Wednesday, 3 August 2011


When 50-year-old Usha Vashisht received a lewd call on her cell phone she ignored it. But soon it became a regular feature. Then she decided to file a complaint with Delhi police's anti-obscene cell. “To my surprise, even after innumerable attempts no one answered the 'dedicated' helpline number 1096,” she recalls. Then she filed a complaint with police control room. “I was assured that I will be informed of any updates in the case but the officer concerned never called back,” she says.

This miserable state of security for women is also reflected in a report released by the United Nations- UN Women. The report titled “Progress of the World's Women” looks at access of women to legal systems across the world. The report offers interesting facts in context to India. While it praises the Panchayati Raj system for an active participation of women it notes that 39 per cent of both men and women feel that it is sometimes or always justified for a man to beat his wife. In addition the report data shows that 35 per cent women in India face physical violence and 10 per cent women face sexual violence at the hands of their partners.

Activists say the findings show that there is a need for stronger laws. They note the discrimination and exploitation has been going on for too long and in many cases women are denied the rights over their own bodies by their spouses leading to marital rapes and more often irrespective of the capacity of a woman’s body she is forced to either have a child or abort one. “India being a patriarchal society, not many changes have been made (to the laws),” says Nilanju Dutta, Manager of Violence Intervention Team, with a Delhi-based NGO named Jagori. Though marital rape is not a new phenomenon, the country even after 64 years of independence still awaits an exclusive law on the same. Paroma Ray, programme officer with Lawyers Collective- a public interest service providing organisation, Delhi notes, “The law against rape does not include marital rape.” In a way, this gives the men the sanction to ill-treat their spouses.

The crime against women is on the rise. As per the records with National Crime Records Bureau's (NCRB) a total of 11,009 cases of sexual harassment were reported and the conviction rate was 49.2 in 2009 & the number of sexual harassment cases reported in 2008 were 12,214 & the conviction rate was 50.5. In 2009, 89,546 cases of cruelty by husband & relatives were reported & the conviction rate was 19.8, while the cases reported in 2008 for the same were 81,344 & the conviction rate was 22.4 per cent.

But still many a times women do not come forward and complain. The UN report says the reason lies in the functioning of the judiciary. It notes that the participation of women in the Indian judiciary is a mere three per cent. “The ratio of women in the judiciary is disproportionate. Out of the 28 judges in Supreme Court only one is a woman. The High Court has barely 20 to 25 per cent female judges,” says Ray. Another reason why women are hesitant Ray says is the lack of accountability in the justice delivery system. “Not too many laws have been monitored and evaluated.”

The report also mentions, in 1996, an Indian NGO, Sakshi talked to lawyers, judges and female litigants to explore the impact of judicial perceptions and decision-making on women who come to court. More than two-thirds of the judges said that women who wore provocative attire were inviting rape.

Ray says in order to improve the access to judiciary for women the implementation system (for laws) needs to be overhauled. “Implementation mechanism is holistic in nature. Proper training is required for the people in the legal system. If the police are not trained properly, then they will not know how to deal with the women (which can in turn discourage the women to approach the police).” For example The Domestic Violence Act, 2005 calls for a female constable to accompany the woman who has complained. “The Act in itself is sufficient, but the implementation is a problem. If you want a female constable to be available at all times then she has to be provided with various provisions like basic amenities and pick and drop facility.”

As per the report, in order to ease the position of the victim, more women should be inducted in the police force and law courts.

The basis of this report is the 1979 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) adopted by the UN General Assembly. So far a total of 186 countries have ratified the Convention, committing themselves to undertake steps to put a full-stop to discrimination against women. India ratified this Convention on July 9, 1993.

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