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On International Day for Elimination of Violence against Women, a look at India’s rape crisis

Two reports have highlighted how women survivors are often hesitant to file complaints out of fear or stigma.

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New Delhi: The United Nations has been observing 25 November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women since 1981.

This date was selected to honour the Mirabal sisters from the Dominican Republic, three political activists who were brutally murdered on 25 November 1960 by order of the country’s dictatorial ruler Rafael Trujillo — an incident that had triggered massive public outrage and Trujillo’s own assassination six months later.

Discussions surrounding gender-based crimes took a centre stage in India recently when a 20-year-old woman from Hathras in Uttar Pradesh was allegedly gang-raped by four upper caste men. The victim’s family had then said that they wouldn’t have lost their daughter if they belonged to the “upper-caste” communities in their village of Boolgarhi.

Her cremation, in the dead of the night, was reportedly performed without family members or proper rituals. For a change, this case was covered extensively by the media. But that is the exception, not a norm and the number of such cases only keeps rising.

The latest National Crimes Record Bureau data noted a 7.3 per cent increase in rape cases in a year — a jump from 3,78,236 in 2018 to 4,05,861 cases in 2019. Nearly 22 per cent of these cases were “assault on women with intent to outrage her modesty”.

Uttar Pradesh accounted for 14.7 per cent — 59,853 cases — of crimes against women, the highest in the country.

A report published on 28 September by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) and the Association for Advocacy and Legal Initiatives (AALI) has noted the Uttar Pradesh Police’s “refusal and failure to register complaints of survivors of sexual assault”. This report was based on 14 case studies interviewed between 2019 and 2020 in the state.

On this International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, ThePrint takes a look at how stigma, fear and lack of legal support often deters women from filing complaints against rape and other forms of violence.

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Pressure to ‘settle’ cases

Of the 14 cases that were documented in the CHRI-AALI report, 11 were incidents of rape and three of gang-rapes. The crimes had allegedly taken place in seven districts of Uttar Pradesh, namely Aligarh, Amroha, Auraiya, Lucknow, Jhansi, Jaunpur, and Muzaffarnagar.

The report noted how “survivors faced delay, derision, pressure, and severe harassment” when they approached the police to file either complaints or FIRs. It also said how caste and gender-based discrimination deprived and/or delayed justice for survivors, resulting in further trauma and mental health issues.

The police took anywhere between two and 228 days to file FIRs in 11 out of the 14 cases, the report said. It also added that the FIRs were filed only after a court order in five cases and when matters were escalated to a senior officer in the other six. Also, no woman officer was present to note down details of the sexual assaults as demanded under Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) in 12 of the 14 cases.

The report also noted how the survivors were unaware that only a woman police officer was to record a complaint of sexual assault when the survivor herself goes to the police station. It also noted how 11 out of the 14 survivors learned of their right to file a complaint to the district superintendent of police (under Section 154(3) of the CrPC) after facing refusal at their local police stations.

“The amendment that allows the survivor to file a complaint against the police is not very useful — will you fight your case or the police?” Seema Misra, AALI board member and criminal trial court lawyer working on cases of sexual violence told ThePrint. “Always blaming the women is very common in the police. In South Delhi, the police are a little scared after Nirbhaya (2012 Delhi gang rape). But that isn’t the case everywhere.”

The report said that while survivors were usually subjected to misogynistic remarks by police officers, those belonging to lower castes faced further discrimination. It also noted how the police tried to bury complaints using “coercive tactics to push survivors to settle or compromise by threatening to implicate their family members, or forcing marriage of the survivor and alleged perpetrator”.

“Registration of FIRs is a problem across the board but there is a lot of pressure to settle the matter outside the court,” Misra said.

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‘Existing laws, if implemented correctly, are sufficient’

While the findings of the CHRI-AALI report are limited to just 14 cases in Uttar Pradesh, it also reflects a larger systemic failure.

In 2017, the NGO Human Rights Watch had conducted field research and interviews in four Indian states and two cities that had reported high number of rape cases — Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi and Mumbai. The findings in 21 cases were nearly congruent with those of the CHRI-AALI report.

Survivors were hesitant to file complaints out of fear or stigma, those belonging to marginalised communities found it difficult to register complaints and legal support was often not available at police stations as has been mandated by the Supreme Court in a 1994 ruling.

“The pattern is the same in many states across the country such as Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, barring some southern states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu where police have been adequately sensitised and are pressured to file such complaints,” Ranjana Kumari, director, Centre for Social Research, told ThePrint. “What is unique about Uttar Pradesh is the state engagement.”

Kumari believed that the Hathras case had highlighted the state’s engagement and fissures in its criminal justice system. The state’s role itself, she added, was a message for criminals on how they can get away with crimes and a message for police that they have to protect the interests of the powerful.

“Legal reforms work only when the state is willing to take responsibility. Laws have become much more stringent but I don’t think we need stricter laws. The ones we have right now, if implemented correctly, are sufficient,” Kumari added.

“The call for ‘hang the rapist’ is a very political, populist notion. Who gets hung — a rich man is never hung, do they not rape then? You can have the nicest of laws but people still think that somewhere it’s the girl’s fault,” said Misra.

Both the CHRI-AALI and Human Rights Watch reports conclude by recommending a series of legal reforms to better this grave situation. On implementing police reforms for timely redressal of crimes against women, Shobhana Smriti, an independent leader of Dalit Women Fight in Uttar Pradesh, had quoted B.R. Ambedkar’s famous lines, “… however good a Constitution may be, it is sure to turn out bad because those who are called to work it, happen to be a bad lot. However bad a Constitution may be, it may turn out to be good if those who are called to work it, happen to be a good lot.”

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  1. So 16.5 percent of Indian Population in UP has 14.7 percent of all Indian rape cases , isn’t that like a good thing ?

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