Rising violence against women in India: regional human development view needed
A recent study based on official sources has revealed a rising trend of violence against women in India. A similar trend could exist in the rest of South Asia.
The Indian study drawing on figures provided by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) says that between 2001 and 2014, incidents of crime against women more than doubled from 1.5 million cases to about 3.5 million.
The demographic, social, political, statistical and other factors behind these figures would need exploration.
The National Capital Territory of Delhi, for instance, witnessed a 566% rise in cases of violence against women. Other states including West Bengal, Assam, Bihar and Odisha followed suit.
All states with big populations saw a significant increase with the singular exception of Tamil Nadu, which witnessed a decline. The decline resulted perhaps from a fall in cases under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act.
Tamil Nadu, however, registered a rise in cases related to rape, kidnapping, abduction, cruelty by husbands or their relatives but this was on a lesser scale than in other states.
The national figures on “cruelty by husband or his relatives”, which constitute nearly a third of all reported cases, more than doubled from 49,170 in 2001 to 122,877 in 2014.
All major crimes, such as rape, kidnapping and abduction, dowry deaths, and assault with intent to outrage modesty, witnessed increase. Kidnapping and abduction cases showed the highest rise (nearly 300 per cent) from 14,645 in 2001 to 57,311 in 2014.
In incidents of rape in 2014, a person known to the victim was the culprit in 86 per cent of the cases, with the percentage being higher than 90 in 16 of the 36 States and Union Territories in India.
Apart from 674 cases of incest rape (rape by a blood relation), there were 966 cases where the perpetrators were close family members and in 2,217 cases, victims were raped by relatives.
While the Indian figures in this regard are disturbing from the human development perspective, it seems necessary to develop a regional human development understanding of the problem in the South Asian context in the spirit of the celebrated South Asia Human Development Reports produced by Mahbub ul Haq.
This task can best be accomplished by regional institutions such as the SAARC University.
In a shocking incident in 2013, the young physiotherapist Nirbhaya was subjected to brutal gang rape and murder in New Delhi in a largely empty and hijacked moving bus at night.
The horrible details of the incident drew international attention bringing negative publicity to the issue of women’s safety and security in India. The Justice Verma Committee that was set up led to some changes in law.
In incidents of mass communal violence (such as against the Sikhs in 1984, Muslims in Gujarat 2002 and Christians in Odisha in 2008), women (and children) became victims of violence on a massive scale.
In Ahmedabad in 2002, as part of a concerned citizens’ tribunal, I was shown, among other gruesome evidence of violence, a photo of a naked, pregnant and dead woman lying on the middle of the road. Another photo showed a man coming and covering the dead body with a piece of cloth.
Violence against women in the conflict-torn Northeastern states of Sikkim, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura has not received the attention it deserves. A rare table in the India Development Report of the Planning Commission report, 2011 provided some figures.
Violence against women in the tiny state of Manipur in the Northeast deserves special attention. The state is especially unsafe for women who are fighting a grim battle for security and survival.
Manipur is known for women’s activism. The brave Manipuri young woman Neena Ningombam, secretary of the head of the ‘Extra-judicial Execution Victim Families Association, Manipur (EEVFAM), recently approached the Supreme Court of India demanding justice for the innocents killed by the security forces acting under the Draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA).
She wanted an independent probe into all such cases including of 31 women and 98 children during 1979-2012. The Court ordered an inquiry into selected cases and found the security forces culpable.
In November 2009, a fact-finding team reported on the extrajudicial killings by Manipur police commandos, of the pregnant Thockchom Rabina Devi (23) and a friend in Imphal, the state capital.
Rape, molestation and torture of women and children, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and executions, housebreaking, and looting, are part of everyday life in Manipur.
The provisions of the AFSPA allow the security forces to kill ‘suspects’ with impunity. The women’s organization, ‘Meira Paibis’ (‘women torch bearers’), said that in most cases, the victims were brought to their area to be killed or were already killed and dumped there after firing some shots in the air.
In many cases, local inhabitants have protested. Local ‘Meira Paibis’ have confronted the security forces in many cases. Security forces do not suffer any casualties but claim to have resorted to retaliatory firing.
In 2009, an independent people’s tribunal went into the case of the young woman, Irom Sharmila who, reacting against unlawful killings by the security forces, went on a superhuman indefinite hunger strike from November 2000 demanding removal of the AFSPA from Manipur. This November, the hunger strike has entered its sixteenth year!
In an earlier case in July 2004, a young woman Thangjam Manorama was raped and killed by Assam Rifles personnel. This case is especially important as it provides insights into the nature of violence against women in Manipur.
Acting under the AFSPA, the Assam Rifles men tied up, assaulted and raped Manorama on the ground that she was an underground militant.
She was gagged and subjected to water boarding. She suffered knife cuts and beatings. She was taken to Assam Rifles (AR) headquarters. No property had been seized from her at the time of arrest.
Later, her dead body was found near a village. Inquest showed five bullet wounds in her body, one of which had penetrated the genitals from the back, severe bruising and deep cuts to the thighs and back. Evidence of semen stains on the clothing revealed sexual assault.
Though death in custody is common in Manipur, Manorama’s case was so blatant that it immediately caused public uproar. A group of naked women demonstrated in front of the AR headquarters in Imphal demanding that they be raped too.
In a diversionary move, the government of India which controls the Assam Rifles, set up the Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee to look into the working of the AFSPA.
The Committee reported in 2005 that the Act was a symbol of hate, a weapon of oppression and an instrument of discrimination and recommended its repeal. The government did not act on the recommendation perhaps for fear of alienating the armed forces. The AFSPA continues in place.
Women become victims of police brutality in everyday life in Manipur. In the conflict-affected Northeast, women’s safety, security and survival depends on the repeal of the AFSPA and enforcing accountability on the Assam Rifles which, operating under the AFSPA, does not come under the disciplinary control of any local government. It enjoys immunity from prosecution and often commits serious human rights violations.
Induction of more women police officers into the police organization is essential. At present, women barely constitute 6.5% of the civil police including armed police in India.
(The writer is a former Director General of Police in Northeast India. He is the author of ‘Political Violence and the Police in India’, Sage, 2007 and ‘State, Policy and Conflicts in Northeast India, Routledge, 2015).
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