“I have been mandated by the Human Rights Council to seek and receive information on violence against women, its causes and consequences, and to recommend measures to eliminate all forms of violence against women.
I would like to begin by expressing my thanks to the Government of India for having invited me to visit the country from 22 April to 1 May. The invitation, which was in response to a request from my mandate, was received prior to the events that led to the death of a young woman in Delhi on 16 December 2012. The protest actions and outpouring of sadness and anger; and the extensive coverage by the media, both local and global; has generated a huge focus on the issue of violence against women and girls in India. This mission has generated country-wide interest, and also, demands for the addressing of this systemic problem as an urgent imperative, at both the State and the non-state levels.
During my visit, I held meetings in New Delhi, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Manipur, and gathered information from other states, including Tamil Nadu. I am grateful to all my interlocutors, including Union and State authorities, National Human Rights Institutions, representatives of civil society organisations, and United Nations agencies. Most importantly, I want to thank the individual women who shared their personal experiences of violence and survival with me. The pain and anguish in the testimonies of loss, dispossession, and various human rights violations, was visceral and often difficult to deal with.
The Government of India has signed and ratified numerous international human rights instruments and has also adopted numerous progressive laws and policies at the Union and State levels. Numerous laws, including amendments to existing laws, have been enacted to address various manifestations of violence against women. Among others, these include: the Indian Penal Code which broadly includes crimes against women. This law includes the crimes of rape, kidnapping and abduction for specified purposes, homicide for dowry, torture, molestation, eve teasing, and the importation of girls, among others. More specific laws on crimes against women include: the Criminal Law Amendment Act 2013, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prohibition, Prevention and Redressal) Act 2013, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005, the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act 1986, the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989, the Dowry Prohibition Act 1961, the Commission of Sati Prevention Act 1961, and the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act 1956 among others.
Furthermore, the following Bills are currently under discussion: the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Amendment Bill 2012, the Readjustment of Representation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in Parliamentary and Assembly Constituencies Bill 2013, the Removal of Homelessness Bill 2013, the Prevention of Female Infanticide Bill 2013, the Abolition of Child Labour Bill 2013, the Child Welfare Bill 2013, the Indecent or Surrogate Advertisements and Remix Songs (Prohibition) Bill 2013 and among others.
At the institutional level, the realisation of the promotion and protection of human rights broadly, and women’s rights and children’s rights specifically, are vested in numerous Union and state level Ministries, Departments, Commissions, Committees and Missions for the empowerment of women. Furthermore, I was informed about numerous programs and policies that have been put in place in recent years to address the issue of violence against women within a human rights and development framework. These include schemes addressing the needs of victims of rape, trafficking, domestic violence, and so on. Some of these schemes address counselling, support, skills development, access to benefits and also to shelters. Public/private partnerships have been forged within different spheres including the police sector. The laws and schemes highlighted above will be analysed and discussed fully in my mission report.
I welcome the Government of India’s speedy response after the rape incident of 16 December. A judicial committee headed by the late Justice Verma was established, and new legislative measures were adopted earlier this year. While this legislative reform is to be commended, it is regrettable that the amendments do not fully reflect the Verma Committee’s recommendations.
It is unfortunate that the opportunity to establish a substantive and specific equality and non-discrimination rights legislative framework for women, to address de facto inequality and discrimination, and to protect and prevent against all forms of violence against women, was lost. The speedy developments and also the adoption of a law and order approach to sexual wrongs, now includes the death penalty for certain crimes against women.
This development foreclosed the opportunity to establish a holistic and remedial framework which is underpinned by transformative norms and standards, including those relating to sexual and bodily integrity rights. Furthermore, the approach adopted fails to address the structural and root causes and consequences of violence against women.
The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act is a positive development in the aspirational goal of protection for victims of family violence.
The discrepancy between the provisions of the laws and the effective implementation thereof, whether through the use of the police generally or the Protection Officers in particular, was a recurrent complaint which I heard. Despite provisions intended to offer legal, social and financial assistance to victims, many women are unable to register their complaints. As a result, the vulnerability of women increases, and further, they are also deprived of the benefits prescribed in the law - as proof of registration of cases is required for access to many benefits. Furthermore, prevention of violence, as a core due diligence obligation of the State, does not feature in the implementation of this law.
Despite numerous positive developments, the unfortunate reality is that the rights of many women in India continue to be violated, with impunity as the norm, according to many submissions received. Mediation and compensation measures are often used as redress mechanisms to address cases of violence against women, thus eroding accountability imperatives, and further fostering norms of impunity.
Manifestations of violence against women
Numerous experiences of violence, whether direct or indirect, in different spheres including the home, the community, and in institutions, whether perpetrated by state actors or condoned by the State, was shared with me during the mission. Violence is being experienced in situations of peace, conflict, post-conflict, and displacement among others. The denial of constitutional rights in general, and the violation of the rights of equality, dignity, bodily integrity, life and access to justice in particular, was a theme that was common in many testimonies. Violence against women as a cause and consequence of de facto inequality and discrimination was also a common theme in numerous submissions received.
Violence against women and girls in India manifests in numerous ways and varies in prevalence and forms based on numerous factors including geographic location. Some manifestations include: sexual violence, domestic violence, caste-based discrimination and violence, dowry related deaths, crimes in the name of honour, witch-hunting, sati, sexual harassment, violence against lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, forced and/or early marriages, deprivation of access to water and basic sanitation, violence against women with disabilities, sexual and reproductive rights violations, sex selection practices, violence in custodial settings and violence in conflict situations, among others. These manifestations of violence are rooted in multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and inequalities faced by women, and are strongly linked to their social and economic situation. One interlocutor described violence against women and girls as functioning on a continuum that spans the life-cycle from the womb to the tomb.
During my visit, I heard numerous testimonies of many women who are survivors of domestic violence, whether at the hands of their husbands or other family members. Many of these women live in family settings with deeply entrenched norms of patriarchy and cultural practices linked to notions of male superiority and female inferiority. The lack of effective remedies, the failure of the State to protect and prevent violence against women, the economic dependence of many women on the men in their lives, and the social realities of exclusion and marginalization when speaking out, often results in women accepting violence as part of their reality. The current focus by state actors on preserving the unity of the family is manifested in the welfare/social approach and not in the human rights based approach. It does not take into consideration the nature of relationships based on power and powerlessness; of economic and emotional dependency; and also the use of culture, tradition and religion as a defence for abusive behaviour.
Sexual violence and harassment in India is widespread, and is perpetuated in public spaces, in the family or in the workplace. There is a generalized sense of insecurity in public spaces/amenities/transport facilities in particular, and women are often victims of different forms of sexual harassment and assault.
On the issue of conflict-related sexual violence, it is crucial to acknowledge that these violations are occurring at the hands of both state and non-state actors. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has mostly resulted in impunity for human rights violations broadly, according to information received. The law protects the armed forces from effective prosecution in non-military courts for human rights violations committed against civilian women among others, and it allows for the overriding of due process rights.
Furthermore, in testimonies received, it was clear that the interpretation and implementation of this act, is eroding fundamental rights and freedoms - including freedom of movement, association and peaceful assembly, safety and security, dignity and bodily integrity rights, for women, in Jammu & Kashmir and in the North-Eastern States. Unfortunately in the interests of State security, peaceful and legitimate protests often elicit a military response, which is resulting in both a culture of fear and of resistance within these societies.
In India, women from the Dalit, Adivasi, other Scheduled castes, tribal and indigenous minorities, are often victims of a multiplicity of forms of discrimination and violence. Despite protective legislative and affirmative action laws and policies, their reality is one where they exist at the bottom of the political, economic and social systems, and they experience some of the worst forms of discrimination and oppression - thereby perpetuating their socio-economic vulnerability across generations. They are often forced to live in displacement settings, experience forced labour practices, prostitution and trafficking, and also experience intra-community violations of rights.
In consultations in Manipur, I heard anguished stories from relatives of young women who have disappeared without trace or who were found dead shortly after going missing. The lack of response from the police is the norm in such cases, with the attitude being that these are mostly elopement cases.
I am deeply concerned about other consequences of such disappearances of young women, including exposure to sexual abuse, exploitation or trafficking. More generally, many tribal and indigenous women in the region are subjected to continued abuse, ill-treatment and acts of physical and sexual violence. They are denied access to healthcare and other necessary resources, due to the frequency of curfews and blockades imposed on citizens. Moreover, the chronic underdevelopment prevalent in the region, coupled with frequent economic blockades, is having an impact on the overall cost of essential items, and is exacerbating the already vulnerable situation of women and children living in the region.
Customary and religious practices such as child marriages and dowry-related practices, sorcery, honour killings, witch-hunting of women, and communal violence perpetrated against cultural and religious minorities, were highlighted in numerous testimonies. Communal violence, inspired by religious intolerance, does manifest in some parts of India. Indiscriminate attacks by religious majorities on religious minorities, including Christian and Muslim minorities, is frequently explained away by implying that equal aggression was noted on both sides. Also, such violence is sometimes labelled as ‘riots’, thereby denying the lack of security for religious and other minorities, and disregarding their right to equal citizenship. This issue is of particular concern to many, as the wounds of the past are still fresh for women who were beaten, stripped naked, burnt, raped and killed because of their religious identity, in the Gujarat massacre of 2002.
I am also concerned about the declining female sex ratio in India. The deeply entrenched patriarchal social norms, prevailing views of daughter-aversion and son-preference, the dowry-related link, and, the general sense of insecurity in light of high prevalence rates of gender-based violence, is fuelling a significant drop in female births throughout the country. The Indian Government’s concern about this issue has resulted in the adoption of policies and schemes. The implementation of such interventions is resulting in the policing of pregnancies through tracking/surveillance systems and is resulting in some cases in the denial of legal abortion rights, thereby violating the sexual and reproductive rights of women.
With regard to domestic workers, I am dismayed by the prevalence of numerous violations faced by these women and girls. Many of them, often migrant and unregistered women, work in servitude and even bondage, in frequently hostile environments; performing work that is undervalued, poorly regulated and low-paid. According to testimonies, they are also denied access to essential services and resources provided by the State, as they lack proper identification, and view this as a barrier to access. They are often the victims of various acts of violence, including sexual harassment and victimization by their employers and others.
I have also been informed that women with disabilities experience numerous forms of violence, including sexual violence, forced sterilization and/or abortions and forced medication without their consent. In addition, their experience of discrimination, exclusion and marginalisation reinforces the need for greater attention and specificity.
India has embarked on a journey of aggressive economic growth and this path is viewed as the route to simultaneously addressing its human development challenges. Despite the inclusion of beneficial provisions for women and children in the Five Year Plan, the impact of economic development policies on women is resulting in forced evictions, landlessness, threats to livelihoods, environmental degradation, and the violation of bodily integrity rights, among other violations. The adverse consequence of resulting migration to urban areas is reflected in the living and work conditions of many of these women and children, for example living in slums or on the streets, engaging in scavenging activities and in sex work etc.
Some women have committed suicide; others are frequently exposed to acts of harassment and violence, including sexual assault. It was strongly argued by many interlocutors that India’s pursuit of neo-liberal economic growth must not be pursued at the expense of vulnerable women and children, and their right to a healthy and secure environment.
Numerous human rights mechanisms have addressed the violation of women’s human rights in India. The substance of some relevant recommendations addresses the following issues:
- There is a need for urgent measures to end the alarming decline in sex ratios (CEDAW, CRC)
- The negative effect of personal status laws on the achievement of overall gender equality (CRC, CCPR, and CEDAW). Such laws need to be reformed to ensure equality in law (CEDAW).
- The social and cultural patterns of discrimination against women require urgent action by the State (CEDAW).
- Ensure that all victims of domestic violence are able to benefit from the legislation on domestic violence. Develop a comprehensive plan to combat all forms of violence against women (CEDAW). Domestic violence is endemic. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act and Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code must be enforced effectively (CESCR).
- The implementation of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, the Public Safety Act and the National Security Act, and the Armed Forces (Jammu & Kashmir) Special Powers Act should be repealed (HRC, SR Summary Executions), as it perpetuates impunity (HRC), and is widely used against Human Rights Defenders (SR HRD).
- Grave concerns are noted as regards the continuing atrocities perpetrated against Dalit women. There is a culture of impunity for violations of the rights of Dalit women (CEDAW). Concerns are further expressed for the failure to properly register and investigate complaints of violations against scheduled castes and tribes, the high rate of acquittals, the low conviction rates, and the alarming backlog of cases related to such atrocities (CRC, CEDAW and CERD).
- The practice of devadasi is of concern (HRC). The effective enforcement of relevant legislation and the Indian Constitution is required to end this practice (CERD).
- To expeditiously enact the proposed Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, 2005 with the incorporation of: sexual and gender-based crimes, including mass crimes against women perpetrated during communal violence; a comprehensive system of reparations for victims of such crimes; and gender-sensitive victim-centred procedural and evidentiary rules, and to ensure that inaction or complicity of State officials in communal violence be urgently addressed under this legislation.
- Grave concern is expressed about the continued existence of women and girls employed as domestic workers and their experiences of sexual abuse (CEDAW).
- Harmful practices on women and girls, including forced marriage, dowry and dowry-related violence are of great concern (CEDAW, CRC, CERD, and HRC). Violence and social sanctions due to inter-caste relationships are also of concern (CERD).
- The impact of mega-projects on the rights of women should be thoroughly studied, including their impact on tribal and rural communities, and safeguards should be instituted (CEDAW).
- Continuing disparities in literacy levels are of concern, in particular the educational status of scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and Muslim women (CEDAW). Effective measures must be adopted to reduce the drop-out rates among Dalit girls (CERD).
- More effort is needed to end customary practices which deprive women from underprivileged classes, castes and religious minorities of their rights to human dignity and to non-discrimination (HRC).
I would like to encourage the government of India to ensure specificity in addressing the multiple and intersecting inequalities and discrimination that women face. My mandate has consistently voiced the view that the failure in response and prevention measures stems from Government’s inability and/or unwillingness to acknowledge and address the core structural causes of violence against women. Linkages should be made between violence against women and other systems of oppression and discrimination prevalent within societies. A legislative and policy approach will not bring about substantive change if it is not implemented within a holistic approach that simultaneously targets the empowerment of women, social transformation, and the provision of remedies that ultimately address the continuum of discrimination and violence, and also the pervasive culture of impunity.
My comprehensive findings will be discussed in the report that I will present to the United Nations Human Rights Council in June 2014.”
Ms. Rashida Manjoo (South Africa) was appointed Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, its causes and consequences in June 2009 by the UN Human Rights Council. As Special Rapporteur, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. Ms. Manjoo also holds a part-time position as a Professor in the Department of Public Law of the University of Cape Town. Learn more, visit: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/women/rapporteur/index.htm