Tag Archives: Child Sexual Abuse

India’s Daughters: Why We Shouldn’t Be Silent

India’s Daughters & Sons have grown up in a nation where sexual violence and rape is an everyday reality, like in other countries. Here, however, the violence is so pervasive that it had jaded us.  But in 2012, the Delhi Gang Rape, where a 23-year-old medical student was gang raped, tortured and killed in a public bus, proved a collective tipping point. The nation was moved from indifference and quiet frustration towards impassioned street protests and action. The horror sparked a questioning of a system where this was allowed to happen. The protesting citizens demanded not only justice for the victim Jyoti Singh and other women who had suffered similarly but also security, protection, rights and dignity for all women.

Instead of connecting with the people’s sentiments, the Congress Government reacted to the people’s anger and voices with water canons and tear gas. It tried to subdue the people and dilute their movement; the chief minister came on television and made desperate attempts to downplay the protests. But the government had misjudged, and how. Their draconian actions only added fuel to the protests, which raged on. For this naiveté, the Congress would pay a heavy price.

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This is 2015; we are seeing a new government, the BJP, repeat the same mistake by imposing a nationwide ban on filmmaker Lesliee Udwins’ ‘India’s Daughter’ a BBC documentary based on the Delhi Gang Rape. This new Government has gone on record to say that such films tarnish the image of the country in front of the world. They tried to ensure that the film was banned globally. They called it a conspiracy by the west to show India in a bad light.

The First Investigation Report (FIR) filed by the Delhi police against the filmmakers under Sections 504, 505, 509 of the Indian Penal Code refers to intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace, statements conducive to public mischief, word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman. The filmmakers also were charged under the Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000, which demands punishment for sending offensive messages through a communication service.

Is this justified?

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I watched India’s daughter (Yes I did watch it just a few hours before it was banned!). It is an average documentary but an important one. It relies not on any narrative but instead hangs on the words of the people involved, of Jyoti’s parents, one of the rapists, members of the establishment, and it is critical in allowing us to hear the cold truth.

The statements in the film of the rapist Mukesh Singh about girls and their place in society, their own responsibility for rape, and the equally outrageous statements from defense lawyers for the six perpetrators are supposedly the main reason for banning the film.  But these statements are not unheard of, they reflect the common sentiments that we hear in our everyday lives.

Between 2012 and 2015, we have heard some of the most repressive and misogynistic statements by public figures on the Delhi Gang Rape.

Rapes happen in India, not in Bharat (referring to rural India). It happens because of the western influence and culture.”  Mohan Bhagwat, chief of the Hindu Nationalist organization, Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh

“Boys make mistakes. Handing death sentence for rape is not fair. There will be changes in the law if we come to power.”  Mulayam Singh Yadav, Leader of the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh

“She should have taken God’s name and could have held the hand of one of the men and said ‘I consider you as my brother, brother I am helpless. She should have held their feet and said prayers. Then the misconduct (referring to rape) wouldn’t have happened. Mistake is never from one side alone” Self styled God man Asaram who is currently in prison and facing charges for raping a minor girl.

Our Honorable President Pranab Mukherjee’s son Abhijit Mukherjee went as far as insulting the Delhi protesters by saying, “dented and painted women protested against the gang-rape. He called the anti-rape agitation a nautanki (drama). He said the women protesters were good-looking but did not exactly look like students as claimed. He said they looked like people going to discotheques.

And there were many more such opinions. Thanks to the media, some of these were aired widely and there was outrage in response from civil society. But one wonders why did the government not respond to these? Why, instead, ban a film that simply seeks to lift these terrible remarks into public light.  Why the water cannons and tear gas fired at peaceful protesters, women and men alike? Why do most of the above-mentioned people still hold their positions of power and enjoy public life despite giving us enough evidence that they are among the most repressive minds in the country? ​

That said, ‘India’s Daughter’ cannot be and should not be looked at through only one lens. It not only showed the opinions of a rapist but also attempted to question the dichotomy within Indian society and raised important questions regarding how we perceive our women. It applauded the grit and determination of civil society and showed varied opinions on how the protests were a turning point in our fight against sexual violence.

The film sensitively portrayed the love and loss of the parents of Jyoti who struggled hard and broke all gender stereotypes to give their daughter the best of everything. It exposed that many among us are insecure with this breed of young, independent women who live their lives on their own terms and are supported by their families in doing so. It told us how these terrible men took it upon themselves to teach Jyoti and her friend a lesson as they crossed the ‘laxman rekha’ (moral boundary put forth by the society)

But one also needs to question the filmmaker and the BBC on some aspects of the documentary. Why did they not wait for the final judgment by the Supreme Count on the Delhi Gang Rape? The film might yet have an impact on the judgment and, in considering due process, how fair is that? Would this be permissible in the UK or any other developed country in the world?  How did the filmmaker acquire the permissions to interview Mukesh Singh? Was the documentary presented as being made for study or for commercial purposes?

We all know that the Government denies permissions to NGOs and human rights activists to work in prisons, so how did Udwin manage to get through? Finally, why did the filmmaker not think about the rights and dignity of the family of the accused, especially the wife and child of one of the rapists, why was no precaution taken in protecting their identity?

We strongly advocate for freedom of speech and expression in our country and believe varied opinions must be heard; there must be a right to dissent, agreement to disagree. The culture of a ban is opposed to the fundamental principles of democracy. Governments cannot decide for people, let the people decide for themselves.

Sexual violence is not only India’s problem; foreign participants are welcome in our country to contribute to the debate and help with solutions, but they need to be sympathetic to the local realities and must respect our law. They must be introspective and ask the question, ‘would this be permissible in my country?’ if the answer is no then they must resist the temptation to experiment here.

Jyoti’s parents were generous to share the details of her life with us. We must thank them for that. Their loss is irreparable, their pain unimaginable. The only way to pay respect to the spirit of Jyoti and other victims of sexual violence is to ensure their stories help us build a society that strives to be equal, empathetic and just.

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Rapes in India & The Crisis of Consensus!

Men rape only when provoked by women like YOU!

Having heard this so many times, sadly the women of India believe this is true.

In December 2013, the editor-in-chief of India’s Tehelka magazine was accused of sexually assaulting a junior colleague twice in a hotel elevator during a conference in Goa. Until this incident, Tehelka was one of the most respected magazines, making headlines for path- breaking and courageous journalism that reported real stories and exposed scams in India.

But this incident exposed Tehelka. It brought to light the double standards of some urban, educated elites working for the magazine. Tehelka’s female managing editor, well known for her feminist stance, did not encourage the journalist to report the matter to the police.  She subsequently was accused of a cover-up and was forced to resign under fire from the media.

“Lapse of judgment”, “something ostensibly playful gone so horribly wrong” “were phrases used in the apology letter written by the accused to his managing editor and the victim.

Another high profile case of sexual harassment that surfaced last year was that of a law intern who was sexually molested by a senior Supreme Court Judge who was also a member of a state Human Rights Commission. In his defense he said: “Allegations were made by the intern 11 months after the incident. I never abused my power. She could have left the room if she was feeling unwell. No person can be forced to drink wine if the person doesn’t want to.” (Source: Interview to CNN IBN http://ibnlive.in.com/news/sexual-harassment-case-justice-ganguly-blames-wb-government-sc-panel/444098-3.html)

To show just how pervasive is the sentiment, more recently, I read the news of a woman politician and a member of a Women’s Commission who echoed a similar view. At a women’s event, she questioned why the Delhi Gang Rape victim was out at night. She added that a woman’s attire and behavior are prerequisites to rape.  (quote from her here)

A media honcho, Supreme Court judge and a woman politician in different ways each imply that rape could simply amount to a lapse of judgment and a woman should bear responsibility in terms of the hours she keeps and the clothes she wears.  In other words, she is not simply the victim of a violent crime but possibly responsible for the act itself.

Post the Delhi Gang Rape, there seems to be more of a consensus that rape is a terrible crime but is that enough to protect our women and children? The statements related above worry me since I clearly don’t hear one voice on “Why women are raped in India?”

While we criticize Khap Panchayats in Haryana or Tribal councils in West Bengal for being backward in their mindsets, we tend to forget that there are many among the “educated elite” in this country who have a similar outlook. They might not be as vociferous in their opinions but the above examples clearly show that the burden of proof is shifted to the victim.

Rape – of a woman, man or a child involves abuse of power and position. It involves objectifying the person, force and coercion. Rape is not consensual, it can never be. We tend to miss the crux of this issue by focusing on the unnecessary details; sometimes we do it to divert our attention from the bitter truth. Women are conditioned to believe that by stepping out of line, they could bring rape upon themselves.

We must condemn every act of violence against women and children and we must reach a consensus on assigning responsibility to the perpetrator and not the victim. We can recruit more policemen for safety, we can sell pepper sprays and teach our girls karate – but can we stop judging our girls and women?

 

INDIA’S FUTURE – RAPED AGAIN!

On 19th of April I was in the middle of conducting a workshop on Prevention of Sexual Abuse with 50 children in Mumbai as a part of ADMCFs ‘Break the Silence Campaign’ in India. While I spoke to the kids I felt as if I were playing a big role in shaping the future of my country. I told them how to protect themselves from abuse, how to say ‘NO’ when someone tried to touch them, how to escape, that there is a new law to protect them from abuse, that the people of India are awake after what happened in Delhi in December last year.

Yet, on the same day in a small flat in Delhi a 5-year-old girl was heard crying in pain by her neighbors. Starved for close to 40 hours and missing for two days, she was finally found. Soon the family discovered that a 22-year-old man who lived in the same building had raped the girl and left her to die.  Intoxicated, this mentally sick man raped the little girl in the worst possible way. He tried to kill her by strangling her and slitting her wrist. But the little girl survived against all odds. She perhaps survived to tell her tale to the world and pose a few questions to her countrymen. India’s future has been raped again and there are so many questions that need to be answered.

When the 23-year-old medical student was raped in Delhi in December 2012, the country felt that change had begun. Angry citizens condemned the Delhi administration, police and ruling Government. Promises were made of better policing, enhanced security for women, 24-hour helplines and stricter punishment for rapists. But the sad truth is that NOTHING has changed in the National capital and once again the administration has been caught making empty promises.

The horrific case of the 5-year-old girl has brought out in the open the incompetence and insensitivity of the Delhi police. A complaint was lodged on the evening of 16th of April when the girl went missing. Not a single policeman went to her residence to conduct a search; On April 19th, when the neighbors found the girl, the parents rushed to the police station to lodge an FIR (First Information Report). However, the policeman offered a bribe of Rs. 2000/- and asked them to shut up – they were told not to speak to the media. When two girl volunteers from a protest group tried to question the police, one of them was slapped; this was caught on camera and was flashed across news channels. It was only after public outrage that the police registered a complaint and suspended the cop who slapped the volunteer. But there are many more questions that need to be answered.

I wonder if police would have acted similarly if a parent from a posh colony in North Delhi had filed a missing persons complaint? I wonder if they would have offered the parents a bribe of Rs. 2000?  The administration in our country is biased toward people who are educated, who have the money and muscle power. Had this been a politician or industrialist’s daughter missing, the entire police force in Delhi would have worked round-the-clock to find the child. Perhaps the chief minister herself would be searching for the child. The police could not care about the daughter of two daily wage earners, who cannot speak English and don’t have the clout to move the administration. Do we really  value our children based on the class they belong? Have we reached this point?

The belief was that the Delhi gang rape would stand as a precedent to stop crime against women and girls in India. When it happened, people demanded death penalty for rapists.  a But I wonder whether the brutality suffered by the young medical student in December has really set a precedent? The 22-year-old man who raped the little girl had seen the protests in Delhi and also perhaps knew that the country is now looking at stringent punishment for rapists. In spite of this he had the courage to rape the little girl. Indeed, ironically, post the Delhi gang rape the number of gang rapes and sexual assault on children has continued to  rise in Delhi and elsewhere. Do we need to do something more than just announcing a death penalty for rapists?

This incident perhaps could also have been avoided only if we had a clear perspective on how we treat our rapists. The 22-year-old man is not a first time offender. He was allegedly involved in the rape of his sister-in-law in their village in Bihar; he also had raped his wife before marriage. The village council forcefully married him to his wife once they found out about the rape. This is common practice in many rape cases in India: An offender is married to the victim to save the family from shame in the society, with no regard to the women’s feelings. How I wish the village council had instead lodged a complaint against the rapist and put him behind bars – perhaps the 5-year-old girl could have been saved from trauma.

The lack of a vigilant community and proper mechanism for child protection is also out in the open. When the girl went missing, none of the community members or building residents took active interest in finding her. The girl was last seen playing outside the building and perhaps the lack of vigil helped the rapist to entice her to the basement with a chocolate. When the parents lodged a missing persons complaint, the police did not take any action; there was no search. This shows that we are not serious about child protection in this country.

We the people of India must something significant to curb this menace. Why can’t we make sex education and prevention of abuse compulsory in schools? Why can’t we educate communities about vigil and introduce child protection mechanisms at the community level? Why can’t we sensitize and train our policemen appropriately? Why can’t NGOs working in communities with children train parents about child protection? Can we stop marrying rapists to victims? The 5-yearold miraculously survived. But let’s not wait for a miracle to stop rapes in India.

Passionate protests, countless candles, endless banter & little action – 3 months after the Delhi gang rape, has INDIA changed?

Three months ago the horrific gang rape of a 23-year-old medical student in Delhi shook the consciousness of INDIA. A lot has happened since 29 December 2012, the day she passed away.

There have been violent protests, candlelight processions, silent prayers and endless conversations have centered on the need for INDIA to change. Some called it the uprising of the indifferent middle class, for others it was a student movement and still others felt it was an issue for the women’s movement in India.

Whatever the perspective, three months later I think it is time for us to ask ourselves has something changed? Do we have a better understanding of women’s issues in India? Has the government started to look at “systemic change” as promised? Do I as a woman feel more secure in Delhi and elsewhere?

I am afraid to be branded as a cynic, but my heart says and events prove that nothing much has yet changed. While I do not deny that there have been a few measures to show some intent towards reducing crime against women in India, I can sense an aversion from the Government towards long-term commitment and continuous thought on the issue.

The 80-year-old Justice J.S. Verma, the former Chief Justice of India, and two of his colleagues were given the task of looking at the entire body of laws relating to gender justice and crimes against women in India. The Government of India appointed this committee on the 16th of December. With the help of 18 juniors and more than 70,000 suggestions from activists, civil society, media, lawyers and experts across India, the committee put forth the benchmark 569-page report on “Amendments in the Criminal Law” in just 29 days.

The report was well received by all sections of society and the tremendous effort of Justice Verma’s team was applauded. The report covered almost everything from voyeurism, offensive IPC sections to acid attacks and sexual assaults on women.

What impressed me were the unbiased, apolitical, balanced and rational recommendations that showed the metal of a few legal geniuses. working under extreme pressure in the most volatile situation. They came up with something so comprehensive within no time. How I wish we all could learn from the way the committee functioned.

The Government thanked and applauded the committee for its hard work and accepted many of its recommendations. However, certain key suggestions were promptly rejected. The Government has ignored criminalizing marital rape, reviewing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and trying military personnel accused of sexual offences under criminal law, as well a barring politicians facing sexual assault cases from contesting elections. But the major recommendation that was rejected came in the form of “death penalty” for rapist’s verses “life imprisonment”.

“It was a unanimous suggestion of women leaders who have been fighting for the cause for decade,” Justice Verma said in an interview.  “The current trend is against the death penalty,” said Justice Verma in an interview. However the Government rejected it by arguing otherwise.

Based on the report, the government introduced an ordinance amending Indian Penal Code and other laws relating to rape and other sexual offences. And a law is likely to be passed in budget session of parliament next month related to the ordinance.

But women activists are not very happy with the ordinance, which makes the perpetrator of rape ‘gender-neutral’. This will mean that if a woman files a rape complaint against a man, he will be able to file a counter-complaint of rape against her.

The ordinance, in its present form, justifies and legalizes marital rape. Even if a wife separates legally from her husband, the husband will get a lenient (two-year) punishment if he rapes her. In India sexual assault by one’s spouse accounts for approximately 25% of rapes committed, but the Government seems to be in no mood to bring marital rape under the new law.

There has also been a big debate on reducing the age of a juvenile from 18  to 16 years of age. This is because one of the prime accused in the Delhi Rape case is 17 years old. There are contradicting opinions about reducing the age of a juvenile. Child rights activists feel there should not be generalizations based on one case, police and the girl’s family, however, want the juvenile hanged (which is not possible under the current law).

I am certain that the Government will hang all the 5 accused (except the Juvenile) mainly for two reasons: A big agenda points to the campaign for the 2014 elections and they will want to take the credit for delivering justice to the victim. It makes me wonder: can the death penalty scare rapists or potential rapists? Has this changed anything?

Over the past three months, we have been reading news of incest, gang rape, murder, from all over India. Shockingly 90% of the cases being reported are of Child Sexual Assault. The most recent one was the horrific rape and murder of three sisters (minors) who were begging for food in Bhandara, Maharashtra.

The Government is silent on Sex Education in schools, stronger programs for child protection, police reforms, and better political systems to have credible individuals as people’s representatives. After three months of passionate protests, countless candles and endless banter as a nation has INDIA forgotten its women and children?