Aliya Bashir – WNN Features
A woman protester in Srinagar, Indian Administered Kashmir holds up a placard along with others asking for legal rights and protective laws for women following numerous cases of sexual violence in Kashmir and throughout India on January 10, 1213. Image: Aliya Bashir/WNN (WNN) Srinagar, India Administered KASHMIR, SOUTH ASIA: “Justice has to and should be done.”; “Justice delayed is justice denied.”; and “Teach your sons not to harass rather than teaching your daughter how to dress.” – these were some of the recent slogans that men and women of all ages in Kashmir have been chanting to show solidarity with the victims of violence in the northern Indian Administered region of Kashmir. Condemnation against the perpetrators with what advocates have described as ‘shock and outrage’, have reached the public from all quarters of the Kashmiri region. The protesters come from a wide and diverse population, from all genders and ages as they join hands to fight for the rights of women in the region. The goal: to pressure law-enforcement agencies to amend their existing sexual assault laws in India’s northern Jammu and Kashmir region. They also hope to get the high court in India’s capital city of New Delhi to improve laws protecting women. “The seriousness of rape and sexual assault warrants the need for better investigation and prosecution of such cases,” says the new Amnesty International India submission to India’s Justice Verma Committee, which is working to examine current laws in India that cover issues of violence against women. “When attempting to seek justice, the victims of such assault often find themselves at the mercy of a system riddled with misconceptions, bias and delay,” continues Amnesty International India. Cases of sexual assault in India have been increasing, even though violence against women in India is not new, but the intensity of injury to women also appears to be increasing. In only one year, from 2009 to 2010, India’s NCRB – National Crime Records Bureau statistics show that rape crime is rising in the region at a shocking rate. “The number of Rape cases showed significant increase…,” outlined India’s NCRB in 2011. In 2009 the total number of cases of rape in India that were scheduled for trial, including cases extending over from 2008, was 84,940. But only 3,698 sexual assault cases reached a conviction in 2009. There is currently one rape case in India every 22 minutes, says the NCRB. The December case of the ‘illegal’ transport bus gang rape in New Delhi; the case of a minor girl raped in Kashmir’s Shopian district; and the recent January 2013 stalking acid attack of a 30-year-old private school teacher in Kashmir’s capital city of Srinagar have brought widespread protest to the streets of Srinagar. But are the vigorous prosecutions of these cases reaching the courts? And more specifically, are victims being helped as much as possible under the law? Specific local law reform may now be in process in the Jammu and Kashmir region, as well as regions throughout India, but first examination of the intake and processing for rape victims in police stations; by medical staff; and in the courts must be made. An additional recent case of violence against with a 19-year-old teen-girl’s rape case in the beautiful Himalayan tourist area in the Kashmir town known as Pahalgam, on December 31, 2012, is only one in an a growing list of cases that are reaching a growing and larger ‘concerned’ public. The use of forensic DNA rape assessment kits, also called ‘rape kits’, to help in the prosecution of cases to provide clear and undeniable evidence for court prosecution is seldom used in India. Instead women are often demeaned and psychologically damaged by what advocates say are “callous” police and medical practices. In some sexual assault cases the ‘two finger test’ is done to women who report rape. This test has no medical, scientific or forensic basis. Instead it assesses the amount of sexual activity a woman has been involved in prior to a rape as a preconceived ‘judgement’ on the morality of a rape victim. This amounts to what numerous advocates call “a second rape” by police and/or medical staff when a woman tries to report sexual violence. Too often a woman who reports a rape is also accused by others of dressing in a way that ‘invites’ violence. “Even if a woman doesn’t dress properly, a man still does not have the right to rape her,” said Shameema Firdous, Chairperson of India’s State Women’s Commission. “This is unjustified by any logic of human nature that to justify their criminal pretensions, they hold the opposite gender responsible for their own culpability. Women are indeed at the receiving end. At [the] commission we always deal with such cases where women are always held responsible directly as well as indirectly,” continued Firdous. Even though the Indian Evidence (Amendment) Act of 2002 deleted section 155(4) and added a new protective section stating that it is not permissible for a victim to be cross examined with questions about her ‘moral character’ this law has not been enforced. Today protesters throughout India are asking that stronger legal protections for women are enforced. They are also asking that the two finger test be banned definitively from any mention or use in court. “…there is a strong and urgent need for a systemic change that will result in the specialized treatment of cases involving sexual assault and rape,” says human rights advocates Amnesty International India. “This change may be brought about through amendments to the existing laws and policies relating to the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault trials,” they continued. Questioning the security of women in the workplace in Srinagar, the teacher who was victim of the acid-based crime was followed by a previous suitor who had been rejected years earlier, but she had few protection against this stalker. Brought to New Delhi, India for reconstructive surgery in the Indraprastha Apollo Hospital this victim is now in recovery, but the scars of her injuries with severe trauma on her appearance and the loss of 80 percent of her ability to see in one eye will impact her for the rest of her life. “The patient has been admitted today [this] afternoon with severe acid burns to her face and small patches on her right upper limbs,” said the hospital press office on January 3, 2013. Although her attacker was arrested under charges of ‘attempt to murder’, a delay in reporting the acid violence by the family may cause this victim to face an uphill climb in court. Local merchants and others protest against violence against women following acid violence against a school teacher on the streets of Srinagar on January 4, 2013. Image: Aliya Bashir/WNN As a mark of protest all the shops, and other commercial businesses, in the Lal Chowk section of Srinagar closed their shutters following the acid attack. “All the recent incidents of crime against women are just tip of an iceberg,” says human rights activist Khurram Parvez, who is also the Program Coordinator for the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society. “The assaults on women are not new. Women rights are at par with human rights, so we need not to delve into petty issues but we should try to look for road map where such attempts are not repeated in the near future,” he added. Declining public confidence in the ‘law-and-order situation’ and stigma under rape in Kashmir many of the cases of violence against women have gone under-reported. This is the same throughout India. Noted human rights activist for women, literature professor at Srinagar’s Kashmir University and Chair of the KCSDS – Kashmir Centre for Social and Development Studies, Hameeda Nayeem, is saying that women who are capable of leading independent lives are now also becoming soft targets for men who commit violence in society. The mindset in which one thinks about a woman’s safety first should not be connected to what a woman chooses to wear in public, Nayeem outlines. “It is unfortunate that more and more rapes are getting reported these days and instead of accusing the wrong-doers, who go scot-free, many people preach [to a] woman how she should implement and inculcate the concept of avoidance [of sexual violence],” Professor Nayeema said. The KCSDS recently held a round table conference to discuss ‘Different forms of violence against women’ calling for what they say is “pro-active judicial activism” throughout the Jammu and Kashmir region to deal with the perpetrators of crimes against women. They are also calling to push for the establishment of a fast track two month process with crime report; to investigation; to court process for women who report sexual violence. Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mr. Omar Abdullah made a recent statement that: “laws alone won’t do” to change the mindset of men in the problems of violence against women. “No matter how many laws we make but unless we don’t change our mindset towards women, nothing is going to change. As long as we think we can harass women, it is going to be bad,” the Chief Minister said on January 5, 2013 during a press meeting in Srinagar. “If we want to cut the roots of the crimes, we need to address the basic issues of gender sensitization and a social boycott for the victim so that everyone gets a lesson before committing any crime,” said legal advocate and member of the Bar Association of Kashmir, Abdul Rashid Hanjura. One of the pronounced problems with the law covering rape in India is that the legal definition of ‘sexual assault’ has not been completely defined. Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ali Muhammad Sagar for the Jammu and Kashmir state of India has begun consultations with civil society and criminal experts as amendments to the laws covering violence against women may move forward. Since the wake of public outrage following the December case of the gang rape in New Delhi, and the death of the woman victim who died due to her injuries, funding for fast track courts throughout India has been ordered by Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir. “Justice shouldn’t be delayed. Why should we suffer?” says activist and street protester Seerat Yusra, who is an active participant in public efforts to improve the system of justice in Kashmir. As police departments tighten public safety procedures in the City of Srinagar and surrounding regions, the fate of ‘fair law’ reform may hinge most directly on protective law enforcement. But advocates say that education is needed to fight against what they call ‘the effects of patriarchy’ that contribute to the support of male violence in the Kashmir region, and also in the larger regions of central and southern India. “The society should protect the daughters of Kashmir instead of mistreating them by engineering attacks like rapes, harassment, molestation and now throwing acid,” added Yusra. The state government in Jammu and Kashmir is now currently talking about bringing the death penalty into laws that cover the rape of a minor. Amnesty International India regional director Ananth Guruswamy spoke out against the use of the death penalty in a recent editorial written for CNN – Cable News Network. “Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all circumstances, regardless of the circumstances or the nature of the crime. It is the ultimate cruel and inhuman punishment, and a violation of a fundamental human right — the right to life,” said Guruswamy. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender, or the method used by the state to kill the prisoner. At this time, only six judgements concerning rape can be currently seen on the website for the Supreme Court of India – under the Jammu and Kashmir High Court case log covering a two year period from January 1, 2010 – January 1, 2013.
Zita Gurmai, representing the Magyar Szocialista Párt – Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, speaks out in Brussels at the plenary session of the European Parliament on 18th January 2013 about the need for greater safety for women throughout the India’s region. “The shameful events in the past few weeks are a tragic reminder of the fact that Indian women remain exposed on a daily basis to physical and sexual abuses and social discrimination. The rape and murder of this young student that drew widespread public outrage is therefore only the tip of the iceberg,” said Member of the European Parliament Gurmai
For more information on this topic: “Mapping Violence Against Women,” Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India, Ms. Indira Jaising, Executive Director, Lawyers Collective Women’s Rights Initiative Additional Solicitor General, Supreme Court of India, CEDAW Committee Member, March 2012; “Public comments and suggestions to the J.S. Verma Committee on amendments to criminal laws relating to the safety and security of women,” CLPR – Centre for Law and Policy Research, January 2013; “Amnesty International submission to the Justice Verma Committee 4 January 2013,” Amnesty International India, January 2013; “Alleged Perpetrators: stories of impunity in Jammu and Kashmir,” International People’s Tribunal for Human Rights and Justice in Indian Administered Kashmir and Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, December 2012.
Additional sources for this story include Amnesty International India, CNN – Cable News Network, Ministry of Women and Child Development in India, CEDAW, India Ministry of Jusctice, CLPR – Centre for Law and Policy Research, The European Parliament, Supreme Court of India and India’s NCRB – National Crime Records Bureau.
Women News Network – WNN correspondent in Kashmir Aliya Bashir has also written for Kashmir Life and The Hindustan Times, as well as Global Press Institute, UPI and World Pulse. As an investigative journalist, Bashir has specialized in reporting on women and health, social-justice, global women’s news, human rights and political analysis. Some research and material for this story has also been provided by the editors at WNN.
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