November 18, 2011

Times of India

The unsafe sex

A shocking bit of statistic hit us last week. There has been an 800% increase in rape cases in the last 40 years. Each passing decade should have been safer for women in a country that aspires to be a world leader. But India is today a more dangerous place for the fairer sex than it was ever before.

For Kiran (not her real name), it was almost a daily habit to stroll outside her home in south Delhi and chat with friends on her cellphone. She probably thought she had nothing to fear though the area where she lived had many single men, mostly students like her. Late last year, the girl from the northeast was raped and killed when she refused a neighbour's advances.

The accused later reportedly told a psychiatrist , "She used to talk on her phone about private matters in front of me. I felt if she's doing that, then she's become mine (Woh meri apni ho gayi)."

His response reflects one truth about modern India - the more it tries to change, the more it remains the same for its women. That seems to be the dark message from statistics released recently by the National Crime Records Bureau, which show that rape is India's fastest growing misdemeanour and has increased by 792% since 1971.
There are no class barriers here, though figures say rapes are more rampant in rural areas. The patriarchal mindset has always been the prime accused and nothing has changed in that respect, whether the criminals are well-shod , PhD students or poor rickshawallas. Today, though, "there are complex multiple forces at play which are causing increasing violence against women" , as Abha Bhaiya, founding member of Jagori, an NGO for women's empowerment in Delhi, says. "True, there's more awareness now and more reporting of sexual violence. More mothers are reporting about child abuse. But the fact is that the number of child rapes has increased. There are regressive forces at play. Women have become more assertive and men are not able to accept that and use heinous ways to punish them. Most of the rapes are done by people known to the victims , which says something about our society."

Activists say the laws have made little difference. "The generation of my parents said women have to suffer in silence. Today women feel they cannot take it anymore, but they are angry that the larger society does not take a stance," says Bhaiya.

With more women entering the workforce, emerging as professional competitors and exhibiting financial and emotional independence, the ill-feeling towards them has increased, say experts . "Modernity is impinging on closed systems ," says Dr Rajat Mitra, director of Swanchetan , an NGO that provides emotional support to survivors of violence and abuse. He feels the growing migrant workforce in the country is part of the problem. "These people carry forward their values and mindset, leading to a clash of cultures. Besides,women from small towns don't take the necessary precautions in big cities, adding to their vulnerability. Men have increased access to porn and other forms of stimulation, and have the feeling that they can get away with it, given the image the police have as those who can be paid off."

Mitra believes that lax law enforcement - and the low importance given to both rape as a crime and to counselling of victims - is contributing to the rise in sexual violence. "Counselling helps in reporting the case, pursuing it in court and getting the accused convicted." But, he says, there has been a decline in psychological services, which have been palmed off to local NGOs that don't have the expertise to deal with complex cases. The abysmal rate of rape convictions in India, about 27% in 2010, adds to the poor image of law enforcers and encourages those inclined towards sexual violence. A former member of the National Commission for Women recalls a case last year in which a rapist was allowed to go free on the basis of a compromise. "It reveals a lack of consistency in court judgments, subjectivity in the interpretation of the law and also adds to the pressure on the victim," she says. There have been shocking instances where victims have been asked to marry their violators. "If that's going to be the trend in courts, it's going to be bad," says the former NCW member. "Rape victims abroad never worry about who would marry them. But here, for victims from semi-urban families, the worry is 'Who will marry me' , and that her family would be ostracized," says Mitra.

The rape laws

In India, rape is defined as intentional, unlawful sexual intercourse with a woman, without her permission. In Brazil, it’s unconsensual vaginal sex and in China, it’s forcible coitus with women or by other means against their will. But in Sweden, where Julian Assange is facing trial for rape, it even applies to situations when someone wouldn’t be capable of saying “no”. The definition was broadened in 2005 to include having sex with someone who is asleep, or someone who could be considered to be in a “helpless state”

Some lessons from Rwanda

Would you rather be born a woman in India or in Pakistan ?

The answer may not behalf as obvious as you would imagine. While countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh, as well as African nations such as Rwanda and Zimbabwe have never been role models for India, they fare better than us on the latest Gender Inequality Index released by the United Nations Development Programme. This, despite the fact that all four countries fare worse than India on the Human Development Index.

So does India's development elude its women? And how come parts of Africa, which conjure images of starvation and voodoo among the Indian middle class, look after their women better?

Experts in the field of women's studies point to the structured inequality in Indian society. "Many poorer nations are not as unequal as we are,'' says Vibhuti Patel, professor at Mumbai's SNDT Women's University and a prominent women's activist. Many countries, which may be economically more depressed than India, may also be less aggressive towards their women. Within India itself, more developed regions such as Punjab are also more violent towards women. Activists believe practices such as child marriage and female foeticide that greatly reduce a woman's decision-making powers are far more prevalent in India than much of Africa. Data on women and girls, released by the Washington-based Population Reference Bureau earlier this year, shows that 47% of Indian women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married by the time they reached 18, a figure far higher than the average for sub-Saharan Africa. Patel says that women enjoy a better status in several African countries than they do in India as they have more control over the family income. "In Africa, starvation levels are the same for men and women, while in India there tends to be a hierarchy of food distribution within families, with men and boys being fed more nutritious food, and women being fed both last and the least.''

When it comes to literacy rates, India fares worse than countries such as Iran and Libya. "When poor families face a crunch in their household income, it's usually the girls that get pulled out of school,'' says Prof Malashri Lal, former director of the Women Studies and Development Centre at Delhi University. This is in sync with the latest Annual Status of Education Report by NGO Pratham, which shows that more girls are enrolled in India's government schools than boys even as there are more boys in private schools.

If there's one area where the Indian woman is becoming more visible, it's in the workforce. But these numbers have a flip side too. Prof Shyam Menon, vice-chancellor of Ambedkar University, points out that middle-class women's participation in labour outside the house is now possible because poorer women do the housework for them. "Can we actually call this women's empowerment, or is it a case of one class of women replacing the other when it comes to domestic labour?'' he asks.

Menon feels that many women take up professions such as teaching , nursing and hospitality as it gives them time to carry out their domestic chores as well. "Domestic work is seen as their primary responsibility. This is a double-edged sword as it undermines both women as well as professions such as teaching,'' he adds.
Sonya Gill of the All India Democratic Women's Association blames the current growth model for gender inequality. "The government is cutting down on public funding of welfare measures in fields such as health, education and food distribution. This particularly affects marginalized sections such as women.'' She also points to the government's refusal to implement affirmative action policies such as the reservation bill for women in Parliament. Women's representation in Parliament is lower in India than it is in Pakistan , Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

But, N Hamsa, executive director of Woman Power Connect , says India does not lack in policy or legislation for women, but in implementation. For instance, despite having an inheritance law, women are influenced not to exert their rights. "It is like having a policy of free education in the absence of schools," she says. Or take the "strict" laws against domestic violence. At the ground, little seems to have changed. In a startling revelation, the National Family Health Survey III found that over 40% of the 1.25 lakh women surveyed in 28 states and the capital said they had experienced domestic violence. More shockingly, 54% of women - and 51% of men - felt it was justified. Increasing modernity in India's metros may seem at odds with the low status of women in society. But Nandita Shah, codirector of Akshara, an organization working for the uplift of women, feels that modernity reinforces traditional beliefs. "Modernity exists in terms of fashion, clothes and brands, but not in our worldview, or the way we see relationships.'' And here India could learn a thing or two from poorer nations.

I don’t think I will get justice…’

Simi, 17, and Reena, 24 (names changed), are victims of rape. Both live in Delhi and are going through counselling. Sunday Times spoke to them and found that they have little faith in the system

Who supported you when you needed it? Your family?

Simi: No. They blame me for bringing dishonour to them.
Reena: I did not want to tell my family but they got to know and it was terrible. They became anxious and agitated. They also blamed me for it, saying I was too liberated. I got support from the counsellor and a close friend.

Do you think you will get justice?

Simi: I don't think so. He (the accused) is powerful and the system is corrupt.
Reena: Have I got justice? No. I do not have faith in the system.

How did the police treat you?

Simi: They were suspicious and insensitive. My story leaked out because of them.
Reena: They were insensitive. They didn't know how to ask me questions, nor did the doctors doing the MLC report. People stared at me. Everyone knew I had been raped; it was horrible.

What do you look forward to in life?

Simi: I don't know what I want in life right now.
Reena: I live one day at a time; I have no future. At times, I feel suicidal and call up my counsellor or a helpline.

What do you think of men who don't respect women?

Simi: It's disgusting the way they treat women.They only see us as a body, not as someone with feelings.
Reena: I do not have any feelings for men. Earlier, I felt attracted (towards them), now I don't .

Do you think you are stronger as a person now?

Simi: I feel more vulnerable now.
Reena: I don't feel strong inside. I feel hollow.

When the crime is rape, all the men gang up

Whichever way you look at it, the news is not good. A 792% increase in reported cases of rape in 40 years. Add to this the thousands of cases that don't get reported, and the numbers will be staggering . If nothing else, this should make Indians, all of us, right from the President to the person at the bottom of the social ladder, hang our heads in shame.

One might argue that there's always another side to statistical data - and if you wanted to put a positive spin on this (hard to do but nevertheless), you might say that at least women are coming out to report, that they feel empowered to talk about a crime that has so far remained hidden.

But the holes in such an argument are immediately apparent. For one thing, if this is what women are talking about, the real scale of the problem must be much, much bigger. And then, even if they are coming out to talk, you only need to look at other statistics - conviction rates have dropped by nearly a third (from 41% to 27%in the same period) as have what the police euphemistically call 'disposal' rates. And none of this takes account of those unnamable things - social stigma, mental trauma, deep insecurities, to name only a few.

It's nearly four decades now that the women's movement in India began to focus on the issue of rape. The Mathura, Rameeza Bee, and Maya Tyagi rape cases (even though the use of names is now banned, this is how these landmark cases came to be known) and the gangrape of women in Santhal Parganas - these were some of the catalysts for the activism of the late seventies and early eighties.

Led by four eminent lawyers we - for I was among those who were part of this nationwide campaign - fought against the acquittal of two policemen who had raped the minor girl, Mathura. We demanded changes in the rape law. We performed at street corners to create an awareness of women's rights.

And when, in 1983, the State finally changed the law on rape - after nearly a century-and-a-half - we thought we had 'succeeded' because, even if the new legislation did not have everything we wanted, it had some important changes.

November 9, 2011


Times of India

India's invisible children: Swallowed by the streets

The show begins at night. After the sun is swallowed by the smog and neon lights wash the city in yellow, Rahul and his gang emerge from under the flyover. They all look similar - grubby feet, frayed rags, scarred faces, red eyes and brassy hair. They are all under 11. Walking with the swagger of his favourite filmstar, the puny urchin produces a cigarette from his pocket, lights it and blows the smoke into the faces of six other kids who beg for a drag. But Rahul is high: one moment he is Dabangg; another, he is Romeo the kutta. Then he offers the fag to his buddies, but at a price. He punches one, yanks out Rs 5 from another's pocket, and then grabs Guddi, the only girl in the pack. She screams and giggles as he pulls her towards a dark corner. Then a boy shouts police' and the group vanishes into the dark garbage dump they call home.

These are India's invisible children who have fallen through the cracks. During the day, they sleep amid stinking waste and at night they collect plastic bottles, sell flowers, clean cars, beg or steal - all around a flyover in south Delhi. They all had a home once. They all have a story to tell, but they clamp up when asked about it. Rahul wants a dibba of "good boot polish" before talking. He eats it. "Otherwise, I can't sleep," says the 10-year-old who ran away from his home in Gwalior to escape an alcoholic father and a cruel stepmother. Others have similar tales: Guddi left home when her mother tried to push her into prostitution; Guddu's father beat him mercilessly; Raju was too scared of a teacher at school, and Pappu just got tired of hunger. They took a train to Delhi, got snuffed by gangs roaming the platforms and since then, it has been a story of rape, torture, drugs and starvation.

Last week, the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) came out with shocking figures of crimes against children: 5,484 children were raped and 1,408 others killed in India last year. In the Capital alone, 29 children were murdered and 304 raped in 2010. But these figures do not include even a fraction of crimes committed against street children. "Not even 10% cases of rape, sodomy or murder of street children are recorded. Who is going to file an FIR for these children who have been abandoned by society and trapped by gangs?" asks Prabhakar Goswami, director of i-India, a Jaipur-based NGO which runs a helpline for street children. "We go to the police when we come across such cases, but it's difficult to file an FIR as they don't take these cases seriously."

The NCRB figures are based on FIR and daily diary reports and, therefore, hide more than they reveal as the worst victims of child abuse are not counted at all. "Street children are abused - physically, mentally and sexually - on a daily basis. They get trapped in a cycle of abuse that leads to drugs and crimes, but no one is bothered," says Sanjay Gupta, director of Chetna, an NGO working for street children in Delhi. "In Delhi, there are at least five lakh street children, but in government records, less than 50,000 exist."

Numbers are the real problem. Though estimates range from one crore to four crore, nobody is sure how many children live on India's streets. "We demanded a count of these children during the current Census but the government refused. If their exact number is known, it's easier to protect them," says Gupta.

Another problem is the police. They are supposed to keep track of crimes against these kids, but end up always finding these children on the wrong side of law. The kids are routinely arrested, locked up and tortured. "The police are not sensitive enough to stop crimes against them. Though they may see a street kid being abused or forced to work, they do nothing to stop it," says Ramesh Kumar, a volunteer who has been working with street children in Mumbai. "For the cops, these kids do not exist."

The term "street child" did not figure in the official vocabulary of India until 1993, when under pressure from NGOs the government launched a Scheme for Assistance to Street Children" in six major cities. Now, it's been extended to all cities with more than one million, but it hasn't helped. "Making laws is not enough. T h e re i s a l aw against child labour but you see them everywhere. Under the Right to Education, every street child should be in school, but millions are getting wasted on footpaths. The only way to take them off streets is to put them in shelters and schools," says Goswami of i-India.

Considering their huge numbers, there are very few shelters for street children. Most are run by NGOs. The children have to fend for themselves and fight the demons surrounding them. Rahul has no desire to go to school; he just wants his daily dose of boot polish. Raju is happy sniffing glue. Pappu is learning the tricks of survival from Kalia the pocketmaar. Guddi hangs around with this bunch as they protect her from bigger pests. For all of them, the future just means the next meal.

The Most Vulnerable More than 40 million children in India are denied education and are vulnerable to abuse

CHILD LABOUR: They work in factories, workshops, mines and in the service sector. They are exploited financially and physically abused

STREET CHILDREN: Children living on and off the streets, such as shoeshine boys, ragpickers and beggars. They live on pavements, at bus stations and railway platforms. They are at the mercy of urban predators and the police

BONDED CHILDREN: They have to work in private houses or fields, either in exchange for a small salary or to repay family debts. Many are abused and tortured

SEX SLAVES: Thousands of young girls and boys serve the sexual appetites of men from various social and economic backgrounds. Factories, workshops, street corners, railway stations, bus stops and homes where children work are common places where this happens

Midday, Pune

13-year-old's rape at orphanage surfaces 5 months later

After rape by 13-year-old boy takes 5 months to comes to light, only 2 people suspended; no action taken yet against orphanage director

It seems young girls rejected by their families may not be safe even in orphanages, which are supposed to provide a secure and nurturing environment to such helpless children. Giving credence to this observation is the surfacing of the case of a rape of a 13-year-old girl by a boy of the same age at a high-profile orphanage in Kamshet.

The case went unnoticed by those who run Vidyavati Ashram, the orphanage where the rape occurred, and also by the Women and Child Development officers till the girl became five months pregnant. So far, the Women and Child Development (WCD) Depar-tment has suspended only the superintendent and a woman caretaker. No action has been taken against the orphanage director, a former businessman called Dr Rajendra Gupta. The DWCD Officer has instructed all 19 boys be transferred to other orphanages.

Also, in what looked like a deliberate attempt to protect the orphanage director, the WCD officers and the police initially tried to keep the matter under wraps by remaining tight-lipped about it. It was only when some sources talked about the rape case that the matter was revealed to MiD DAY. District Women and Child Development Officer Suvarna Pawar, who reportedly visited the orphanage twice, failed to notice the case.

Confronted with the facts of the case, Pawar was more interested in knowing who had provided the information on the case. Finally, Pawar said, "The matter came to light on October 22. We have suspended superintendent Basavraj S Chinnamwar and a lady caretaker. We have also issued orders to transfer the boys elsewhere, which are in process." On how this major case could have gone unnoticed, she said, "The children were at school when I visited the place." Reminded that visiting officers are expected to check a register of menstruation cycles and asked whether the register was not checked during her visits, she said, "Nothing abnormal was pointed out; the register was duly signed by superintendent and lady caretaker. We have taken action against them."

Women and Child Welfare Deputy Commissioner Ravi Patil said, "I was on leave, I joined only yesterday. I have to collect information before I can comment on this matter." Police Inspector Rajendra Patil of Wadgaon Maval also seemed reluctant to share any information on the matter, saying the police had been asked not to divulge information on it. Shankar Jadhav, DYSP of Lonavala region, said that the matter came to light on October 18 and the offence was registered against a 13-year-old boy under Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code on October 22.

Jadhav said, "I personally visited the place and conducted the inquiry and I suspect the matter went unnoticed as Superintendent Basavraj S Chinnamwar did not pay regular visits. We have also registered a case against the superintendent for negligence, considering that children were in his legal custody." Jadhav said the boy was produced before the CWC. "The boy was remanded to an observation home," Jadhav said. He said the offence was registered on the basis of a complaint filed by Child Welfare Committee member Amitkumar Banerjee. Child Welfare Committee member Anita Vipat said, "The medical test was performed on the boy on Wednesday. The course of the investigation will be decided once the sperm fertilisation report is available."

The other side
Repeated attempts to contact Vidyavati Ashram Director Dr Rajendra Gupta did not meet with success. He also did not respond to text messages sent on his cell phone.

Child rights experts speak
>> SURYAKANT Kulkarni, a member of the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, said: "The matter was not brought before the commission earlier, but after knowing this we will definitely take cognisance of it as it is a serious case."

>> Anjali Pawar of Sakhee said: "On numerous occasions I have demanded stringent action against managing trustees of institutions that start these organisations claiming they are doing good for society, but every time they manage to escape from the ambit of the law. If one is running an institution, he or she cannot wash their hands of saying that they had delegated the responsibility to someone else."

>> Sangeeta Punekar, a child rights activist from Mumbai, said: "Children rejected by families are sent to orphanages but there too they are not safe. Consider this case, where the girl could not share this with anyone and it went unnoticed by people who were responsible to take care of these girls. There is no protocol set on who is considered to be liable for negligence and as a result people who are responsible manage to escape."

Can a 13-yr-old boy do it?

DR Yamini Adbe, a member of the International Health Task Force for South Asia, cautioned that it was unlikely that a 13-year-old boy was capable of impregnating a girl his age. "This needs thorough investigation as the girl may have been abused by an elder person along with the boy. A paternity or DNA test is necessary," Adbe said.