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Don’t take the abuse

28 Feb
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India was in the headlines recently for a story that reverberated around the world. Was it a story that made us proud to be Indians? Unfortunately, the answer is no. The story that hit the headlines was about domestic abuse. India’s third highest diplomat in London was accused of assaulting his wife.

The rush of publicity which followed did not help the already tense situation and the traumatic subject of abuse once again reared its ugly head. Newspaper headlines from all over the world had their own point of view that went something like this. India is a country “where domestic abuse and disrespect for women seem to be the norm.” And another said “Women (in India) are sometimes abused to the point of being killed for not ‘towing the line’ as it were.”

The parents of the diplomat branded his wife amoral and accused her of trying to destroy their son’s reputation along with that of the country. The neighbours reportedly called the police but no arrest was made as the diplomat claimed diplomatic immunity. India’s Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao has warned potential offenders that there will be zero tolerance for incidents of sexual misconduct and domestic violence. “Any act of domestic violence or sexual misconduct will necessitate the immediate recall of the officer and his dependants.” However, the officer is still in the service of the Indian Administrative service and it is yet not clear if charges will be filed against him.

The reality is abuse happens all over the world and there are always people who see the victim as the wrong-doer and try to subdue, smear and terrorise the injured party. Let us first have a look at what exactly is domestic abuse.

What is domestic abuse?

It is the establishment of control and fear in a relationship using violence. But how can one human being allow another human being such control over them? Says Anita of her abusive relationship with her husband: “It was an act of ownership. I was his toy to do whatever he wanted. If I disagreed in any way it was hell. Soon I just let him have his way without any protest. Each violent act just made me feel guiltier.”

There are different types of abuse. There is physical, sexual, monetary, social and emotional abuse. Domestic abuse or violence is not just hitting, or fighting or arguing. It is an abuse of power. Physical abuse is the most easily recognised form of abuse. It can be any form of hitting, shaking, burning, pinching, biting, choking, throwing, beating and other actions that cause physical injury, leave marks or cause pain.

Domestic violence is among the most prevalent and among the least reported forms of cruel behaviour. Women are again the target but it also extends towards children. Although women are in the majority they are not the only victims. Many men too are abused by a spouse or partner.

An abuser wants to control the situation and the person, places blame on others and has little control over impulses and suffers low self esteem. All forms of domestic abuse have one main purpose: to gain and maintain control over the victim.

Domestic abuse and violence can happen to anyone and yet the problem is overlooked, excused or denied. This happens more often when the abuse is both psychological and physical. “I just felt guilty for making him angry. My husband was so good to me most of the time that when he gave me a couple of slaps I felt it was ok,” says Anju, who is still with her partner. According to Dr. Bhambri, a physician who has seen and counselled many women in abusive relationships, “In some cases it becomes a routine. The women in such cases are emotionally and sexually attached to their spouse and take the beatings as normal. In effect she becomes used to it.”

Across the board

An abuser does not play fair. An abuser uses fear, guilt, shame and intimidation to wear you down. Domestic abuse does not differentiate. It occurs across the board. It occurs within all age groups, ethnic backgrounds and economic levels.

One thing that is often heard in an abusive relationship is the abuser say that the victim made them do it. This is, of course, quite ludicrous. It is important to remember that there is no justification whatsoever for abuse.

Remember the abuser is good at manipulating victims. The abused sometimes does not recognise that he is abused, battered, depressed, scared, drained, and confused. Do remember that as a human being you deserve to feel valued, respected and safe. The oft-repeated healthy relationships based on give and take are the foundation of any relationship.

One has to learn to compromise and work with compassion on the relationship and each other. Communication is the key and the first step towards what is a tough battle to a better relationship. According to Dr. Bhambri, most men are violent because they see their spouse as economically inferior and physically weaker. Changed perceptions and mutual respect are key to a better relationship.

What are the reasons for abuse?

One must emphasise right at the outset that there should never be reasons for abuse. It is something that should never be condoned. However, we must look at the why behind such behaviour though there can never be any justification for such an act. Very often the battered might be mentally ill, or even abused themselves or not even realise that their behaviour is contrary.

Domestic control is not about losing control but more about having absolute control. These people are vindictive and manipulative and it is all about controlling the other person. The build-up to violence and the resultant repentant stage is a vicious cycle that occurs and reoccurs in a set pattern.

The important mark is realisation. You are on the road to recovery if you can face the truth and face your feelings. Coming out of denial is a huge step forward. Managing your shame and anger and overcoming fear of ostracisation are all steps towards becoming a better member of society. Agrees Sanjay, “I had a lot of anger within me and was hitting out all the time. I went through hell before I even realised what I was doing. Hitting had become a habit.” Today he is calmer and wiser but has lost his family as his wife left him with the children. Putting them in jail is a temporary measure and can sometimes lead to greater violence.

So where are we at today?

The reality today is that there is an urgent need to address and understand the issue. But progress is slow because attitudes are deeply entrenched and to some extent because effective strategies to address domestic violence are still being defined. As a result women worldwide continue to suffer, with estimates varying from 20 to 50 per cent from country to country.

This appalling toll will not be eased until families, governments, institutions and civil society and organisations address the issue directly and openly. “We cannot function in isolation and all of us must take the responsibility to curb this menace of domestic violence against women” said Sheila Dixit on inaugurating a campaign called ‘Bell Bajao‘.

The Domestic Violence Act 2005 is the first significant act in India to recognise domestic abuse as a punishable offence. A woman who is a victim of domestic violence will have the right to the services of the police, shelter homes and medical establishments. She also has the right to simultaneously file her own case. “The law is there for women with children who are trying to escape an abusive marriage,” says Manisha who has worked with countless women wishing to find some peace in a physically violent marriage.

What is important to remember is that anyone in an abusive relationship can influence and change the dynamics of the relationship. The trauma and misery can be changed. It requires strength and overcoming tough hurdles but it can be achieved.

Signs of domestic abuse

Abuse could be verbal or violence that leads to physical injury. A fear of your partner who is in control which means you do not want to anger him. Self-loathing, desperation and helplessness are emotions that vie with each other constantly and which also has a fair amount of self-questioning. Possessive behaviour and extreme jealousy and forced sex are other signs. You are in an abusive relationship if these points echo your relationship.

Pattern of abuse

All organisations agree that there is a general pattern that takes place in domestic abuse.

There is the build up phase when the tension increases. Verbal attacks increase followed by an explosive phase with violent outbursts. Once the violence has been unleashed and spent then remorse sets in. This is a period of self doubt and also of laying the blame on the other person. After which there is a time of promises that it will never occur again. This is followed by the Honey moon phase where everything seems alright and there are no problems whatsoever.

If you suspect domestic abuse

Speak up and do ask for help for yourself or others. It is very important to listen and validate and offer your help and support. However, it is of paramount importance that you do not wait, pass judgement, ignore or blame anyone. The most important point to remember is not to wait but act now, at once, today, this very moment. Seema’s sister was brutally beaten and barely managed to escape with her life. Says Seema, “I wish I had pushed her more to confide in me. I saw the signs but closed my mind when she would not be drawn.” She adds remorsefully “I just let it be when she needed me the most.”

The declining sex ratio

20 Feb

Missing social agenda in Haryana politics
by M.S. JaglanIN THE TRIBUNE

THE data released recently by the Director General Health Services, Haryana, paints a grim picture. An unfathomable ignominy is reflected by the figures. Of the 6.5 lakh registered pregnancies in the state in 2009, only 5.39 lakh delivered baby. In the prevailing social environment, surely, a logical contemplation would imply that a large number of missing pregnancies may have been terminated for the desire to have a male child.

The consequences are perceptible, 17 out of 21 districts in the state (till October 2010) experienced substantial decline in sex ratio at the time of birth in comparison to 2009 figures. This parameter of gender discrimination has shown an alarming declining trend during the last two years.During the current year, there were 838 girls born in comparison to 1000 boys. A cursory look at the worst performing districts — Rewari, Ambala, Kurukshetra, Faridabad and Jhajjar — would suffice to conclude that female foeticide and gender discrimination continue to be rampant all across geographical and cultural precincts in the state.

The statistics provided by National family Health Survey – III also clearly show that the ill-effects of gender discrimination are gripping the state. It reveals that in Haryana 42 per cent (0-3 age group) children are under weight, 27 per cent women have body mass index below normal and 56.5 per cent ever married women are anaemic.

A recent survey conducted by the state government under the Indira Bal Sawasthya Yojana revealed that about 64 per cent (6-11 age group) children are anaemic. Worse, the magnitude of the indicators of poor health of women and children has swollen over the period of time.

The state also does not provide a safe and secure living space to women either. The Tata Strategic Management Group based on the data on gender ratio and crime against women (National Crime Bureau, 2006 and 2007) has computed female security index (FSI) for all districts in the country. Not surprisingly, 17 out of 21 districts in Haryana have been rated among the worst FSI districts of India.Among the other districts, three fell in the category of bad and only one district provided average security to women.

The social security for women has also thinned down substantially in the wake of increasing incidence of gruesome murders of young women and men in the name of family or clan ‘honour’. The women, who dared not to follow the socially acceptable behaviour, perceived to have lost their chastity or displayed courage to choose their life partners in contravention of the reigning social order have to bear the brunt in the form of violence, coercion and killing.

There are numerous examples in the state where the medieval mindset of the people and its corollary institutions like the khap panchayats has directly or indirectly precipitated situations leading to the cold blooded murder of young women and men for defying the assumed sacrosanct and age-old established value system. Successive governments in the state led by different political parties have rarely responded politically to the grievous social issues. They have often taken them as administrative challenges and responded by launching various social welfare schemes through the state administration.Some of these schemes launched in recent years may have caught the imagination of people as well, particularly in the districts headed by socially committed and conscious officers. But the empty and hollow slogans for saving girl child like, chhori nahin bachaoge to bahu kahan se laoge (if you would not save the girl child, where would you bring the bride from?) merely reflect the poverty of thought behind the much-hyped social schemes.

Such appeals and slogans clearly reflect a sexist and chauvinist overtone and give an impression that the girl child must be saved to serve the male-dominated society.

The schema of social development hardly figures in the political agenda of main political parties in Haryana. This is a disturbing trend in a state where the level of social development is lower than most of sub-Saharan countries.Ironically, even in the 21st century, the dominant political view perceives and justifies the Haryana society being governed by the conventions of patriarchy – a system of social structure and practices that values male gender roles and devalues female gender roles. It declines to visualise that the perpetuation and accentuation of gender prejudice in modern human society amounts to social degradation.

The political parties in the state with the lone exception of the left have displayed opportunism while confronting social issues emanating from reigning social order. They often take shelter behind the social traditions and values. It has been reflected through the public debate on the issues of amendment in the Hindu Marriage Act to ban same-gotra and same-village marriages and enactment of laws on honour killings in the state in 2010.

The main Opposition party, the Indian National Lok Dal, has openly advocated the amendment in the Hindu Marriage Act to appease the vast majority of rural masses engrossed in caste and sub-caste nostalgia. The present ruling party in the state, the Congress, continues dithering on the issue of amendment in the Hindu Marriage Act.

The Congress does not favour enactment of legislation on honour killings either. This despite the fact that during the recent period the state has been the epicentre of the spate of brutal killings of youth for the so-called prestige of castes or clans.

There is an organic link between the continuing social underdevelopment and the nature of political discourse in the state. Despite taking a leap economically, the state remains socially backward as its ruling elites are keeping aloft the medieval social ethos and their functional forum, khap panchayats, to maintain their political hegemony.

The writer is Associate Professor, Department of Geography, Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra, Haryana

No honour in murder

22 May

AMMU JOSEPH IN THE HINDU

Youngsters in certain parts of India today cannot choose their partners. If they still do and the choice violates arbitrary, extra-legal norms set down by caste panchayats, the consequence can be death. Isn’t it time we built a popular movement against the medieval practice of honour killings.

KHAP PANCHAYAT AND HONOR KILLINGS

KHAP PANCHAYAT AND HONOR KILLINGS

A newly-wed bride and her mother-in-law were killed and the groom seriously injured by the girl’s relatives in the Tarn Taran district of Punjab on May 11. According to the police, 19-year-old Gurleen Kaur’s naked body had deep cuts in the neck area, and her shoulder and fingers had been mutilated. Her father, brothers and uncles obviously thought this was fit punishment for her crime: marrying 25-year-old Amarpreet Singh against their wishes.

Around the same time, an 18-year-old girl, Rajni Sahu, was murdered by her family in Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh) after they discovered she was pregnant. Although her death was initially sought to be passed off as a suicide, her elder brother subsequently confessed that she was killed because she was determined to marry a neighbourhood boy despite her family’s disapproval. He told the media that he killed her “to safeguard the honour of our family.”

These are among the latest in the series of gruesome murders in the name of honour that have been reported from various parts of the country in recent months.

Will such so-called “honour killings” stop if the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 is amended to prohibit marriages within the same gotra? Unlikely. That may be the most publicised of the demands and threats issued by the Khap Mahapanchayat — a congregation of caste Panchayats from Jat strongholds in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan — in Kurukshetra on April 13, and subsequently elsewhere. But it was not the only one. They have also reportedly called for a ban on marriages within the same village and contiguous villages, as well as de-recognition of temple weddings uniting runaway couples.

Landmark judgment

The mythical gotra factor may have come to the fore because the Kurukshetra gathering was clearly triggered by the recent landmark judgment delivered by District and Sessions Judge Vani Gopal Sharma in Karnal (Haryana) in the case of Manoj and Babli Banwala, a young couple belonging to the same caste and gotra, who were murdered in 2007 because they dared to marry each other.

But, as scholar and activist Jagmati Sangwan has pointed out, not all honour killings even within Haryana involve same-gotra couples. According to her, the majority of the marriages condemned by Khap Panchayats are of couples who do not share a gotra.

Besides, even in a small state like Haryana, there are apparently areas and castes that permit intra-village and intra-gotra marriages, and do not have caste or Khap Panchayats. So the self-styled Khap Mahapanchayat cannot legitimately claim to represent all Hindu communities in Haryana, let alone the rest of India.

Most victims of “honour killings” reported from various parts of the country are young people who choose to love or marry outside their caste, sub-caste or religion. Not surprisingly, the socially and economically dominant castes are usually responsible for acts of reprisal against inter-caste relationships.

The bottom line is that, even today, many young lovers are punished — often with death — for having the temerity to fall in love across boundaries of caste or religion. Many caste groups, communities and families in several parts of the country still seem violently opposed to the right of young adults to choose a life partner (even though courts have upheld citizens’ right to select their significant other, including a same-sex partner). In the name of preserving “social order” and saving the “honour” of the community, caste or family, all kinds of justifications are pressed into service. If the same village or gotra obstacle does not apply, there is always something else: a man was killed in Haryana last year for violating the “customary” proscription of marriage between residents of neighbouring villages.

Against individual choice

Opposition to matrimonial autonomy is so endemic in certain areas that in June 2008 Justice K.S. Ahluwalia of the High Court of Punjab and Haryana called for State intervention. While simultaneously hearing several cases relating to couples in the 18-21 age group he observed that the court was “flooded with petitions” seeking judicial confirmation of “the right of life and liberty of married couples,” while the State remained “a mute spectator”. “When shall the State awake from its slumber [and] for how long can Courts provide solace and balm by disposing of such cases?” he asked.

The recent spate of deaths attributed to “honour killing” and the aggressive, unrepentant posturing of Khap leaders seem to have pushed at least some in the government into taking a more decisive stand on the issue than was common in the past (under any political dispensation). However, it is no secret that these caste-based, extra-legal bodies enjoy at least tacit support from a number of political leaders, civil servants, police officers, lawyers and even judges. Already two politicians from Haryana — one supposedly enlightened, the other definitely old school — have publicly sought to make peace with the increasingly combative Khaps, albeit with riders (which ring rather hollow).

Sangwan’s statement that “A legislature with little political will and a pliant executive will have to be made responsive under pressure of a mass movement” brings to mind a recent book by the woman who was largely responsible for catalysing a popular movement against honour killings in Jordan, one of the many countries where a life — especially a woman’s life — appears to be worth less than “honour.”

Award-winning Jordanian journalist Rana Husseini’s Murder in the Name of Honouris a passionate, powerful, provocative but remarkably positive and eminently readable book about the struggle against “honour killings” in her West Asian nation and the prevalence of the crime in several other countries, including the U.S., the U.K. and Europe. Drawing on her personal and professional experience, it vividly tells the fascinating story of her engagement with the subject from the day she followed up on a four-line report about a 16-year-old girl killed by her brother in one of Amman’s poorer areas. Like the “kitchen accident” briefs in the Indian press in the 1970s that turned out to be about dowry-related murders, such reports were common in the Arabic press. As a cub crime reporter with The Jordan Times, Husseini felt the need to further investigate such deaths.

Relentless coverage

Each terrible tale she uncovered (described in chilling detail in the book) strengthened her determination to become the voice of women murdered by their own relatives and to make so-called honour killings into a national issue. Her relentless reporting of every case she came across from mid-1994 onwards attracted public support as well as opposition — even threats of violence. In 1998 she received the Reebok Human Rights Award for her reporting and activism on the issue. The international spotlight generated a national debate which, in turn, led to a citizens’ movement aiming to not only raise local awareness about the horror of “honour crimes” but also demand changes in the law as well as tougher punishment for perpetrators.

Of the many interesting and inspiring aspects of the Jordanian struggle against “honour killings,” the one that impressed me most was the organisers’ attempts to involve different sections of society, including the economically and educationally disadvantaged in both urban and rural areas, in the effort to eliminate such crimes.

According to Husseini, “We used every method we could think of to collect as many signatures as possible — the Internet, faxes, free and paid ads in newspapers, as well as TV and radio interviews. It was tremendously exciting; we carried the petitions with us wherever we went and whatever we did, and we always caused a stir… I frequently went with my friends…to restaurants where we approached diners…and many gladly signed as we chatted. Then we asked the waiters, waitresses, cooks, cleaners and managers. Outside one restaurant I bumped into a garbage collector who asked me what I was doing. Once I explained, he said, ‘Of course I will sign. This is against our religion’.” Husseini’s mother, a librarian, asked everyone she came across wherever she went to sign the petition. In less than six months, the campaigners managed to collect 15,300 signatures from the general public (55 per cent male, 45 per cent female).

Of course, as she points out, the struggle against “honour killings” has to be home-grown because the nature and manifestation of the crime, the social, cultural, political and economic factors involved, and the legal context, are often distinct in the various places where it occurs, calling for different approaches in different societies. For example, in Jordan — and many other countries — “honour killings” are almost invariably crimes against women and girls. In India, although women are the primary targets, young men who ‘ dare’ to transgress prescribed social boundaries are often not spared either.

Striking similarities

But there are similarities, too. According to Husseini, some influential and powerful people in Jordan, such as parliamentarians, judges, lawyers and policemen, believe that perpetrators of “honour killings” deserve leniency because everyone has the right to protect their family’s honour. In India, Sushma (Tiwari) Nochil has had to seek a review of the Supreme Court’s recent decision to commute to life imprisonment the death penalty awarded to her brother and his associates, who had murdered her husband and most members of his family. The judgment seemed to suggest that the patriarchal and casteist factors motivating the killers could be considered mitigating circumstances.

Likewise, if we have the Khap Mahapanchayat, they have the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan. If they have their conservative deputies, we have our regressive members of Parliament and, unfortunately, we both face “a great deal of apathy and laissez-faire from various parliamentarians.”

But here’s an advantage they have that we don’t. According to Husseini, several members of the Jordanian royal family signed the campaign petition; King Abdullah and Queen Raina have spoken out against so-called crimes of honour; Queen Noor has consistently fought to end violence against women in general and honour crimes in particular; the late King Hussein made a passionate plea in Parliament for an end to violence against women, besides pushing for changes in the laws offering leniency to perpetrators of honour killings; his brother, Prince Hassan, was one of the first royals to address the issue in the mid-1990s; two days after the legislative battle was lost in Parliament in 1999, Prince Ali (King Abdullah’s brother) called for a public march to Parliament in protest against the deputies’ decision to vote against the proposed amendments — and led it himself.

Monarchy may be passé in India but we have no dearth of modern-day royals in a number of fields such as politics, cinema, sports and business. Will they step up and speak out on an issue like murder in the name of honour?

Horrifying numbers

Honour killing is a somewhat misleading term for a ritualised form of murder precipitated by the aggressor’s perceived loss of “honour.” The perpetrators are generally male and the victims most often female. Some sections of society consider such crimes understandable, if not justifiable.

There is no nationwide data on the prevalence of honour killing in India; the National Crime Records Bureau does not collect separate data on the crime since it is not yet separately classified under Indian law. However, according to the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) there were 103 cases of honour killings in Haryana alone within a period of four months in 2007. If that figure can be extrapolated to assume that the annual toll in the state is about 300, the total across the three states reporting the largest number of cases at the time (Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh) would be 900 per annum. If another 100-300 are added for the rest of the country, the figure for India would be about the same as estimates for Pakistan, which some researchers suggest has the highest per capita incidence of honour killings in the world.

Global phenomenon

This form of violence is a global phenomenon, prevalent in a number of countries. Ten years ago the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimated the annual world-wide number of “honour killing” victims at 5,000. But that is probably an underestimate since many cases go unreported, while many more are disguised as suicides, accidents and disappearances. Between 2000 and 2004 the UN General Assembly adopted three resolutions reflecting international commitment to working towards the elimination of crimes against women committed in the name of honour, with the third acknowledging that girls, too, are victims of such crimes.

Ancient claims

Gotra is a term applied to a clan, a group of families, or a lineage — exogamous and patrilineal — whose members trace their descent from a common male ancestor, usually a sage of ancient times. Believed to have begun to consolidate around 10-8 Century B.C., the present-day gotra classification is supposed to have been created from a core of eight rishis. Same-gotra marriages were declared legally valid by the Bombay High Court as far back as in 1945 in the Madhavrao vs. Raghavendrarao case involving a Deshastha Brahmin couple. Two reputed judges — Harilal Kania (who became the first Chief Justice of independent India) and P.B. Gajendragadkar (who went on to become the Chief Justice of India in the 1960s) — examined several court verdicts, consulted the writings of leading experts and quoted from Hindu scriptures in their ruling on whether a ‘sagotra’ (same-gotra) marriage was valid under Hindu law/custom. They concluded that it was.

Outside the law

18 May

T.K. RAJALAKSHMI IN THE FRONTLINE

Khap panchayats want the Hindu Marriage Act amended to prevent same-gotra marriages.

ON May 9, Naveen Jindal, the young and highly educated Member of Parliament from Kurukshetra in Haryana, was in a dilemma over having to take a stand on the issue of same- gotra marriages after khap panchayats, or caste councils, threatened to lay siege to his residence. The next day, in order to avoid an impending political embarrassment, he attended a meeting of the sarva khap panchayat at Kaithal district as if to extend support to their demands. That ruffled a few feathers.

Of late, khap panchayats have been demanding an amendment to certain sections of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, in order to prohibit same- gotra marriages. The immediate context is the March 30 verdict in the sensational two-and-a-half-year-old Manoj-Babli murder case in which a Karnal court awarded the death sentence to five persons. The court also sentenced to life imprisonment two others, one of whom was a khap panchayat leader of the Barwala gotra. Manoj and Babli, both Jats, had apparently violated the norms of village and gotra exogamy and were brutally done to death. A dominant khap in the area had ordered that the couple be killed.

Ever since the judgment, khap panchayats have been on the offensive, perhaps fearing similar verdicts in other cases of honour killing. On April 13, representatives of over 20 khaps met at Kurukshetra and demanded a ban on same- gotra marriages.

Section 29 of the Hindu Marriage Act validates same- gotra marriages. The section, titled “Savings”, says that “a marriage solemnised between Hindus before the commencement of this Act, which is otherwise valid, shall not be deemed to be invalid or ever to have been invalid by reason only of the fact that the parties thereto belonged to the same gotra or pravara or belonged to different religions, castes or subdivisions of the same caste”. Though the Act lists degrees of prohibited relationships, it accepts that under customary law certain marriages are valid. For instance, in certain parts of South India, marriages between cousins (children of a brother and sister) and between a man and his sister’s daughter are common and valid by custom.

Also, recognising the plurality of customs in the country, Section 5 (Sub-section 4) of the Act says that a marriage between two Hindus can be solemnised if the parties are not sapindas (meaning, of the same body) of each other, unless the custom or usage governing each of them permits of a marriage between the two. The sapinda relationship with reference to any person extends as far as the third generation in the line of ascent through the mother and fifth in the line of ascent through the father. Khap panchayats want the Act to be amended to disallow same- gotra marriages and it is in this context that they met their elected representative.

A cornered Jindal, in a letter to the khap representatives, acknowledged the existence of khap panchayats since the time of rulers such as Asoka and Harshavardhana and said they had always given a “new direction” to society. He declared his support to them by saying that the panchayats had been rendering yeoman service to society by resolving people’s problems even before the present-day legal system came into existence. As if to balance his unqualified support of their undemocratic diktats, he urged them to take up issues such as female foeticide and dowry.

The young MP made certain pronouncements that indirectly supported the actions of such panchayats. What is shocking in the entire episode is that while khap panchayats have been known to impose their cruel writ on young couples going for inter-caste, inter- gotra or even inter-religious marriages, enforce social and economic boycotts and humiliate families – more so if they happened to be poor as well – this was the first time that an elected representative was bulldozed into taking a position on same- gotra marriages.

Significantly, no one in the Congress party to which Jindal belongs condemned or protested when the khap panchayats threatened to lay siege to his house. It was as if Jindal had to fight his own battle.

However, Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda broke his silence a few days later, clarifying that khaps would not be allowed to take the law into their own hands. But he remained non-committal on the issue of same- gotra marriages.

The central leadership of the Congress took a more radical view of the matter and broke its silence when confronted with Jindal’s stance. It claimed that his statements were an “expression of opinion by an honourable Member of Parliament” and that there was no change in the party’s stand on the matter, which, according to party spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi, was that “no customary law or practice can be excused or condoned in any manner if it involves killing of any kind in the name of honour, tradition or heritage”.

The Union Law Ministry has refrained from taking a head-on position regarding the banning of khap panchayats. But, in what seems to a progressive move, in line with what women’s organisations have been demanding for long, the Ministry appears to be seriously contemplating to do away with the 30-day notice period required to register marriages, including inter-caste, inter-community and inter-religious ones, solemnised under the Special Marriage Act, 1954.

The one-month time was often used to track down and harass couples. Union Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily has overruled the question of making any change to the Hindu Marriage Act, and indicated that a strong deterrent against khaps issuing death diktats would be set in place. However, khap panchayats have been aggressive in their demand to amend the Act. The representatives of 20 khaps who met at Kurukshetra on April 13 challenged the Karnal court judgment and declared that they would collect money on behalf of those who had been sentenced to death and life imprisonment.

Observers feel that the forthcoming panchayat and municipal elections are one reason for the sudden caste-based mobilisation. On May 2, khap panchayats, in a meeting held at Pai in Kaithal district, gave all elected representatives in the State a month’s notice to support their demand.

On May 4, Satbir Chahal, the organiser of the Akhil Bharatiya Jat Swabhimaan Sangathan and the Sarvajatiya Committee (all-caste committee), said that if the demand to amend the Act was not met, tough decisions would be taken at the all-caste panchayat meeting at Jind on May 23. He also announced that the panchayat would not allow the hanging of those who had been sentenced to death in the Manoj-Babli case. According to newspaper reports, representatives from 84 khaps attended the meeting.

The organisation also expressed annoyance with the Congress leadership for labelling Jindal’s views as personal. It has asked the Congress to clarify its position on same- gotra marriages.

Not surprisingly, former Chief Minister and Indian National Lok Dal leader Om Prakash Chautala has taken up the issue. He not only supported the demand for amendments to the Hindu Marriage Act but opined that such marriages were not right “medically or scientifically”. His stand is surprising as his own village, Chautala, has witnessed such marriages.

Om Prakash Chautala also said that he would bring up a proposal in the Assembly regarding the same. He has found an ally in Congress Rajya Sabha member Shadilal Batra, who has supported the demand for an amendment to the Act.

That leaders of the two mainstream parties in the State have taken a stand favouring khap panchayats is a matter of concern. This will have repercussions in neighbouring States such as Rajasthan and Punjab and in western Uttar Pradesh, where Jats as a caste group are dominant.

“It is ridiculous. If couples in love are willing to give up their lives to get married, they will find ways of marrying one way or the other, including outside the Hindu Marriage Act. I don’t know what these groups and political parties are trying to prove,” said Inderjit Singh, State secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), adding that the current trajectory of caste identity politics was worrisome.

Parallel system

It maybe recalled that soon after the infamous Mirchpur incident on April 21, where 18 Dalit homes were torched and a physically challenged girl and her father killed, khaps rallied in support of those arrested in the arson. Many quarters view with concern the attempt to create a parallel law and order system that goes beyond honour killings.

“After a long history of struggles, the Special Marriage Act was amended to allow for inter-caste, inter-religious and inter-community marriages. Under the Hindu Marriage Act too, the consent of a person to get married became essential and gotra marriages were not included within the degrees of relationships that were prohibited. It was recognised that a gotra involved a large number of people – their numbers running into lakhs – who were not necessarily direct or indirect relations of each other. Section 29 of the Act specifically provided that marriages between persons of the same gotra or pravara would not be invalidated,” said Kirti Singh, senior lawyer in the Supreme Court of India.

Formerly a member of the Law Commission of India, Kirti Singh said that the issues at stake included the rights of young people to get married according to their choice and to decide when they should get married. Khaps, she said, wanted the Act amended in order to justify their violent acts against young couples in the name of protecting custom and tradition.

http://www.flonnet.com/stories/20100604271111800.htm

They slog and slave, yet get a pittance

5 May

They slog and slave, yet get a pittance

They slog and slave, yet get a pittance

MEERA RAMESH IN THE HINDU

We have a housemaid. She is less than 45 years of age. But she is already a grandmother. She would be barely reaching five feet at her highest and tipping the scale at maybe 50 kg. She lives in a single-room tenement on the fifth floor of one of the apartment complexes constructed by the previous governments with so much fanfare, but now sadly lacking in maintenance and is a source of worry for all the inhabitants as to when suddenly the whole structure might come down.

Lifts are unheard of in tenements, so she has to climb up and down the five flights of stairs at least three or four times a day. She was married once. But her husband turned out to be a great devotee of liquor shops, where he blew the family income. She left him. Her daughter and her granddaughter stay with her. Her son-in-law followed in his father-in-law’s footsteps and turned out to be another ardent devotee of liquor. She rises at 4.30 in the morning so that she can supply milk sachets to about 30 households. This is an everyday chore whether it rains or shines or she feels sick. Excuses could mean her losing a client and income. She manages to earn about Rs 1,500 a month on this enterprise. When she completes the delivery of milk, she will have some time to have her morning meal of rice soaked in water along with salt, chillies, onion and, maybe, coconut chutney. If she is lucky, she would have something a little more nutritious, depending on the generosity of the women in whose households she works.

She works in four households where she has to sweep and swab the floor, and wash dirty dishes and used clothes. In the mornings and quite often in the evenings too. It does not leave her with much time to eat in peace or rest. Or do any of her own chores. She manages to earn about Rs. 3,000 from these jobs as a maid. In the present day and age, a sum of Rs. 4,500 is not enough to make both ends meet. So irrespective of how tired she is, to supplement her income, she visits the wholesale market for flowers to supply households and make some extra cash.

She has no leave. No holidays. No medical benefits. No PF or gratuity. She ekes out a living as long as she has good health. But this woman brings comfort to four households and makes a qualitative difference to them. They are spick and span. They escape the drudgery of menial chores. They have time to do their own work. To be neat and tidy, and to enjoy themselves. All because of one overworked, underfed and underpaid woman! There are thousands and thousands of such persons bringing comfort and ease to millions of households. In the evenings, I watch the IPL matches with my husband. It is a battle between the ball and the bat. The ball is a white, round leather object. And the bat is a piece of wood with a handle. The wielders of the bat and the ball are paid humungous amounts of money. For a pursuit, an exercise which in no way has any qualitative impact on the lives of me or the other millions of households. Apart from being a spectacle, it has no relevance to or impact on our day-to-day life. My question is why a person like my maidservant, or an auto driver, a bus driver, conductor, and many others who bring comfort to us and make our lives so much easier get such meagre earnings. While a useless pursuit like throwing around a leather object or hitting the object with a wooden implement should be rewarded so exorbitantly. Mind you, if there is no IPL it would make no difference to our lives, But without the maid and the others I mentioned, life would be miserable. Is this injustice god-made or man-made? If it is god-made, then god has a weird sense of justice. If man-made, then it is time something is done about it. Is it any wonder that radical philosophies have so many takers?

http://beta.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/article419466.ece

ARTICLES ON THE WOMEN RESERVATION BILL PUBLISHED IN THE FRONTLINE

24 Mar

Women for equality

Interview: Brinda Karat

Interview: Sharad Yadav

Unequal burden

Left in the lurch

Health & hopes

Stilled in the womb

Doubly deprived

Cut off by caste

Interview: Malini Bhattacharya

Power to resist

Armed Forces
Women’s victory

KHAP PANCHAYATS IN HARYANA

7 Feb

Khap panchayat decision ‘abhorrent’, says Haryana caste body president

INDIAN EXPRESS  FEB  07 2010

A 22-year-old woman in Haryana has thrown the gauntlet at the powerful Jat khap panchayat (village caste council), refusing to follow its diktat to start living with her husband of three years as “brother and sister”. The president of the larger body of khap panchayats has now denounced the diktat as “abhorrent”.

The defiance of Kavita — whose marriage to Satish was summarily declared annulled by the khap panchayat in Rohtak’s Meham Kheri village on January 30 because husband and wife belonged to the same gotra — was reported by The Indian Express on February 6.“I will never agree to their decision,” Kavita, who has a 10-month-old baby and is one of only three women in her village who have a diploma in teacher’s training, had said.

Today, Randhir Singh, chief of the Meham Chaubisi, the umbrella body of khap panchayats in whose jurisdiction the panchayat of Kavita’s village lies, said he strongly disapproved of the diktat.“Let me be very categorical. The manner in which punishment was meted out to the family was abhorrent,” said Singh. “In our view, the marriage was wrong, but the way the Kheri panchayat went about administering its justice was doubly wrong. This is why I have called a meeting on Tuesday (February 9). We want to avoid any sort of violence or unrest.”The area has been tense since Kavita complained to the Rohtak SSP against the khap panchayat’s order, and an FIR was registered against 21 people. The family is now living under police protection.Meham Chaubisi is the most powerful khap panchayat body in Haryana, with influence over 3.5 lakh people. In the early 1990s, Meham Chaubisi had famously and violently stood up to former Chief Minister Om Parkash Chautala. Singh, who is in his sixties, is aware of the significance of the decision taken by a Meham Chaubisi panchayat in a state where khap panchayats annulled over 40 marriages in 2009 alone.

“I know the girl well,” said Singh. “She is a very docile and polite child. All the (strong) utterances she has been making are under the influence of the media and some relatives. However, the whole issue should make us ponder over an ill which has been ignored for a long time now.”Singh was referring to the social ill of female infanticide, which, he said, had shrunk the number of women available for marriage, and contributed to the rising number of weddings between the “prohibited sets of gotras”.“Haryana has the one of the worst sex ratios in India. I think this is a collective failure of our society. Today there are villages, where there simply aren’t enough girls. Considering their far reaching influence, it is high time that panchayats took a lead in this direction.”Satish and Kavita belong to the Berwal and Beniwal communities respectively, who are, as per local custom, bound by consanguinity and hence barred from marrying each other.

“This is not irrational,” Singh said. “Even some of our greatest social reformers have warned against the dangers of marrying within the same family. For example, Swami Dayanand Saraswati specifically said that there should be a gap of at least seven steps between two families. It is a practice that is being followed since time immemorial.”Despite his arguments in favour of the separation of gotras, Singh, a former officer in the state government, wants to do everything to avoid violence.“Contrary to projections in the media, we are not like the Taliban. We are simply upholding our customs. The main purpose of the meeting on 9th is to avert bloodshed. We don’t want lives to be lost.”

He has some idea of the possible “solution”: “I think if we can convince the couple to leave the village and allow the parents to live in their home with dignity, the solution can be sorted out.”However, this is a solution that both Kavita and Satish have already rejected. At Satish’s home, 50 km away from Kavita’s, Satish’s 20-year-old brother Ravinder put forth a condition: “My brother and sister-in-law may leave the village only if the man who made my father go around the village with a shoe in his mouth is made to do the same. He is a powerful local politician, but he cannot treat people like this.”

http://www.indianexpress.com/news/khap-panchayat-decision-abhorrent-says-haryana-caste-body-president/576576/0

This Haryana caste panchayat story has a twist: a woman stands up to fight back

Holding her 10-month-old son, Kavita, 22, repeats just one line: “I will never agree to their decision.” Overnight, the khap panchayat (caste council) in Maham Kheri village, annulled Kavita’s 3-year-old marriage. The Jat caste panchayat declared that Kavita and her husband Satish were of the same gotra and cannot live as couple. The panchayat announced that they had to treat each other as siblings.Not an unusual story in Haryana’s Jat heartland but this one has a twist: Kavita, one of the three women from the village with a diploma in teacher’s training, has refused to buckle. She is fighting back.

“How can they decide one fine morning that I should treat my husband as my brother? All of them attended our wedding, they even sat during the pheras when the gotras of both the bridegroom and the bride were announced. Then nobody raised a question, so why now?” she speaks out as the other women of the house remain huddled on the kitchen floor and as two constables, posted for their security, watch.Kavita went with her family to the Rohtak SSP’s office to lodge a complaint against the khap panchayat early this week. An FIR was registered against the 21 members of the panchayat and forced the council to call a review meeting. In a meeting held on Friday, the khap panchayat apologised to Satish’s father for parading him with a shoe in his mouth. The members decided that in case Kavita and Statish wanted to live together, they would have to leave the village. But for Kavita, that’s not an option. “Why should I?” she says.

“We have registered an FIR based on Kavita’s complaint and we are investigating the case. Based on the findings, we will take appropriate action against the persons found guilty,” says SP Rohtak, Anil Kumar Rao. An assistant sub-inspector posted in Hissar was also part of the khap panchayat. “We have reported his involvement to his superiors in Hissar who will take departmental action against him,” Rao adds.Even as Kavita is running from pillar to post against the panchayat’s ruling, her husband stays inside his house, 50 km away. Its courtyard is full of relatives. Three police constables, who have been posted for the family’s security, pass on the hookka and take part in the discussions.The only person who is not involved in the talks is Satish, a temporary worker in a milk plant in Rohtak. Since the khap panchayat order, he has not even stepped outside the house, fearing backlash.“I do not know why they targeted us. The local numberdar wants to fight for panchayat elections as sarpanch. Maybe he just wanted to rake up some issue,” Satish says.

“On January 30, the khap panchayat started at 12:00 pm. Instead of having it in an open chaupal, they held it behind closed doors. They came out at 4:00 pm to announce the decision,” Kavita says.The panchayat then forced a shoe in mouth of Kavita’s father-in-law Azad Singh and paraded him in the village. His wife Laxmi fainted. Kavita’s brother immediately took her home. “I did not have time to pack and why should I pack? I am not abiding by this decision. I will go back soon to my husband,” Kavita says.The drama began when Hawa Singh Pradhan, who retired from the Haryana State Electricity Board, went to a neighbourhood village, Charkhi, to visit his relatives. While leaving, as per tradition, he was distributing money among the women of the family. During the brief interaction, an old woman who belonged to the Beniwal gotra told him that one of her granddaughters was married in his village.

Within hours, the news had spread across Maham Kheri village that Kavita and Satish were from the same gotra. Within three days, a 21-member committee was formed and a decision taken. “The marriage stands annulled and they should live as brother and sister,” Pradhan says. “The village is volatile because of this issue. We have taken this decision to calm down the villagers.” Kavita is waiting for February 9 when the khap panchayat of 24 villages will be held. “I will not leave my village. I have done no wrong,” she says.

http://www.indianexpress.com/news/this-haryana-caste-panchayat-story-has-a-twist-a-woman-stands-up-to-fight-back/576346/0

Victim of khap panchayat order files complaint with Rohtak police

INDIAN EXPRESS

The controversy over a same-gotra marriage in Rohtak district of Haryana has taken a new turn after its victim filed a formal complaint seeking registration of a case against the Benewal khap panchayat. Kavita, who was forced to leave her in-laws’ house on January 31 following a diktat issued by the khap panchayat, met Rohtak Senior Superintendent of Police Anil Kumar Rai on Wednesday, seeking action against the panchayat for issuing an “unconstitutional” order declaring her marriage null and void. She also sought reunion with her husband Satish of Kheri Meham village.

Rai said her written complaint had been forwarded to the station house officer (SHO) of Meham for necessary action. In her complaint, Kavita has alleged that it was a pre-planned conspiracy to disrupt her marriage and action must be initiated against the panchayat so that it was not repeated again. Meanwhile, the mahapanchayat of Meham Chaubisi is scheduled to meet on February 9 to resolve the issue. —C B Singh

http://www.indianexpress.com/news/victim-of-khap-panchayat-order-files-complai/575231/

Woman, baby forced to leave in-laws’ home on khap order

INDIAN EXPRESS

Following the orders of a khap panchayat, a resident of Kheri Meham village in Rohtak, Haryana, was forced to leave the house of her in-laws with her nine-month-old son on Sunday. On Saturday, the Kheri Meham khap panchayat had declared the marriage of Kavita Beharwal with Satish Benewal illegal, and ordered her to leave the village. Kavita of Bagi village in Jhajjar had got married to Satish in November 2007. After remaining silent for two years, on Saturday the Kheri Meham panchayat ruled their marriage invalid as they were of the same gotra and, even though they had been living together for two years, were like siblings.Meanwhile, parents of Kavita met representatives of the Meham Chaubisi and informed them about the undemocratic decision of the Kheri panchayat.

Satpal Sings, PRO of SSP office Rohtak, said: “We have not received any complaint from the girl’s or the boy’s parents. We will act once we receive the complaint.” On Sunday, a Mahapanchayat of nearby villages was summoned to review the directions issued by the Kheri Meham panchayat, but its members did not turn up. The issue has now been referred to the Meham Chaubisi, the panchayat representing 24 villages of the area, who will soon meet to take a final decision on the marriage.

http://www.indianexpress.com/news/woman-baby-forced-to-leave-inlaws-home-on-khap-order/573841/

Khap panchayats are not above Constitution, says Punjab CJ

INDIAN EXPRESS

Making it clear that khap panchayats are not above the law, Punjab and Haryana High Court Chief Justice Mukul Mudgal on Friday expressed serious concern over the diktats issued by such bodies.“Are you trying to say that khap panchayats are above the Constitution? This is not Afghanistan, this is India. Talibani courts cannot be allowed here,” said Justice Mudgal. He was hearing a case related to a PIL filed by an NGO, Lawyers for Human Rights International.

In an intervening application, advocate Pirthi Singh Chauhan had stated that khap panchayats were not doing anything illegal. “Khap panchayats are complimenting customary law and it is the right of khap panchayats, rather their fundamental duty as well, to abide by the customs,” said the plea. Referring to a case in which a person, Ved Pal, was lynched by a mob in a village for marrying within the same gotra, Chauhan stated: “The acts of Ved Pal and his wife amounted to public nuisance, affecting other members of the religion.”

Saying that the victim had not conformed to the “conditions of a valid Hindu marriage,” he added: “Marriage between same gotra is strictly prohibited. The actions of khap panchayats are not inconsistent or derogatory to the Constitution. Any restrictions imposed by the khap are valid.” Chauhan further stated that “If khap panchayats do not impose restrictions, then violators will destroy the society and create chaos. Ved Pal wanted to destabilise the society and administration”.Reacting sharply to the application, the Chief Justice made it clear that nobody is above the Constitution.Appearing for the NGO, advocate Navkiran Singh argued that khap panchayats are an affront to the establishment of judicial system. “The diktats of these panchayats cannot be allowed in a democratic set-up,” he said.

http://www.indianexpress.com/news/khap-panchayats-are-not-above-constitution-says-punjab-cj/553290/0

When women become ‘witches’

7 Feb

Saira Kurup, TNN, 7 February 2010, 02:21am IST  , TIMES OF INDIA

RANCHI: On January 2, 2010, three masked men barged into Pinki’s home in Tapodana village, Ranchi district and killed her parents on the charges of practicing witchcraft Pinki , 14 and her younger brother are now in hiding because she too has been named as a dayan or witch. Sushila Devi, 45, tries to hide the injury on her head with her sari pallu as she describes how she and four other village women, mostly widows, were beaten, paraded naked and forced to eat excreta in Patharghatia village in Deoghar district, Jharkhand on October 17, 2009.  They were accused of being dayans. “There were at least 10,000 villagers watching when these women were beaten up. Word had spread that the dayans would be dancing,” says Deepak Kumar Deo, legal trainer with an NGO, Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra (RLEK) in Ranchi.

A witch doctor (ojha) ‘treating’ a woman accused of being a witch; Sagrina Bibi (left) and Gulinoor Bibi, who were assaulted for being ‘dayans’ in October last year

A witch doctor (ojha) ‘treating’ a woman accused of being a witch; Sagrina Bibi (left) and Gulinoor Bibi, who were assaulted for being ‘dayans’ in October last year

Pinky and Sushila are lucky to be alive because scores of women are killed on charges of witchcraft in states like Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal annually. Between 2001 and 2008, 452 women were killed in Jharkhand, according to a report by an NGO, Association for Social and Human Activities. Jharkhand’s economic backwardness and a low literacy rate of 53.6% (38.9% among women) make for a fertile environment that breeds superstition, illiteracy and violence against women. Even the death of an animal becomes a trigger for condemning some poor woman as a dayan. Often, it’s an excuse to grab property or settle scores with someone.

Although Jharkhand has a witchcraft prevention Act — under which the maximum punishment is a one-year imprisonment, its implementation is still awaited. RLEK chairman Avdhash Kaushal says, “Lack of access to justice is the main problem. But there are many other barriers too, such as of distance, of attitude towards rural people.”  Keeping that in mind, RLEK organized a legal literacy programme in a village near Ranchi last month, during which hundreds of women were able to voice their grievances to Supreme Court and High Court judges, state bureaucrats, and officials of the National Legal Services Authority (Nalsa). Reacting to Pinky’s and Sushila’s cases, HC Justice M Y Eqbal said while witch-hunting should invoke stricter penalties, it is more important to spread awareness.

But economic insecurity is also a tough enemy. Many women at the village meet complained about not receiving their widow pensions and not getting work under NREGA. Those who do get work said they are paid less than men. Despite their trauma, Safina Bibi, Sagrina Bibi, Gulinoor Bibi and Majidan Bibi — the other four women who were assaulted along with Sushila Devi – are more concerned about getting a “lal card” or the ration card. However, there’s now a glimmer of hope, with Union woman and child development minister Krishna Tirath saying recently that there would soon be a law against witch-hunting. But would that ensure justice for the likes of Pinki and Sushila? That, unfortunately, still seems a long way off.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/sunday-toi/view-from-venus/When-women-become-witches/articleshow/5543904.cms

HOME MINISTRY DIRECTIVE TO STATE POLICE DEPARTMENTS ON VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND HUMAN TRAFFICKING

20 Sep

The Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Shri Ajay Maken today said that the Government of India in close co-ordination with the various State and UT Governments had intensified measures against Human Trafficking and Crime against women. Shri Maken also informed that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) along with United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), will be organizing a workshop for training of trainers of all stake holders against Human Trafficking by the end of this year. The Conference will be inaugurated by the Home Minister, Shri P Chidambaram, he said. After this workshop, the MHA also intends to organize similar workshops for stake holders from SAARC countries in line with Government of India’s offer of conducting training programmes for Capacity building for implementation of the SAARC Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children, he elaborated.

In this regard the Ministry had convened a meeting of the Nodal Officers for Human Trafficking of various States and UTs on August 28, 2009 and had pushed forward the agenda of co-ordinated and intensive efforts against trafficking, Shri Maken informed.

While the meeting resolved to strengthen the respective Nodal Officers and Offices at the Centre and in the States, it also deliberated upon certain common operating procedures and practices, following which MHA has issued the following two advisories to the State Governments and UT administrations to issue suitable directions to all concerned to check crime against women and Human Trafficking;

Advisory regarding Measures needed to curb Crime against Women issued on September 4, 2009.

Advisory on Preventing and Combating Human Trafficking in India issued on September 9, 2009.

Main Points of advisory on checking crime against women

The advisory  has detailed measures that are needed to curb crime against this vulnerable section of the society.  The States and UTs have also been asked to convey the status on the measures to the Centre within a month. The Government of India have been advising the State Governments from time to time regarding the steps that need to be taken to afford a greater measure of protection to the women and in particular to prevent incidence of crimes against them.  Through the advisories, the State Governments were also requested to undertake a comprehensive review of the effectiveness of the machinery in tackling the problem of women and to take appropriate measures aimed at increasing the responsiveness of the law and order machinery.

Some State Governments, no doubt, have taken some measures in this regard. However, the inputs regarding crime against women available with this Ministry indicate that these measures need to be strengthened further. Despite several steps being taken by the State Governments, picture still is very grim and disappointing. Complaints are still being received regarding non-registration of FIRs and unsympathetic attitude of police personnel towards rape victims and victims of violence.

The National Commission for Women has been undertaking visits to various States to review the status of women and has been making available findings of their inquiry to the concerned State Governments as well as to the MHA.  The reports of the inquiries conducted by the Commission in specific incidents indicate that the level of sensitiveness and care with which crime against women should be handled is not up to the desired level.

The Government of India is deeply concerned with these trends and ground situation and has re-emphasized that urgent action should be taken on the following:-

  • Vigorously enforce the existing legislation relating to Crime against Women and Children, i.e.,  Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956, Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986, Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987 and Violence against Women (Prevention) Act, 2005, Section 67 of the IT Act, 2000, the display of lascivious photographs/films on computer through internet, etc.
  • Government must ensure proper enforcement of law and convictions in women related crimes.  Enforcement agencies should be instructed in unambiguous terms that enforcement of the rights of the weaker and vulnerable sections including women and children should not be downplayed for fear of further disturbances or retribution and adequate preparation should be made to face any such eventuality.
  • The administration and police should play a more proactive role in detection and investigation of crime against women and ensuring that there is no under reporting.
  • Increasing the overall representation of women in police forces.  The representation of women in police at all levels should be increased through affirmative action so that they constitute about 33% of the police.
  • Sensitizing the law enforcement machinery towards crime against women by way of well structured training programmes, meetings and seminars etc., for police personnel at all levels as well as other functionaries of the criminal justice system.
  • Government must take concrete steps to increase awareness in the administration and among the police in particular, regarding crime against women, and take steps not only to tackle such crimes but also deal sensitively with the ensuing trauma.

For improving general awareness on legislations, mechanisms in place for safety and protection of women, the concerned department of the State Government must, inter-alia, take following steps:

  1. Create awareness through print and electronic media;
  2. Develop a community monitoring system to check cases of violence, abuse and exploitation and take necessary steps to curb the same;
  3. Involving the Community at large in creating and spreading such awareness; and
  4. Organize legal literacy and legal awareness camps.
  5. Explore the possibility of associating NGOs working in the area of combating crime against women. Citizens groups and NGOs should be encouraged to increase awareness about gender issues in society and help bring to light violence against women and also assist the police in the investigation of crime against women.  Close coordination between the police and the NGOs dealing with the interests of women may be ensured.
  6. There should be no delay whatsoever in registration of FIR in all cases of crime against women.
  7. All out efforts should be made to apprehend all the accused named in the FIR   immediately so as to generate confidence in the victims and their family members;
  8. Cases should be thoroughly investigated and charge sheets against the accused persons should be filed within three months from the date of occurrence, without compromising on the quality of investigation.   Speedy investigation should be conducted in heinous crimes like rape. The medical examination of rape victims should be conducted without delay.
  9. Ensure proper supervisions at appropriate level of cases of crime against women from the recording of FIR to the disposal of the case by the competent court.
  10. Help-line numbers of the crime against women cells – should be exhibited prominently in hospitals/schools/colleges premises, and in other suitable places.
  11. Set up exclusive ‘Crime Against Women and Children’ desk in each police station and the Special Women police cells in the police stations and all women police thana as needed.
  12. Concerned departments of the State Governments could handle rape victims at all stages from filing a complaint in a police station to undergoing forensic examination and in providing all possible assistance including counseling, legal assistance and rehabilitation.  Preferably these victims may be handled by women so as to provide a certain comfort level to the rape victims.
  13. The specialized Sexual Assault Treatment Units could be developed in government hospitals having a large maternity section.
  14. The Health department of the State Govts., should set up ‘Rape Crisis Centres’  (RCCs) and specialized ‘Sexual Assault Treatment Units’ (SATUs), at appropriate places. RCCs could act as an interface between the victims and other agencies involved.
  15. The administration should also focus on rehabilitation of the victims and provide all required support.  The police should consider empanelling professional counselors and the counseling should not be done by the police.
  16. For improving the safety conditions on road, the concerned departments of the State Government must take suitable steps to:
  17. Increase the number of  beat constables, especially on the sensitive roads;
  18. Increase the number of police help booth/kiosks, especially in remote and lonely stretches;
  19. Increase police patrolling, especially during the night;
  20. Increase the number of women police officers in the mobile police vans;
  21. Set-up telephone booths for easy access to police;
  22. Install people friendly street lights on all roads, lonely stretches and alleys; and
  23. Ensure street lights are properly and efficiently working on all roads, lonely stretches and alleys.
  24. The local police should arrange for patrolling in the affected areas and more especially in the locality of the weaker sections of the society.  Periodic visits by DM & SP will create a sense of safety and security among these sections of the people.
  25. Special steps to be taken for security of women working in night shifts of call centers.
  26. Crime prone areas should be identified and a mechanism be put in place to monitor infractions in schools/colleges for ensuring safety and security of female students. Women police officers in adequate number fully equipped with policing infrastructure may be posted in such areas.
  27. Action should be taken at the State level to set up of Fast Track Courts and Family Courts.
  28. Dowry related cases must be adjudicated expeditiously to avoid further harassment of the women.
  29. Appointment Dowry Prohibition Officers and notify the Rules under the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.
  30. All police stations may be advised to display the name and other details of Protection Officers of the area appointed under the Domestic Violence Act, 2005.
  31. Police personnel should be trained adequately in special laws dealing with atrocities against women. Enforcement aspect should be emphasized adequately so as to streamline it.
  32. Special steps may also be taken by the police in collaboration with the Health and Family Welfare Department of the State to prevent female foeticide.
  33. Special steps should also be taken to curb the ‘Violation of Women’s Rights by so called Honour Killings, to prevent forced marriage in some northern States, and other forms of Violence’.
  34. Ensure follow up of reports of cases of atrocities against women received from various sources, including NCW & SCW, with concerned authorities in the State Governments.

The advisories issued by MHA, inter-alia, include gender sensitization of the police personnel, adopting appropriate measures for swift and salutary punishment to public servants found guilty of custodial violence against women, minimizing delays in investigations of murder, rape and torture of women and improving its quality, setting up a ‘crime against women cell’ in districts where they do not exist, providing adequate counseling centers and shelter homes for women who have been victimized etc.

Main points of advisory on preventing and combating human trafficking in India

The key points include implementation of legal provisions in the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act 1956; Juvenile Justice Act 2000; Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006; capacity building of the State machinery; prevention of trafficking; investigation and prosecution and rescue and rehabilitation measures. The states and UTs have also been asked to convey to the Centre the present status within one month. The key points have been worked out in collaboration with the related Ministries of Women & Child Development, Labour & Employment and Health & Family Welfare.

To facilitate matters in this regard, MHA has already established an Anti Trafficking Cell (ATC) which deals with the following major subject matters:

  • All matters pertaining to the criminal aspect of trafficking in human beings especially of women and children, which is the fastest growing organized crime and an area of concern.
  • To act as the Nodal cell for dealing with the criminal aspect of Human Trafficking in India, hold regular meetings of all States and UTs, communicating various decisions and follow up on action taken by the State Governments.
  • To interface with other Ministries like Women & Child Development, Social Justice &Empowerment, External Affairs, Overseas Indian Affairs, Labour & Employment, Law, and NCRB regarding the criminal aspect of human trafficking.

The Anti Trafficking Nodal Cell of MHA has developed an MIS proforma for the monitoring of the action taken by various State Governments regarding the criminal aspect of human trafficking as well as crime against women.  The State Governments are required to send quarterly information.

http://pib.nic.in/release/release.asp?relid=52750&kwd=

Girls rescued from the hand of flesh trader in Sikkim

16 Sep

16 Sep 2009:

Voice of Sikkim:

Man named Vidur Rai who was possessing the girls was arrested here at Gangtok as said by SP East Mr. Tuli. Human Trafficking in North East is increasing day by day in lieu offering teens handsome amount of Rs 50,000 to Rs 60,000. The traders usually give a promise to deploy victim in a good salaried job at Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore like other cities but they finally push innocents into a flesh trade business.

The shocking incident occured when a seven girls were rescued from Syari and Tadong at capital from hand of such intruder.  However some more rackets can be exposed if Sikkim Police takes the Human Trafficking matter seriously and perfoms some sting operations in the capital town Gangtok, local people says.

http://voiceofsikkim.com/2009/09/15/girls-rescued-from-the-hand-of-flesh-trader-in-sikkim/

MEDIA COALITION AND SHAKTI VAHINI EXPRESS THE GRAVE CONCERN OF INCREASING NEW TREND OF SIKKIMESE GIRLS BEING TRAFFICKED. THE GOVERNMENT OF SIKKIM HAS TO TAKE IMMEDIATE  STEPS TO MONITOR ALL THE EXIT ROUTES OF SIKKIM FOR TRAFFICKING. IF  TRAFFICKING CONTINUES UNABATED AND THE GOVERNMENT REMAINS SILENT AS A SPECTATOR VERY SOON THE DEMAND OF GIRLS FROM SIKKIM AND NORTH EAST WILL INCREASE AND THIS MAY EMERGE AS A REPLACEMENT OF NEPALI GIRLS WHO HAVE BEEN TRAFFICKED TO INDIA FOR MANY YEARS.

EVEN THE HOME MINISTRY HAS TO TAKE URGENT STEPS TO STOP THIS TRAFFIC.

THIS NEWS COMES JUST TWO DAYS AFTER A SIKKIM GIRL WAS RESCUED BY VIGILANT POLICE MAN FROM THE RED LIGHT AREA OF DELHI.

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