A CPI(ML) Weekly News Magazine
Vol. 16, No. 6, 29 JAN – 04 FEB 2013
Who is Afraid of Justice Verma Committee Recommendations?
The Justice Verma Committee Report marks a milestone in the struggle for women's rights in India. The Report is a powerful vindication of the central demands of the ongoing movement against sexual violence, and is also an equally powerful challenge to the Government and the political establishment.
In many ways, the JVC Report has given body and substance to what the protesters on the street were saying. The JVC has done what the Government should, in fact, have done: engaged seriously with activists working in the field as well as survivors of sexual violence, and, in a commendably timely manner, came up with recommendations that reflect their concerns and are truly path-breaking. The protesters raised the slogans of 'Women want freedom'; the JVC Report is built on the premise that women's autonomy in all spheres, including sexual autonomy, must be safeguarded by the State. This recognition marks a truly radical break with the prevailing dominant view on women and sexual violence.
The women protesters on the street raised the slogan 'My dress is not a Yes'; the JVC Report, in the context of the rape law, radically redefines 'consent' by a woman as nothing short of an unequivocal 'yes' by word or gesture. Protesters had expressed outrage against those who termed rape survivors as 'zinda laash' (walking corpses); the JVC Report clearly states that the State, as well as society, has the duty to dislodge sexual violence from the 'shame-honour' paradigm and locate it instead as a crime against women's bodily integrity and dignity.
The best instance of the JVC Report's recognition of women's unqualified autonomy as a person in her own right, is their recommendation that marital rape be included in the purview of the rape law. Marking the first ever break with the colonial legacy as well as traditional patriarchal understanding of a husband's 'conjugal right' over his wife, the JVC Report stresses that a married woman has every right to refuse sexual access to her husband.
The JVC Report has identified the multiple barriers – in policing, medico-legal systems, judiciary, laws, as well as social support systems - that make justice inaccessible for victims of sexual violence. It uncompromisingly holds the state responsible for failure to protect women, recommending punitive measures for police personnel who fail to register FIRs and otherwise violate a well-defined protocol for registering and investigating complaints of sexual violence.
The JVC expands the definition of sexual violence to include a range of crimes such as stalking, stripping/disrobing, voyeurism (watching or filming women in their private moments without their knowledge), acid-throwing, sexual harassment, penetrative sexual assault that includes penetration by parts of a man's body as well as by objects manipulated by him and gang rapes. While recommending harsher punishments for these crimes, based on the degree of harm/hurt caused, the JVC Report recommends ridding the existing laws of the patriarchal language of 'insulting/outraging modesty,' and instead adopting a thoroughly modern vocabulary that describes the crime rather than the character of the victim.
The JVC recommends an overhaul of the medico-legal tests for rape survivors. It rightly recommends that the misogynist and demeaning 'two-finger test' and other medical tests that focus on the past sexual history of the victim, be scrapped. The JVC holds that medical evidence can at best be supportive, and cannot be proof of a woman's consent or otherwise. It also recommends a protocol for medical investigation and care for rape survivors, and for setting up properly equipped Rape Crisis Centres that can offer such services in a timely manner.
Recognising that sexual violence is part and parcel of the larger web of violence against women, and can be resisted only by strengthening women's autonomy, the JVC Report has come down heavily on crimes committed in the custody of the family against self-choice marriages. From the same perspective of sexual autonomy, the JVC Report has also discussed and mapped out the Constitutional rights of sexual minorities (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people) to freedom from discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, and also from sexual violence.
The JVC Report is path-breaking in its recommendation that in the case of members of the Armed Forces accused of sexual violence, no sanction for prosecution need be sought, and such accused be tried in a civil court of law. The JVC also recommends amending the AFSPA to this effect. Justice Verma, in an interview, has correctly justified this recommendation by pointing out that no one can be allowed to claim that sexual violence was done in the course of discharging one's duty! The JVC also recommends review of the AFSPA, in the light of the fact that it has helped create an environment where sexual violence by armed forces has become common in conflict areas. It also recommends setting up of Special Commissioners to monitor the situation of women's safety from sexual violence in all conflict areas.
The JVC also recommends the principle of command responsibility: i.e. that police and army officers be held responsible for custodial sexual violence that take place under their command, and punished with rigorous imprisonment between 7-10 years.
The JVC Report recognises that rape is an expression of power rather than a 'crime of passion'. And it specifically recognises that sexual assaults on women and children by the State or by private persons in situation of communal or caste violence "deserve to be treated as aggravated sexual offence in law." It also discusses the question of targeted sexual violence against SC/ST women at length. However, in its specific legislative recommendations, it has omitted to include these categories of sexual violence in the category of aggravated sexual assault. This omission, which goes against the spirit of the JVC Report, must be corrected in the actual process of drafting legislation.
The JVC report discusses at length the patriarchal attitudes and hostility to women's rights that continues to permeate the court procedures, and makes several recommendations on recording of evidence, cross-examination, and sentencing, that can make the judicial process gender-just. The JVC also recommends a substantial increase in the number of judges and courts, to ensure speedy justice.
The 'Bill of Rights' for women charted out by the JVC – and the body of measures recommended by it to make those rights a reality - is a veritable manifesto for the ongoing movement against sexual violence.
The palpable discomfort of the Central Government as well as of Opposition parties like the BJP with the JVC Report is telling. The UPA Government, for which the JVC was a mere protest management exercise, is now avoiding the eye of the Report submitted by the JVC. The JVC Report has been removed from the Home Ministry's website! And even the BJP and most other ruling class Opposition parties, have maintained silence on the JVC Report. This is not surprising: the Report hits at the foundations of patriarchy, and the parties which are the pillars of that patriarchy, are understandably discomfited.
It is the ongoing movement which we have to thank for the JVC Report. This movement, which began with empathy for the young fighter whose life was brutally snuffed out, widened the lens and took on the entire patriarchal establishment – challenging misogyny and gender bias and demanding an end to impunity of all perpetrators of sexual violence. Instead of rendering the victims of sexual violence in the contexts of caste and communal violence and state repression invisible, the movement sparked by the Delhi gang-rape has focussed the light on those dark areas in the life of our democracy. In keeping with this spirit, the young protestors observed 'Republic Day' in its true spirit: by asserting the liberty and equality of women and all people as citizens, and by declaring the people as the true custodians of the Republic.
The movement has sounded its call – the UPA Government must implement the Justice Verma report – or quit! If the Government and the ruling class political establishment hope to consign the JVC Report to cold storage like countless reports before it, it will have a hard time doing so in the face of a determined people's movement.
'Freedom Parade' to Reclaim the Republic
On Republic Day this year, thousands marched in Delhi in a 'Freedom Parade' to assert women's freedom and people's freedom. The Freedom Parade, taking place not long after the Republic Day parade ended, was held under the banner of the 'Freedom Without Fear' campaign, launched to take forward the ongoing movement against sexual violence. Around 2000 protestors, including students and teachers from Delhi University, JNU, Jamia Millia Islamia, women's groups and citizens from different parts of the city, marched in the procession from Mandi House to Jantar Mantar to 'Reclaim the Republic'.
In the weeks preceding Republic Day, young protesters against sexual violence had been branded as 'dented and painted' and as a 'mob'. That is why they marched to assert that the Republic comprises of the 'public', whose role is not just to be spectators; to realise the true spirit and the potential of the constitution, you need an active, protesting, dissenting 'public'.
The Freedom Parade carried placards and banners with the names of 40 victims of rape and sexual violence, including Neelofar Jan, Aasiya Jan, Tanima Gani, Bilqis Bano, Mathura Bai, Bhanwari Devi, Meena Xalxo, Lakshmi Orang, Soni Sori, Surekha Bhotmange, Priyanka Bhotmange, Thangjam Manorama, Tapasi Malik, Rumi Konwar, Putala Bora, Lakhi Gogoi, Anola, Subsunka, Niru Gogoi, Meena Gogoi, Jamuna Gogoi, Punya Gogoi, Bhanimai Dutta, Raju Borua, Nilima Boro, Foudoro Boro, Undibala Roy, Tabinda Gani, Mubeena Akhtar, Srinivas Ramachandra Siras (the gay professor of AMU who committed suicide), Madhumita, Chandini and Kokila (transgender victims of rape), Christy Jayanthi Malar and Rukmani (lesbian couple who committed suicide in Chennai after victimisation and harassment). They also held placards with names of places associated with sexual violence: Delhi, Naroda Patiya, Shopian, Kunan Poshpora, Sarguja, Singur, Hisar, Rohtak, Bamon Kampur, Guwahati, Khairlanji. Interspersed with these, they also held placards remembering the 'unknown citizen.' Kashmiri students held placards telling the details of the Shopian and Kunan Poshpora rapes.
Throughout the colourful parade, people raised rousing slogans demanding implementation of the Justice Verma Committee Report. Among the slogans raised were 'Jang ke hathiyar nahin, Inquilab ke auzar chahiye' (We want – Not weapons of war but instruments of revolution); Bekhauf Azaadi mang rahe hain, aaj chahiye, abhi chahiye (We demand freedom without fear – today, right now); slogans rejecting 'Bhagwat's goons; Maulana's diktats; politicians' rhetoric; and state repression; 'Anjaan nagrik jaag uthi hai, badal raha sansar hai/Duniya bhar mein mang rahi hai, Azaadi ka tyohaar hai' (The unknown citizen has awakened, the world is changing/in the whole world, there's the festival of freedom). When the parade reached Janpath, there were slogans of 'Rajpath (the rulers' road) may be yours, Janpath (people's path) is ours.' Through placards, people asked, "Will Govt Implement JVC Recommendations? Will the Govt Spend On Making Women Safer, With more judges and courts; rape crisis centres; safe houses for women and children; forensic examination facilities; and safe public transport? Or Will the Govt's Next Budget As Usual Gift Crores to Corporates?"
When the parade reached Jantar Mantar, a massive public meeting was held. Sucheta De, former JNUSU President and AISA leader, conducted the proceedings. Addressing the gathering, Kavita Krishnan, secretary All India Progressive Women's Association (AIPWA) talked about the stories of the various people named in the placards the protestors were carrying. She said that the Government was afraid of the Justice Verma Commission report: and this is a sure sign that the Report is a victory for the movement. She called upon people to stop fearing the freedom of others. Hailing the slogan of 'naari mukti sabki mukti zindabad' (women's freedom, everyone's freedom Long Live), she said that the subordination of women was intimately linked to the subordination of others. Men cannot be free as long as women are held in fear and unfreedom. None of us should fear the right of women, the dalits, adivasis, the religious minorities, the people of Kashmir and the North East, and the sexual minorities, to seek freedom from discrimination, indignity, and violence, because in their freedom lies the freedom of us all.
Advocate Madhu Mehra also addressed the gathering, warning that the Government was trying to reduce the Justice Verma report to a protest management exercise. Several women's organisations, citizens' groups, student and youth organisations, including Saheli and Jagori, AISA, RYA, NAPM and the New Socialist Initiative also participated.
The protestors condemned the President of India for awarding a gallantry award to yet another rapist in uniform: SP Kalluri, accused of raping an adivasi woman in custody in Chhattisgarh. Young girls presented 'Mardangi Maryada medals' and Laxmanrekha Medals' to people who have been making atrocious, sexist, misogynist, victim-blaming statements, and who have been accused of rape. These medals were presented to photographs of Abhijeet Mukherjee, Mohan Bhagwat, Asaram Bapu, Kailash Vijayvargiya, Abu Azmi, Ankit Garg and Botsa Satyanarayana.
The protestors demanded the immediate implementation of Justice Verma Commission report, and demanded that the government and various political parties break their silence on the report.
On 24 January, a massive rally for women's freedom and dignity was held in Patna, organised mainly by AIPWA along with AISA and RYA. Around 3000 women from rural areas of Bihar blockaded the road at Kargil Chowk, and held a mass meeting, where they demanded the implementation of the Justice Verma Committee Report, and condemned the UPA Government and Bihar's NDA Government for protecting the forces unleashing violence against women.
On 25 January, a mass meeting called by AIPWA was held at Nagbhushan Bhawan, Bhubaneshwar. The meeting was addressed by AIPWA and CPI(ML) leaders.
On 25 January, AISA and AIPWA held a march in Varanasi, against sexual violence, and specifically protesting sexual harassment against women students of the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) (see report below).
On 26 January, AISA and AIPWA held a women's freedom parade at Pithoragarh in Uttarakhand parallel with the official parade in Delhi. Demanding 'Freedom Without Fear and Without Conditions,' the parade with around 150 participants began from Ramlila Maidan and marched through various streets before reaching Gandhi Chowk. The mass meeting held there was addressed by AISA leader Kamini Pokhriyal, Chanchal Bora and Manisha, AIPWA's Sheela Punetha, Pushpa Martoliya and others.
Protest at London Against Sexual Violence on Republic Day
Over 80 people gathered on Republic Day at the Indian High Commission in London to express their solidarity with the women's movement in India which poured onto the streets after the brutal gang rape of a 23 year old woman student on a bus in Delhi. Protesters voiced their outrage at the scale of state violence and rape faced by women in India.
The slogans demanded justice for Soni Sori, an indigenous woman sexually assaulted by the Indian police where her torturer was given a police medal for gallantry on India's Republic Day a year ago. There was also a call for justice for Aasiya Jan and Nilofer Jan, two Kashmiri women raped and murdered by the Central Reserve Police force in 2009. The placards demanded implementation of Justice Verma Commission's recommendation of immediately removing immunity from prosecution for sexual crimes - the army, paramilitaries and the police. They also stated that 'the SP of Dantewada Ankit Garg, responsible for the sexual torture of Soni Sori, must be stripped of the presidential gallantry award and punished', along with SRP Kalluri another Chhattisgarh police officer responsible for rape and torture who was honoured this Republic Day.
A number of groups came together - South Asia Solidarity Group, the Justice for Soni Sori group, the Indian Workers Association and Imkaan calling for an end to state violence and rape. Slogans included 'Indian president – stop honouring rape', 'who raped Nilofer Jehan – Indian military and Indian state', 'who raped Soni Sori – Indian police and India state'. Their voices of protest joined by Newham Asian Women's project, Southall Black Sisters, Older Feminist Network, Iranian and Afghanistan Women's group and others were heard by a number of passers-by who stopped to read the placards and listen to the slogans. There were many new faces not usually seen at these kinds of public events. Two young women with a placard saying 'don't tell us not to go out - tell your sons not to rape' had taken the slogan from the protests in India 'Don't teach me what to wear – teach your sons not to rape', and made it their own.
Writer and actor Meera Syal addressed the gathering and stated 'India claims to be a new superpower but look at the way it treats women. More important than being the best in IT is changing the way women are treated'. There were calls for keeping up the pressure and organising more events for protesting sexual violence against women which is taking place in India and Britain.
Rapists of Minor in Chandauli Arrested After People's Protest
On 16 January 2013 in Dhanapur Thana area of Siyahwal village in Chandauli district the 14-year old minor daughter of Com. Rampyare Saini was raped in broad daylight by goons of the same village. The culprits were under the full protection of the police as well as the administration. In this situation, a people's movement was launched under the joint banner of CPI-ML, RYA and AIPWA and finally the culprits were arrested. The entire incident highlighted the role of the police, administration and doctors, their insensitivity towards the minor victim, their faithlessness towards their own profession and their efforts to protect the culprits.
The SO of Dhanapur dilly-dallied in the matter of registering an FIR in this rape case. On 18 January the victim told the fact-finding team from AIPWA (including District secretary Anita Kumari and State joint secretary Kusum Verma) that the doctor examining her called her "characterless" and said that she had not been raped.
CPI(ML), RYA and AIPWA mobilized the poor people of Dhanapur village and organized a series of protests against this particular rape as well as against the rising incidents of crime against women in UP and governmental protection to the culprits, thus unmasking the 'pro-women' image of the 'young CM' of the State.
The protests commenced on 17 January with demands for arrests of the rapists, at Chandauli district HQ, Tehsil HQ, Chakiya and Navgarh. This was followed by a meeting and gherao of Dhanapur Thana on 18 January. The meeting was addressed by Kisan Sabha State general secretary Com. Ishwari Prasad, Com Shashikant Kushwaha and Anil Paswan of CPI-ML, Shravan Maurya of RYA, Anita Kumari and Kusum Verma of AIPWA. Under pressure from the people's movement, the police were forced to arrest one of the two culprits. On 19 January the representatives of CPI-ML, RYA and AIPWA along with the mother of the victim sat on an indefinite hunger strike at the Chandauli Kutchari HQ demanding the arrest of the absconding culprit and action against the Dhanapur SO as well as the doctor who mentally tortured the victim under pretext of a medical examination. On 21 January the State AIPWA leadership addressed a Press conference at the Kutchari and on 22 January a serial hunger strike and meeting was organized at the same venue. The meeting was addressed by State secretary Com Sudhakar Yadav, Editor of Samkaleen Janmat Sunil Yadav and others. The movement received widespread support from the people of Chandauli. AIPWA district secretary along with 11 representatives from CPI-ML and RYA again sat on a hunger strike.
Finally the administration had to bow down to the growing pressure of the protest and accept all the demands of the movement. The absconding culprit was arrested on 24 January and the DM passed orders for action against the doctor and the SO. This movement has energized the people of Chandauli to fight against the injustices of the powers that be and has inspired the emergence of a new people's movement.
Struggle against Sexual Harassment in BHU
Ironically, at a time when there is a nationwide movement against sexual violence and gender bias, the Administration remains a mute spectator to sexual crimes against women students within the campus of BHU, a reputed Central University.
The latest case in point is the incident of molestation on January 24 when some women students passing near the Birla Hostel were subjected to molestation and abuse by a group of boys belonging to that hostel. The girls complained to the Proctorial Board but shockingly the culprits abused and threatened the girls in the very presence of the Chief Proctor. The authorities cross-questioned the girls as if they were the culprits and not the victims. Even after the intervention of some teachers the culprits, said to be close to a Minister in the State government, went scot-free although the victim women have lodged a complaint naming the culprits. Incensed by this injustice, around 100-125 students gherao-ed the Vice-Chancellor and after about 4 hours of protest the VC assured the students that a Women's Cell would be constituted and the guilty would be punished.
The question is, when will these promises be fulfilled? It is shocking that in spite of Supreme Court's Visakha directives, a premier institute like BHU does not have a Women's Cell till now. In spite of the assurances, no action has been taken against the culprits till date. The women students of BHU face many obstacles in their struggle for the right to study in an atmosphere of freedom without fear. In the name of security, what they get is instructions to be back in their hostels by 7 PM! BHU is not only a reputed national institution, it is also a Central University. Therefore, if the University does not act to punish the culprits due to local pressures, it is the duty of the Central government and the HRD ministry to intervene and ensure proper action against the culprits.
On 29 January, the women students met the SSP of Varanasi to demand action against the culprits, but he responded by asking, "Why did the women students have to walk on that particular road? Why are women becoming political leaders? No sexual harassment has occurred." He also threatened action against a Hindi daily that has been reporting on the incident and its aftermath.
Edited, published and printed by S. Bhattacharya for CPI(ML) Liberation from U-90, Shakarpur, Delhi-92; printed at Bol Publication, R-18/2, Ramesh Park, Laxmi Nagar, Delhi-92; Phone:22521067; fax: 22442790, e-mail: email@example.com, website: www.cpiml.org