Women’s Rights In India, Five Years After The Delhi Bus Rape
The Debrief: Legally, women have rights to bring attackers to justice, but a new report says that, in practice, that's not the case...
In December 2012, the world was stunned after the story of the gang-rape, mutilation and murder of Jyoti Singh, an Indian woman living in Delhi, who dared to be out at night. Protests were held across India by strident feminists and human rights activists calling for India’s rulers to make rape and other sexualised violence history. However, according to a new report, nearly five years on from the brutal attack, nothing much has changed for the majority of India’s women.
While the case drew attention to the plight of women across India, it also shone light on the seriously regressive views which keep them oppressed. For instance, one of the rapists’ lawyers blamed Singh for asking for trouble by being alone at night with a man she wasn’t married to: ‘Until today I have not seen a single incident or example of rape with a respected lady. Even an underworld don would not like to touch a girl with respect.’
And it looks as if these views - especially in the rural areas of India where infrastructure and education are harder to come by - still continue.
According to human rights charity Human Rights Watch [HRW], ‘women and girls who survive rape and other sexual violence often suffer humiliation at police stations and hospitals’. Additionally, many are subjected to tests that the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare tried to put a stop to in 2014.
Not only are police often unwilling to register survivors’s complaints, there is no legal protection for them in Indian law, and then the ‘two-finger’ test is administered by health professionals. This ‘degrading’ act involves a professional - yep, someone is paid to humiliate a woman like this - putting two fingers inside a rape survivor’s vagina. If the two fingers enter easily, the woman is taken to be a regular enjoyer of sex and is written off as unbelievable. If the two fingers don’t go in so easily, the woman is not used to having sex, and therefore more likely to be believed. This still goes on because India’s health care is a federal structure, meaning that it’s up to each individual state within India as to whether they will tell health professionals to stop making ‘degrading characterisations about whether the victim was “habituated to sex.”’
Indian law decrees that any police officer who doesn’t register a sexual assault complaint faces two years in jail. However, it still doesn’t happen, especially in cases where the victim is from ‘an economically or socially marginalised community’. In several cases that HRW looked at, survivors’ families were forced to ‘settle’ or ‘compromise’. Women from lower castes are often pressured to change testimony so as to clear men from more powerful castes.
While there is access to legal help in the form of victims being compensated a minimum of 300,000 rupees, out of 21 cases HRW analysed, only three saw the survivor compensated. Additionally, a One Stop Centre Scheme, where survivors can access police assistance, legal aid as well as medical and counselling services, has been set up at 151 locations across the country, but they are disorganised and not many people know about them.
Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of HRW said: ‘Reporting rape should not contribute to the victim’s nightmare,” Ganguly said. “It takes time to change mindsets, but the Indian government should ensure medical, counseling, and legal support to victims and their families, and at the same time do more to sensitize police officers, judicial officials, and medical professionals on the proper handling of sexual violence cases.’
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