ancestors.
- In contrast, daughters are considered to be a social and economic burden
(b) Dowry deaths
- A dowry death is the murder or suicide of a married woman caused by a dispute over her dowry.
- In some cases, husbands and in-laws will attempt to extort a greater dowry through continuous harassment and torture which sometimes results in the wife committing suicide.
(c) Honor killings
- An honor killing is a murder of a family member who has been considered to have brought dishonour and shame upon the family.
- Examples of reasons for honor killings include the refusal to enter an arranged marriage, committing adultery, choosing a partner that the family disapproves of, and becoming a victim of rape.
- Village caste councils or khap panchayats in certain regions of India regularly pass death sentences for persons who do not follow their diktats on caste or gotra.
(d) Witchcraft accusations and related murders
- Witchcraft is the practice of what the practitioner believes to be magical skills and abilities, and activities such as spells, incantations, and magical rituals.
- Murders of women accused of witchcraft still occur in India. Poor women, widows, and women from lower castes are most at risk of such killings.
[III] Sexual Abuse/ Molestation/ Rape
- Rape is one of the most common crimes in India.
- According to the National Crime Records Bureau, one woman is raped every 20 minutes in India.
[IV] Marital Crimes
(a) Marital rape
- In India, marital rape is not a criminal offense.
- India is one of fifty countries that have not yet outlawed marital rape.
(b) Forced Marriage
- Girls are vulnerable to being forced into marriage at young ages, suffering from a double vulnerability: both for being a child and for being female.
- Child brides often do not understand the meaning and responsibilities of marriage.
(a) Trafficking and forced prostitution
- Human trafficking, especially of girls and women, often leads to forced prostitution and sexual slavery.
(b) Online abuse
- As internet becomes an increasingly important part of human existence to make their voices heard, a woman’s inability to feel safe online is an impediment to her freedom.
- Women are regularly subject to online rape threats, online harassment, cyber-stalking, blackmail, trolling, slut-shaming and more.
(c) Harassment at the workplace
- The #MeToo movement is aimed at demonstrating how many women have survived sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace.
- Scores of women, many journalists, came out with accounts of sexual harassment at workplace, mostly comprising of indecent remarks, unwanted touches, demands for sex, and the dissemination of pornography.
Various laws for their protection
Various special laws relating to women include:
- Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005
- Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961
- Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986
- Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013
- Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006
The Government has also taken a number of initiatives for safety of women and girls, which are given below:
- Nirbhaya Fund for projects for the safety and security of women
- One-Stop Centre Scheme to provide integrated support and assistance to women affected by violence, both in private and public spaces under one roof
- Online analytic tool for police called “Investigation Tracking System for Sexual Offences” to monitor and track time-bound investigation in sexual assault cases in accordance with Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2018.
- National Database on Sexual Offenders (NDSO) to facilitate investigation and tracking of sexual offenders across the country by law enforcement agencies
- In order to coordinate various initiatives for women safety, MHA has set up a Women Safety Division.
MHA has issued advisories to all State Governments/UTs, advising them to ensure thorough investigation, conducting of medical examination of rape victims without delay and for increasing gender sensitivity in Police.
What makes women so vulnerable in India?
[I] Reinforced patriarchy
- The perpetuation of violence against women in India continues as a result of many systems of sexism and Patriarchy in place within Indian culture.
- Beginning in early childhood, young girls are given less access to education than their male counterparts.
- Gender-based inequality is present even before that, however, as it is reported that female children are often fed less and are given less hearty diets that contain little to no butter, milk, or other more hearty foods
[II] Protecting ‘Dignity’
- Women who are put in a situation where they are being subjected to gender-based violence are often victim shamed, being told that their safety is their own responsibility and that whatever may happen to them is their own fault.
- In addition to this, women are very heavily pressured into complicity because of social and cultural beliefs, such as family honour.
[III] Popular culture
- Even when girls are taught about the inequity they will face in life, boys are uneducated on this and are therefore unprepared to treat women and girls as equals.
- Later in life, the social climate continues to reinforce inequality, and consequently, violence against women.
- One popular depiction of this is electronic media such as movies where abuse of women is the most objectified topic.
Why stringent laws have failed?
(1) Stringent penalties aren’t deterrent
- For crimes of different kinds across the world, nobody has been able to conclusively say that the death penalty is an effective deterrent.
- It appears as though the call for the death penalty is more an outcome of outrage than of serious thought on what can change the prevailing situation.
- Governments that want to look like they are ‘tough on crime’ are quick to respond to these calls.
(2) Dreadful trials
- In countries like India, the certainty of punishment is relatively low and legal trials are often harder on victims than on the accused (leading to them withdrawing the case).
- Simply changing the quantum of punishment in a few famous incidents is unlikely to deter others, as most cases either languish in the courts or are dismissed due to lack of evidence.
(3) Delayed Justice
- Consider Nirbhaya’s case when one gets justice after almost 9 years.
- This discourages families to seek justice as the accused gets bail and is freed until proven guilty.
(4) Reduced reporting
- In a large number of rape cases (94.6% of cases in 2016, for instance, according to the National Crime Records Bureau), the accused is known to the victim.
- Given that scenario – say the accused is an uncle – having the threat of the death penalty looming over the case may make victims less likely to report cases of sexual violence, or even face increased pressure from their families to keep the matter to themselves.
(5) More chances of murder/increased violence
- Once it is clear that the death or any other penalty is highly probable or inevitable in rape cases, it may in fact have the opposite impact – instead of acting as a deterrent.
- It could lead to perpetrators making sure the victims are left dead and body is mutilated or disposed off or in no state to make a complaint or recognise the perpetrators.
(6) Retributive justice
- Retributive justice is a theory of punishment that when an offender breaks the law, justice requires that they suffer in return, and that the response to a crime is proportional to the offence.
- Some argue that the state has a duty to support society’s retributive rage against those convicted of crimes such as rape.
- This argument is a slippery slope as it leads to a revenge culture.
We prevent our sisters/daughter of late-night outing but do not show the courage to complain against improper lighting in public spaces, unreliable public transport and no visible presence of the guardians of the law during odd hours of the night.
- Gender-based violence, an especially violent crime like rape, is a multifaceted problem.
- To address this, it is essential to tackle various other concurrent issues that act as contributing factors and thus play an equally important role.
- Although the incorporation of stringent laws and stricter punishments are important to deter people from committing such crimes, the solution to this is much more than just promulgation.
- It is important to acknowledge that judicial reform is only one aspect; there is a more humane side to this whole issue.
- Every society, when confronted with conscience-jolting reacts with vindictive anger.
- Crimes against women are a blot on our conscience and we must spare no effort to punish the perpetrators of such crimes.
- The protection of women from all forms of abuse and oppression should be a national duty and a priority task.