End Political Impunity to Rapists (WSS Press Release)

We strongly condemn the recent incidents of rape and sexual violence in the country: the rape of an 8-year old girl in Kathua, Jammu, of a 15-year old in Unnao, UP, of a tea-shop owner as well as 15 year old girl in Meghalaya, of an 11-year old girl in Surat, Gujarat, a 15-year old in Faridabad whose corpse was continually raped, another 11-year old girl in Panipat and closer home and even more recently, the rape of a four-month old child of balloon-sellers in Indore, MP while there is an outrage against rape in the country. We also unequivocally condemn the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018 which seeks to amend among other things the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (2012) by sanctioning the death penalty in cases of rape of minor girls.

A two day national meeting of Women Against Sexual Violence and Sexual Repression (WSS)  was held in Indore on 21-22 of April, and attended by members from Telangana, Karnataka, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, Women against Sexual Violence and State repression (WSS) concluded:

There has been an uproar about some of these incidents, and a wave of protests have swept across the country. Amidst this much-needed outrage against rape, there have also been calls for capital punishment for the perpetrators of these crimes. We, as WSS, do not in any way support the death penalty as a form of punishment.

On the 25th of January 2017, a day before Republic Day, police from eight thanas carried out a massive raid in Dhar, Madhya Pradesh with the intention to nab people with pending warrants against them – all of whom were members of the Bhil community, a tribe historically stigmatized as criminals. During this raid, four women were raped including one pregnant woman, and two minor girls were molested. The accounts of these women were chillingly similar to the testimonies of tribal women from Bastar, in the neighbouring state of Chhattisgarh. In the last three years over 50 women have been raped and sexually assaulted by members of the police and security forces in the mineral rich lands of south Chhattisgarh, as they “comb” the forests to make way for large corporations to begin mining.

In the light of the above incidents where the State machinery, dominant caste and religious groups is committing acts of sexual violence, it is clear that the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance 2018 is a complete sham. It not only sanctions the death penalty for the rape of minor girls but also changes a gender-neutral act i.e. which applied to both boys and girls, to one that talks of only “women under the age of 12”. Moreover, according to the National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB) data of 2016, in 94.6% of the cases under POCSO and Section 376, the perpetrator(s) turned out to be a known person – he was either a close family member, a neighbour, or an acquaintance. In such a situation, it is extremely difficult for the survivor to report the crime, particularly when the survivor is a minor. In a report released by National Law School of India University, Bangalore, it was found that of the 667 POCSO judgements between 2013 and 2015, 67.5% of the victims turned hostile. The fact that victims are either silenced or forced to remain silent is a result of the deeply entrenched patriarchal structures within the family and society.

There is sufficient evidence to show that capital punishment has never served to act as a deterrent to the committing of crimes. Quite contrarily, it in fact deters people from reporting the crime. Also, not only does research indicate that the awarding of the death penalty is largely arbitrary and in almost all cases so far, it has only been awarded to accused from the most marginalised and oppressed sections of society. In the particular case of rape, as several people from the women’s movement and lawyers have argued, the death penalty in fact further endangers the life of the survivor as the severity of the punishment then becomes an incentive to end the survivors life.

The Justice Verma Committee set up in 2013 in response to the Nirbhaya case made strong recommendations against the death penalty, calling it “a regressive step in the field of sentencing and reformation.” Despite that, the Centre chose to exclude this recommendation in the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013. Even with regards to POCSO, the problem really is one of lack of conviction and not one of the severity of punishment meted out. Instead of working on effective implementation of the existing act, the BJP has hurriedly pushed forward the ordinance without consulting with people working on child rights and cases of child sexual abuse. By talking about death, the government has conveniently shifted attention from the legislators who have supported and perpetrated these crimes. Instead, by pandering to popular sentiment orchestrated by the media, they seek to gain political mileage from such heinous acts of violence. Masqueraded as concern about growing sexual violence against children, what the amendment actually does is perpetuate the hyper-masculine regime of the BJP – where justice in cases of sexual violence becomes an act of revenge in a sense, with the “honour” of India’s children and women being avenged by the tough manhood of the nation. At the same time, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2016 proposes a punishment of only 2 years in cases of rape against transgender persons, as opposed to the 7-year imprisonment in the case of rape against women. By bringing in such amendments in quick succession the state is seeking to undermine the citizenship rights of sexual minorities, once again cashing in on popular prejudices.

It is also ironic that Madhya Pradesh, the state which leads the country in the number of rapes, was the one to initiate the demand for the death penalty for child-rapists.

We do not see these as isolated incidents of violence, but as part of a larger reign of terror unleashed upon the most marginalised and vulnerable sections of our society. Inevitably then, it is the bodies of women that become the battlefields on which this violence is played out. Whether in the name of religion in the case of Kathua, where rape is used as a political weapon by Hindu nationalists to displace and dislodge Bakarwal, a marginalised Muslim tribal community, or in the case of Unnao, where the accused, who is a BJP MLA is protected with the impunity for belonging to the ruling party, in each of these incidents, we believe that the State is deeply complicit in these acts of extreme violence.

WSS demands the withdrawal of the sanction of the death penalty by the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance 2018 and calls upon progressive individuals and groups in civil society to stand in support of victims and survivors ensuring that at the very least legal processes are followed and existing laws are implemented.

Indore

23.4.2018                                           

 Ajitha, Shalini, Rinchin, Nisha

               National Conveners, Women Against Sexual Violence and Sexual Repression (WSS), wssnet.org

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Statement on Sexual Harassment and Internal Complaints Committees on Campuses

Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) stands firmly with all those who have come forward to report their experiences of sexual harassment and assault in university spaces and colleges across the country by male faculty members. The feminist movement has acknowledged that there is no one way to seek justice and each complainant must have the autonomy to find their path to speak and seek redressal. We extend our solidarity to the complainants and salute their courage for exposing the sexually predatory behavior of powerful faculty members at immense personal and professional risk. We further condemn unequivocally all the attempts made by vested interests to pressurize the complainants into withdrawing their complaints and demand free and fair enquiries in each of the reported cases. Continue reading

Tribute To Our Member Rajni Tilak

WSS mourns the loss of Rajni Tilak, an invaluable member of WSS, a friend to so many of us.  Rajni was a fiery Dalit feminist, an untiring anti-caste fighter and a Dalit writer. Her life epitomized struggle both at the personal and political level. She was taken away from us far too soon, and even now it is hard to believe that she is not still with us.   Above all, Rajni was a pioneer who raised questions of caste and patriarchy in the context of the movements and politics located more specifically in North India and Delhi , at a time when hardly anyone was doing so.  We might even say that because anti-caste struggles in this region and city were largely invisible to women’s groups and left organisations for so long, it is thanks to fighters like Rajni that spaces were created in often hostile terrain.  Moreover, Rajni’s life was characterized by hardship and struggle as she shouldered the responsibilities of supporting her family and siblings as a single parent, and later on her own ailing mother, whom she nurtured steadfastly till her very last days.  Her acumen and strategic understanding in many situations also drew from such a life of determination and grit against all odds.  We express our deepest condolences to all the family and friends she has left behind, most especially her daughter Jyotsna Siddharth, of whom Rajni was so proud. Continue reading

Report Of The Fact-Finding Group On Casteist And Sexist Harassment Of Prof. Sujatha Surepally

As part of a fact-finding delegation of women representing various civil society organizations and womens organizations, WSS held a press conference at 12.30 pm at Karimnagar press club on 2 January, 2017 and visited Satavahana University (SU).

Context: On 25 December 2017, dalit bahujan students of Satavahana University in Karimnagar, Telangana, held an event outside the campus gate in front of the Jyotiba Phule Statue to burn “Manusmriti”. This programme is done every year on 25 December to keep the spirit of first such event conducted by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar in 1927 alive. After the students finished the event of symbolically burning text from the Manusmriti (not from a book but words from the text written on large chart sheets), and were walking back to the hostel, a local BJP politician and his supporters from RSS-affiliated organizations arrived at the University with sticks. They came inside the campus and attacked these students who were very few numbers, meanwhile others went to hostel and brought other students to resist this attack by RSS. As this clash continued, RSS members from outside the University joined in hundreds and Satavahana students also came to the scene in big numbers. Not one of these RSS members was from the university and some of them have criminal cases on them. Continue reading

WSS Statement On The Tragic Cost Of Delay In Rape Investigations

January 23, 2018

 

The suicide of the minor dalit girl in Kunduli of Koraput district in Odisha  on 22 January is a moment of reckoning for everyone fighting against the heinous crime of violence against women. She had accused four security personnel of gang rape on October 10, 2017. Very typical of incidence of sexual violence where the accused happen to be police, army or security forces, this incident of sexual assault too went through the usual round of inordinate delays and denial of gang rape. The suicide of the young victim who was very keen to pursue her studies but was never able to get out of the raging controversy and heightened media publicity is a bitter reminder of the continued impunity of rapists in uniform, and of the brazen collusion of the state in denying justice to those who, like this young girl, refuse to remain silent.

Getting justice for survivors of sexual assault has always been uphill in this misogynist and patriarchal society. It becomes even tougher when the state machinery itself puts formidable barriers to protect the accused. In this case, the Odisha government and district administration did exactly that.

Let us have a look at the series of events that went against the complaint of the girl.

The Human Rights Cell of the government on November 7 ruled out the possibility of gang rape due to lack of evidence based on the medical report in their possession. After 17 days of the incident she was kept in the district child welfare committee (CWC).
The girl had repeatedly expressed her distress at not being believed to journalists and others who visited her in the hospital. There was no action taken to identify the culprits from her description or the fact that the accused were in uniform. Instead the  police picked up four boys from the same village for interrogation who were beaten up too. The police had also forcefully taken one of them for a lie detection test to an undisclosed location in Bhubaneswar.

 The DGP had listed the matter under the red-flag category and initial statements by the police even blamed the Maoists.

 The demand for withdrawal of security forces by local organizations and the community involved went completely unheeded.

The denial of gang rape by the police and administration in the absence of a thorough enquiry and the long delays accompanied by constant media publicity deepened the distress and anxiety of the family and the community. One can only imagine what it can do to a young girl.

The girl first attempted suicide on November 18, 2017 when she swallowed an overdose of iron tablets and was rushed to SCB Medical College hospital in Cuttack. Her mother made a complaint of forceful detention and she was finally discharged from the hospital on November 27. If there has been no gang rape, there was absolutely no need for the police and administration to confine her to the hospital under heavy security.
The Chief Minister ordered a probe by a district judge on November 8. The judicial commission was constituted on January 6.  The enquiry was under way.
In end December the girl once again went on record saying that she was being bribed by senior police personnel to withdraw her case. That perhaps was her last public statement. Her suicide note is in the hands of the police as media reports suggest.

WSS expresses deep grief at the death of the girl and stands in solidarity with her friends, family and community. It is indeed the cruellest of times and the cruellest of societies where a 16-year old puts an end to the ordeal by using her own scarf to hang herself and end the fiasco of seeking justice. Even as we write this statement we cannot do away with the foremost thought on our minds – who is responsible for this suicide?

 Ø  WSS demands that the Odisha government follows the investigation to the end and punishes the guilty. We also demand stringent punishment be meted to all those responsible for delaying the investigation process.

Ø  WSS demands that the Odisha government withdraws all security forces from the area. Women and girls are never safe in such areas. The deployment of security forces and army by no way implies de facto impunity to rape at will. 

 Ø  WSS appeals to all democratic and progressive forces in Odisha and elsewhere to strengthen the struggle for a society free of sexual violence. Let’s work towards a society where those violated do not have to choose the noose in future but are able to live with dignity and with courage. Sexual violence is not only a women’s issue. The culpability of a patriarchal culture where sexual violence is the everyday norm involves entire society at large.

Ranjana Padhi, Pramodini Pradhan, Sudha Bhardwaj, Kalyani Menon,Shobha Raghavan,Rinchin, Madhuri Krishnaswamy and Manasi Pingle

For Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression

Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) is a non funded grassroots effort started in November 2009, to put an end to the violence being perpetrated upon our bodies and societies. We are a nationwide network of women from diverse political and social movements comprising of women’s organizations, mass organizations, civil liberty organizations, student and youth organizations, mass movements and individuals. We unequivocally condemn state repression and sexual violence on our women and girls by any perpetrator(s).

wssnet.org // againstsexualviolence@gmail.com

 

Delhi Press Conference of Suneeta Pottam and Munni Pottam on Extra-Judicial Killings in Chhattisgarh: Press Release And Video

PRESS RELEASE

Two teenaged adivasi girls from Bastar take on the state in their fight against extra-judicial killings. A Public Interest Litigation challenging the spate of encounters in Bijapur was filed last year before the Chhattisgarh High Court in Bilaspur by two young women from Korcholi with extra-ordinary grit and determination –Suneeta Pottam (19 years old).and Munni Pottam (18 years old). A national women’s organization, the WSS (wssnet.org) is the third petitioner in this case. Faced with a dozen affidavits of the villagers whose family members were killed, the High Court of Bilaspur held that the questions of extra judicial executions and government policies which are responsible for these are similar in spirit to the issues raised by the Salwa Judum petition (Nandini Sundar and Ors vs. State of Chhattisgarh), currently being heard by the Supreme Court. Following which, the young Petitioners filed a Transfer Petition in the Supreme Court last year seeking the transfer of their PIL to the Supreme Court. Suneeta and Munni Pottam are in Delhi to attend the hearing of their transfer petition on Wednesday, 10 January 2018.

At the press conference these young women spoke about these cases of encounters along with the details of the very recent physical and sexual assault of the the women of the villages where Suneeta and Munni live. They also spoke about the harrassment and threats that they have been receiving by the Bastar police (as recent as few weeks back) as result of filing this petition, who have threatened them that if they keep raising these issues which show the police in a bad light, they would be arrested for Naxalite offences and thrown into jail. Shaken but not defeated, these young women have come to Delhi to put their continuous harassment on record before the apex court at the coming hearing. Continue reading