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We need to change laws related to sexual assault: Meenakshi Ganguly of Human Rights Watch

Updated: February 14, 2013, 4:27 PM IST
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We need to change laws related to sexual assault: Meenakshi Ganguly of Human Rights Watch
How intrinsically inalienable is the issue of women's rights to the global human rights movement?

Meenakshi Ganguly, director of Human Rights Watch on joined IBNLive readers for an interaction on how intrinsically inalienable is the issue of women's rights to the global human rights movement.

Q. Hello Mam, Please let us know how far religion plays a role in safeguarding the human rights of women? Is it true that Kashmir is much safer for women as compared to any part of the country (leave apart the political turmoil)? If so.. Why? Asked by: PM Ashok

A. Most religions try to perpetuate a culture of patriarchy. On this day, there is a global effort to ensure that every woman citizen of the world has full and equal rights. If we want an end to crimes against women, including sexual violence, then we all need to believe that women have the right to live with dignity, and with full autonomy to make their choices. In Kashmir, that should include the right of young women to sing their songs. In north India, that means women have the right to choose the man they wish to marry. In the south, they should have the right to go to pubs. Every woman should be able to earn her livelihood with security. Or indeed go to watch a movie.

Q. How intrinsically inalienable is the issue of women's rights to the global human rights movement? Asked by: Kamya

A. Apart from the constitutional protections provided to women and girls under Indian law, there are binding international laws as well including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Q. Why Indian women should take part in One Billion Rising movement? Asked by: Sneha

A. The Indian woman is a global citizen. In over 200 countries today, people are campaigning to end violence against women and girls. While there are some unique situations that Indian women might face, violence against women is not unique to India. Indians spoke out after the horrible attack in Delhi in December. And have served as an inspiration to many others.

Q. Can a mass movement put an end to violence against women? Asked by: Anu

A. Yes, because much of it has to do with attitudes. There are notions of honor and virtue that is enforced upon a woman. People all over the world have recommended a choice of clothing, for instance, to ensure security. We have to change this. The woman cannot be blamed for attacks that she risks or survives. It is perpetrator that is to blame. And the responsibility of society and state to ensure her security. In India, we still use terms such as eve-teasing and outraging the modesty of a woman. That too has to change. Any crime against a woman is an assault on her dignity and her body.

Q. Is One Billion Rising the first women's rights movement on a global scale? Asked by: sri

A. Yes, it is a global effort.

Q. Do you think that erotic portrayal of women in movies have some role in this prospect of exploitation? Asked by: Anurag

A. Too often, we have started targeting freedom of expression because we are unwilling to take on the more arduous battle for systemic change. I do not support the threats of violence by interest groups against books, movies or the arts. Nor is it right to have custodians of culture target young couples on Valentine's day or at other times as happened in the Mangalore or in Guwahati. The portrayal of women in some films reflects how we think of them in general, as objects for titillation. It is that attitude that needs to change.

Q. Your views on one billion rising campaign. Asked by: DK

A. It is a celebration of women. And a campaign to end violence against women.

Q. What steps should be taken to make India safe for women? Asked by: vinny

A. There are several recommendations that Human Rights Watch and others have made to the government. First of all, the new ordinance falls short of the Verma commission recommendations. We hope that members of parliament will call for the enactment of fresh amendments to ensure: 1. An end to archaic and discriminatory concepts used to define criminal offenses as "insults" or "outrages" to women's "modesty" rather than crimes against their right to bodily integrity. 2. Protect women from marital rape. The right to sexual autonomy is a matter of women's equality, including the right to decide freely whether to have sex free of coercion, discrimination and violence. 3. Remove the death penalty. Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty under all circumstances as the ultimate cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment and a violation of the right to life. This irreversible form of punishment has been abolished by many countries. 4. Police and armed forces should not placed above the law in cases of sexual violence. Under current criminal procedure and other special laws, police and security forces are not subject to prosecution - including for sexual violence - unless the government body overseeing the respective force approves prosecution. This seldom happens, resulting in effective immunity. The Verma Committee recommended that these legal immunities, including in the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, be removed. We have long campaigned for the repeal of the AFPSA as has been recommended by numerous government experts. 5. The new law should repeal section 377 of the Penal Code, which criminalizes consensual same-sex relations among adults. In 2009, the Delhi High Court ruled that criminalizing consensual same-sex relations among adults was a violation of their constitutionally guaranteed rights to equality, non-discrimination, and the right to life with dignity and privacy. 6. Adopt an uniform national protocol for the treatment and examination of survivors of sexual assault. Otherwise, the quality of medical treatment and examination of survivors of sexual assault unpredictable, and in the worst cases results in degrading practices whereby doctors use the "finger test" to note the "laxity" or "old tears" of the vagina and record in medical reports unscientific and degrading comments about survivors' "penetrability" of the vagina, "habituation to sex" or previous sexual history. 7. Provide access to care and counseling for sexual assault survivors. Long answer, but unless the government takes every step to priortise the protection of women, there will be no easy solution.

Q. Hi Mam, what do you think about the role of government is when it comes to crime against women..only making strict laws will help or need to show the will to implement them. Asked by: rohit

A. Laws enough are never enough. In India, we have a number of excellent legislations and policies to ensure the protection of vulnerable communities, but there is a huge gap in implementation.

Q. Should Juvenile Justice law be changed? Asked by: fatima

A. Under international law, a person under 18 is regarded as a child. And India follows the international principle in this regard. We don't really take a position on children who are 16 or 17 getting different sentences than children who are say, 15. Nor do we have any particular standard that says three years is a good sentence, etc. There is primarily a concern about what might be considered appropriate punishment. Our concern is that the severity of the sentence should take into consideration the age and evolving culpability of the individual child; and that any sentence should be aimed solely at the rehabilitation and the eventual reintegration of the child as a constructive member of society (i.e. in contrast to the sentence being motivated by punishment, retribution, or removal of the child from the population to prevent reoffending). Therefore, a jail sentence should be a measure of last report, and for the shortest appropriate period of time, and should be directed solely to achieving this goal of rehabilitation and reintegration.

Q. Do we need to comprehensively change India's rape laws? Asked by: Jyoti

A. We do need to change laws related to sexual assault. The recent ordinance by the Indian government falls short of what was recommended by the Verma committee. In a previous answer, I have listed some of our key concerns. We are hoping that there will be a debate in parliament and a new law will be drafted, after consultations with civil society groups, that can ensure maximum protection for women.

Q. Where should the fight against rape begin? With laws, with the police, or with ourselves? Asked by: leena

A. As a society, we need to understand that rape is a henious crime. Those providing morality lessons and making degrading statements about women would do much better to condemn the perpetrators. We need the police to be much more responsive. But for that to happen, police reform is urgent. Too often, police have complained about overwork, lack of personnel, and above all pressure from those with clout to protect perpetrators. In one case we documented, a young girl was raped by someone from a politically influential family. The police came under pressure and kept her locked up for 12 days, asking her and her family to withdraw the complaint. The message should be clear. When it comes to sexual assault, no one is above the law, whether a politician, a bus driver, a rich person, or a member of the security forces.

Q. Considering the kind of generation we are heading towards, do you expect changes in our education system to provide proper guidelines to the newbies regarding the security of women? Asked by: deepak krishnamurthy

A. Unfortunately, violence against women has existed through the centuries. Victorious armies, for instance, committed rape. It is now treated as a war crime. You only have to see the kind of abuse that occured in Sri Lanka after the military defeated the LTTE to know that this still goes on. The world has changed where women have fought for access to education and jobs. It is up to us to ensure that women enjoy the priviliges of the right to life, liberty and dignity that is considered universal.

Q. We always take about an issue after the damage is already done. I would like to raise a question on children used for beggary. Though there are lot of law points available, what is hindering the implementation? Are we waiting for some damage worse than today to happen to those children? Asked by: W

A. Unfortunately, it is true that the state seems to respond only after a crisis. In Delhi, every time I speak with an auto driver, I remind them that a young woman would be safe and alive today if only one of them had agreed to take her safely home. But it also needs the state to ensure that the public transport system is working properly. It was shocking that the Home Minister initially claimed that talking with the unarmed, peaceful protesters after the Delhi attack would be like holding a dialogue with the Maoists. The Indian political and administrative class should make every effort to breach the gap between citizen and state. There are good efforts by civil society which perhaps can prevent a crisis in the future. But that needs the state to believe its duty is to protect the human rights of each and every citizen of the country.

Q. Do you think that women have become insecure when they started exploring this world compared to the past few decades where they were meant only for households? Asked by: deepak krishnamurthy

A. We have found that in most cases, the perpetrators of violence against women are known to them. Often, they are members of the family or neighbors. Thus keeping women cloistered is not the answer. The answer lies in believing that women have the same rights and privileges as men.

First Published: February 14, 2013, 4:27 PM IST
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