Four Years Later- Status of Women and Sexual Violence on December 16th 2016

Four years after the horrific gang rape in Delhi on 16th December 2012, the massive agitation and the Justice Verma headed Commission’s Report, where does the situation on sexual violence against women stand? This is a time to reflect, to savour what gains there are and to assess the challenges.

The one thing that that the agitation in Delhi achieved has been to give women in Delhi and probably women in the rest of urban India as well the courage to speak up and identify themselves as the ones violated rather than as the guilty. This has found its inevitable reflection in a dramatic rise in the number of crimes that are getting registered, the number of FIRs on the issue getting lodged despite the callous justice system, the pressures of the powerful guilty and the anti woman stance of the police throughout the country. The additional gain seems to be that in more and more cases the immediate natal family is supportive of the women and willing to aid the registration of the offence. Apart from the immediate agitation which tore at the issue of ‘shame’, the stance of the parents of the victim of 16th December 2012, who have chosen to remain active and outspoken on the right of their daughter to justice and have been brave and forthright in publicizing her name, has contributed.  This is concretely continuing the attack on the concept of shame which used to be tagged to the victim rather than to the guilty.

In keeping with this are the following statistics. In Delhi, 2199 cases have been lodged in 2016 while in 2012 the figure was 706 (HT 16th Dec 2016). The similar is the status with cases under assault on women with intention to outrage modesty, etc.  40,792 Delhi police personel have been put through gender sensitization classes till date. While 28 cases of honour killing were registered in 2014, the number was 251 last year. (7th Dec 2016 HT, referring to Govt.’s answer in Parliament) This reflects a 792% number jump. It is not known how many women were thus killed because the Govt. has not provided the gender wise break-up of the number.

The rest of the story continues to be heart breaking. The rate of convictions is awful. In 2012 the Delhi police secured 49.25% conviction in rape cases which fell to 35.69 in 2013 and 34.5 in 2014. In 2015, the conviction was a mere 29.37%. There has also been a drop in terms of absolute numbers, from 747 cases out of 2166 in 2014 to 645 out of 2199 in 2015. This is no doubt the situation in all parts of the country.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resources Development has used 16th December 2016 to criticize the Women and Child Development Ministry for ‘slow implementation of schemes’ under the Nirbhaya Fund. The funds allocated under this head remain idle as violence against women continues to escalate throughout the country. It currently has a corpus of Rs 2000 crores.

Post December 2012, there were a slew of cases where professional women dared to speak up against sexual violence including sexual harassment at workplaces against those really high up in the power hierarchy. Editors and Supreme Court Judges along with a Nobel laureate were charged in complaints well supported by documentary evidence of both indirect and direct types. That almost nothing has become of these cases highlights that justice and a more importantly, investigation, is strictly guided by power and class in our country. Justice in such cases is actually linked to the establishment of a society structured on gender equality.

The intervening period has also seen a real rise in the barbaric ‘acid attacks’ on women, driven by absolutely die hard patriarchal logic. The fight back by several victims has been spectacular, but the repeated occurrence of such cases underlines the need for a sustained struggle against patriarchal values apart from the goal of building a new democratic society.

Other facets of violence against women also fared as poorly when it came to seeking justice. The Domestic Violence Act remains only on paper as women hold the heavy end of the stick beginning from unhelpful police to skeptical judges all afire to maintain the sanctity of the home no matter whether it stands on the ruins of the women. Cases of trafficking of women and children and of sexual violence against the girl child have also seen a steady increase.

Political violence including gangrape of women in its arsenal was used full score in Muzaffarnagar by the now ruling RSS-BJP. It scarcely needs to be mentioned that there has been no justice in any of the cases and in most the culprits have never even been arrested as the cases pertain to communal violence against Muslim women. Similarly caste violence against dalit women has continued unabated. Violence including sexual violence by goons and state forces continues in areas of people’s struggle.

The agenda remains before women organizations to organize women to fight the immediate issues of sexual violence and also to align with the revolutionary movement which seeks to build a new society.