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Rural sisterhood forms rings of steel for victims of rape

29 Mar

Shreya Roychoudhury, 29.03.2009 , Sunday Times of India

No institution assures them justice, no organization fights for their rights and no counsellor helps them pick up the pieces of their lives. But the initial findings of a nationwide study reveal that rural victims of sexual abuse are beginning to fight back in their own way.

Call it the sisterhood of India Invisible. Mobilizing village communities, picketing police stations and ridiculing attackers are some of the ways rural women are using to take on their assailants, says an 11-state study conducted from October 2007 to December 2008 by a Delhi-based NGO Swanchetan. It used data collected by state police forces and NGOs working with rural victims of sexual violence.

The researchers note that 85% urban women betray sadness, remorse and guilt when describing their experience of sexual violence but most rural women express rage. Unsurprisingly then, village women use inventive modes of protest.

In West Bengal’s Murshidabad, three upper caste men raped 23-year-old Ranu in front of her children. In retaliation, the women of Ranu’s fishing community spread a stale catch outside the house of her alleged attacker. The stench spread as quickly as word of the protest got around. Thereafter, on a daily basis, women and children dumped stale fish outside the house. Soon, men joined the protest. Stale fish was also dumped near the police station because the cops refused to lodge a case.

Ranu said in an interview for the survey that the protest was fun and everyone got involved. They called it the “Go throw a stale fish” campaign. The mound of rotting fish only grew. The police were finally forced to lodge a case. Clinical psychologist Rajat Mitra, who headed the Swanchetan study, recalls Ranu’s staunch belief. She had said that the smell of something revered by her village as the source of money and food would bring justice. Women bonding to fight sexual violence is an emerging phenomenon, say village workers. There is a very real reason, says Motilal Bahetu, a social worker in Jaunpur in eastern UP. “In the last few years, more than 80% of the men from these villagers have moved to towns and cities to work. Women stay back to manage the family. As a result, there is more bonding and sisterhood”.

Some say the change is a reflection of the growing awareness of rural women, especially Dalits. “In Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Maharshtra, women say that they will not tolerate (injustice). They have their constitutional rights and will protest,” says Ruth Manorama, who campaigns for Dalit women in Bangalore.

Mitra says that women are empowered when they form a collective. Sometimes, there are individual acts of fierce resistance, not least 30-year-old Sushma (name changed) in Sahilganj about 150 km from Jaunpur. When she was attacked by two “upper caste” men last year, the mother of two fought back so hard she injured her assailants to the extent they required surgery, says Mitra.

The police initially refused to register her complaint and did so when Sahilganj’s woman gheraoed the local police station for hours. The women also prepared a skit incorporating the attack and performed it in neighbouring villages. It gave them an opportunity to laugh at the incident as well as focusing attention on it, says Mitra.

It was very different a few years ago. Then, raped women were more cowed and could rely upon being ostracized. But attitudes are changing and there is growing awareness that sexual abuse is often used as a tool in rural India to stamp caste superiority.


NHRC gets compliance report form States and UnionTerritories on Vishakha guidelines

3 Aug

New Delhi July 30, 2007 All the States and the Union Territories have made necessary amendments in their conduct rules and regulations to implement the Supreme Court’s guidelines on sexual harassment at the workplace.

The National Human Rights Commission, which had been supervising the implementation of the guidelines, has been given the compliance reports by all the States and Union Territories in this regard.

In the year 1997, the Supreme Court issued the Vishakha guidelines on sexual harassment at the workplace. The inception of the guidelines came about after Bhanwari Devi, a 50-year-old social worker in Rajasthan fought the practice of child marriage as a part of her job as saathin in the villages. The upper castes were taken aback by the action of Bhanwari Devi who challenged their tradition, despite belonging to a lower caste. Five men from the upper caste family of the child gangraped her in the presence of her husband. To add to her miseries the village authorities, the police and doctors all dismissed her situation and the trial court acquitted the accused. Appalled at the blatant injustice and inspired by Bhanwari Devi’s unrelenting spirit, saathins and women’s groups all over the country launched a concerted campaign to bring her justice. They filed a petition in the Supreme Court under the collective platform of Vishakha, asking the court to take action against sexual harassment faced by women in the workplace. The result was the Supreme Court judgment of 1997, popularly known as the Vishakha guidelines.

According to the Supreme Court guidelines, sexual harassment includes any unwelcome physical contact or advances; demands or requests for sexual favours; sexually-coloured remarks; displays of pornography; other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.

The judgment created mandatory sexual harassment prevention guidelines for the workplace, applicable all over India. All employers or responsible heads of institutions must institute certain rules of conduct and take preventive measures to stop sexual harassment in the workplace. The guidelines direct employers to set up complaints committees within the organization, through which women can make their complaints heard. These complaints committees must be headed by women, and at least half its members should be women. To prevent undue pressure from within the organization, the committee should include a third-party representative from a non-governmental organization or other individual, conversant with the issue of sexual harassment.

The National Human Rights Commission took up the issue and consulted with government departments, private institutions/agencies as well as NGOs with a view to set up a complaint mechanism. The Commission supervised the implementation of the guidelines and the norms of the Supreme Court and now has the compliance report from all the States and the Union Territories.

India developing first anti-sexual harassment law

3 Aug

ndia’s government is tackling criticism on all sides while trying to create its first-ever legislation to stop sexual harassment at work.

The proposed law aims to put an end to everything form dirty jokes to physical abuse. However, some critics say the law is too flimsy while others say it’s open to abuse.

The proposed law, which parliament will review when it resumes later this month, states “gestures of a sexual nature whether verbal, textual, physical, graphic or electronic” are “unwelcome conduct.”

However, the law would only apply to women working in the organized sector, which includes factories, hotels, airlines, textile mills, parts of the farm sector and offices.

Of India’s hundreds of millions of working women, only 1.5 million are considered part of this formal sector.,
August 2, 2007

The majority (89 per cent) of the 270 million workers in India’s unorganized sector are women and this law wouldn’t afford them any protections, said Jaya Arunachalam, a prominent Indian feminist.

While the law won’t cover all working women, sexual harassment is rife in India’s organized sector. In 2005, Indian air force pilot Anjali Gupta was court-martialed for misconduct after she accused three superiors of sexually harassing her. The year before, three trainees were fired when they levelled similar charges.

The proposal would offer victims leave from work, transfers if they wish and compensation from money deducted from the salaries of their abusers.

Men’s rights groups, including the Save Family Foundation and the Protect Indian Family group, say that the law would open to rampant misuse and that some women would exploit the legislation to further their career.

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