In an attempt to bring justice to the victims of acid attacks, the Delhi High Court went a step further to acknowledge and support the daily life struggles of their lives. In a landmark order Justice Manmohan directed the Govt. of NCT of Delhi to provide employment to Renu Sharma, a 29 year old acid attack victim. The much applauded order came against the backdrop of a plea filed by Renu Sharma, who was 19, when a tenant in her family house in Shahdara area of Delhi, threw acid on her face ten years back i.e. on February 2006. Ms Sharma has sought compensation of at least Rupees 50 Lakhs as well as to direct the authorities concerned to reimburse her medical expenses till now. She also asked for a government job either for her or any of her relatives. As per Delhi Victims Compensation Scheme of 2015, a sum of Rs 3 lakhs should be allowed to acid attack victims, when such matters are brought to the notice of Delhi State Legal Service Authority (DSLSA);Where the upper limit being Rs 7 lakhs in such cases. Justice Manmohan observed that the victim was paid only Rupees 3 lakhs as compensation ten years ago and also directed the Delhi government to bear the costs of her treatment. The court said that “In the opinion of this court, the state owes a duty to provide free medical treatment to acid attack victims. This court is further of the opinion that ceiling of expenditure of Rs 7 lakhs on medical treatment may be arbitrary and unreasonable in some cases. If more than Rs 7 lakhs is spent on treatment of an acid attack victim, the respondents (Delhi government) cannot take the stand that they would not spend more than the ceiling amount,” Justice Manmohan also directed Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Hospital to provide free treatment to her and also stated that Renu should be offered an employment that adequately considers her educational qualification and medical status.
We need to criminalise sexual violence at home, and not cite social mores as an excuse
Given the Modi government’s commitment to improving the lot of women, we would expect proactive attempts to ensure gender justice. But the parliamentary standing committee on home affairs in its latest report has steered clear of declaring marital rape a crime. In doing so, it has sidestepped the views of the Justice JS Verma Committee, which in the aftermath of the Delhi bus gang rape of 2012 recommended that marital rape should not be an exception in criminal justice. The parliamentary panel, in stating that criminalising marital rape would put the entire family system under great stress, only echoes the government’s views expressed by women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi last week when she said that marital rape “as understood internationally” cannot be applied in India on account of factors such as illiteracy, poverty, social customs, values and beliefs. Her words were a virtual copy of a similar ministerial statement made a year ago.
Has nothing changed in the thinking process, we want to ask. The government’s words fly in the face of UN recommendations, and spoil India’s chances of being a progressive global leader. Should our social reforms lag our excellence in digital technologies and scientific achievements? Criminalising marital rape will only extend the 2005 law against domestic violence. Not doing this is a missed opportunity in modernising the laws. Malaysia and Turkey, steeped in patriarchal cultures, are ahead of India in this curve. It must be said the previous Congress-led UPA government also saw a parliamentary panel saying virtually the same things lawmakers have said now.
India’s Constitution is a modern one that promises equality and social justice, and laws must lead social reform rather than be victims of the status quo that parliamentary panels seem to helplessly endorse. There may be legitimate reasons to apply safeguards against the abuse of a law that criminalises marital rape. India’s laws against dowry and domestic violence have been abused in divorce disputes, with widespread complaints of police cases and lawsuits being used to harass men. Courts have already spoken out on the issue and their logic may be extended to safeguard men from abuse of rape laws. However, that is not a case against criminalising marital rape. A UN survey said in 2014 that one in every five Indian women has suffered rape in an intimate partnership. Why should India’s lawmakers bury their heads in the sand like ostriches while paying lip service to justice for women? It is time the government acted.
‘Soni Sori, local adivasi leader and the Aam Aadmi Party coordinator for Bastar Division, was attacked by three goons on her way home on the 20th of February in Geedam. Soni Sori has communicated that the attackers threw a chemical substance on her face and threatened her saying “stop complaining against the IG, stop raising the issue of Mardum. If you don’t behave yourself, we will do this to your daughter as well.” She was also warned against attempting to file an FIR against the IG of police again.
.The attack on Soni Sori is part of a larger campaign of State violence in Bastar; Under the guise of anti-Naxal operations, the security forces are indulging in rape and plunder. Teams of women activists have documented three cases of mass sexual violence in the past three months, where security forces have entered villages in Sukma ad Bijapur- stripping women, indulging in gangrape, looting their food supplies, and destroying their homes and granaries. The number of “encounters” is increasing, people are “disappearing” from villages, only to show up in the list of “surrendered” or “arrested” Naxalites several days later as press clippings and testimonies recount. The local police and administration are talking in one voice of “clearing” the area within one year.
.Most recently, Soni attempted to file an FIR against the IG (Bastar) SRP Kalluri for instigating people to boycott and physically harm her. She had also raised the incident of the fake encounter of Hidme in the Mardum thana in Bastar District. Soni had organised a press conference in Raipur with the villagers and was trying to file a FIR regarding the case. While the police claim that Hidma was a high-ranking Naxalite (“1 lakh ka inami naxali”) killed after a fierce encounter in the jungles, the villagers claim that Hidma was an ordinary villager, picked up by the police at night from his house. His wife and elder daughter are eyewitnesses and the wife recalls the name of the police officer who had come to the house.
.Soni has been working with fellow adivasis in responding to human rights violations by state athourities in the form of random arrests and unlawful detention, fake encounters, assaults on women etc. But people’s rallies and meetings have been stopped, villagers have not been allowed to register complaints and regular threats have been made against Soni Sori. In a recent incident, the Nagar Panchayat of Geedam reached Soni’s house and questioned her with regard to the title of her house and indirectly threatened to break it down as an encroachment. About ten days earlier, parchas were thrown into her house calling her a randi and a Maoist. She has been warned against entering Bijapur, where a spate of sexual violence by security forces has taken place.
The attack and threats on Soni have taken place along with the hounding of other women journalists, lawyers and human rights defenders in Chhattisgarh. These inlude,
1.Malini Subramanium, an independent journalist, reporting on issues in Chhattisgarh including the closing down of schools, women and children, brutal violence by security forces against the adivasis, fake encounters and surrenders in the Bastar. The domestic worker in Malini’s house was called and kept in the police station till late at night to terrorize her into implicating the journalist of being Naxalite. Her landlord was similarly threatened by the police into asking her to vacate the house. Malini, fearing for the safety of those who have always stood by her, left Jagdalpur on 19th February.
2.The Jagdalpur Legal Aid group (Jaglag), currently consisting of lawyers Shalini Gera and Isha Khandelwal were also hounded out of Jagdalpur on the 20th night, an hour before Soni Sori was attacked. Their landlord was picked up and detained in the police station and under threat asked them to vacate their house and office. Jaglag has been providing legal aid to adivasi prisoners under trial in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh since 2013. For the past year and a half, both lawyers were being hounded by the local police. They have been faced with thinly veiled threats at press conferences insinuating that the police are closely monitoring NGOs providing “legal aid to Naxalites”. Their clients have been informed that the police are about to arrest them for Naxalite activities. Visiting journalists and researchers have been told that they are a “Naxalite front. The local Bar Association, clearly prompted by the police, took out a resolution on October 3rd 2015 prohibiting them from practicing in the local courts. On their complaint, the State Bar Council of Chhattisgarh passed an interim order allowing them to practice again.
3.Bela Bhatia, an independent researcher, living in Bastar has similarly been working with Soni Sori and Jaglag on documenting and filing cases of human rights violations and people’s livelihoods. She has also been collecting information on the systematic use of violence by armed personnel and security forces. Bela Bhatia has also been threatened and her landlord is being found for questioning. Ex-Salwa Judum members, under the banner of Naxal Peedit Sangharsh Samiti and more recently the Samajik Ekta Manch have threatened her along with Jaglag and Soni Sori.
The series of events are clearly manipulated by the IG (Bastar) SRP Kalluri, who in 2006, as the Sarguja SP, was accused of raping a tribal woman and ordering his juniors to continue doing so for ten days. Kalluri was posted out of Bastar after 300 homes in Tadmetla and neighbouring villagers were burnt, people killed, and women raped by security forces in 2011.
We call attention to the fact that the hounding of the women human rights defenders is related to their work and the questions they have been raising in regards to state repression and violence against the tribal people in Chhattisgarh uner the guise of “LWE effected areas”. This is an attempt to ensure that the state of affairs in Chhattisgarh remain hidden from the public. It is clear that the Government wants to continue to use its tools of repression in a war against the adivasis; closing all channels of protest, dissent and justice.’
For more information contact
Shivani Taneja (9425600382) ; Bittu (8179542651) ; Ishita Sharma (8527325400)