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Women and men [will] enjoy, in practice, equal rights, equal access to and control over productive resources, education, health, land, other forms of property, shelter, credit, information, knowledge, skills, technology and markets by adoption of affirmative action wherever necessary, and by removing identified impediments. Excerpt from India' s country paper at the Fourth United Nations Conference on Women in Beijing, stating the governments intended action to improve the status of women.

India has an elaborate system of laws to protect the rights of women, including the Equal Remuneration Act, the Prevention of Immoral Traffic, the Sati (widow burning) Act, andhe Dowry Prevention Act. However the Government is often unable to enforce these laws, especially in rural areas where traditions are deeply rooted. Female bondage and forced prostitution are widespread in some parts of Indian society. According to a government study . . . violence against women -- including molestation, rape, kidnapping, and dowry-deaths -- has increased over the last decade. From the United States Government State Department Reports on Human Rights: India, 1994.

Many obstacles to the realisation of women's human rights in India, as elsewhere, are social and cultural in nature, deeply rooted in the traditions of its communities. These obstacles are extremely controversial subjects of reform. Examining them often directly challenges the traditional roles of women in society, and may prove particularly uncomfortable for those who benefit from women's subordination. Social institutions such as the system of dowry payment by the family of a marrying woman perpetuate serve to perpetuate abuses against women, particularly amongst poor and low-caste women.

This report analyses the state of women's rights in India in terms of India's international legal obligations to protect women's rights under the ' Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and reflects the main concerns of Khalsa Human Rights in focusing on the civil and political rights of women in India.

Socioeconomic Status Article 13 CEDAW:States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all other areas of economic and social life . . . According to the indicators published by the United Nations Development Project (UNDP) the socioeconomic status of women in India is very low in comparison with other developing countries. Based on a country's achievements in terms of women's life expect ancy, literacy, and real income in comparison with that of the men, India ranks 99th on a list of 130 countries, behind Argentina, Mexico, China and Sri Lanka, and just above Pakistan and Bangladesh, which rank 103 and 108 respectively.

While such indicat ors obviously cannot fully describe the true conditions in any society, such a poor performance in the case of India must be considered cause for concern. Other statistical evidence, such as the fact that 25% of girls die from malnutrition before the age of 15 (in part a result of paying greater attention to the needs of male children), is even more difficult to argue with.

Political PowerUnder Article 7 of CEDAW , India is obligated to ensure that women participate equally in the formulation and implem entation of government policy and perform all public functions at all levels of government. This goal is clearly along way from being realised. Less than 5% of those in Parliament or other government bodies are women. Of 116 countries, India is ranked 101 on women's participation by the UNDP, behind Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, ranked 79 and 80, respectively.

Personal Status Laws Article 2 CEDAW: States Parties . . .undertake to establish the legal protection of the rights of women on an equal basis with men . . .Article 16 CEDAW:

States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and in particular shall ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women: a. the same right to enter into marriage; b. the same right freely to choose a spouse and to enter into marriage only with their free and full consent; c. the same rights and responsibilities during marriage and its dissolution. . . . Personal status laws of different religious communities discriminate against women. under the Indian Divorce Act of 1869, a Christian woman may demand divorce only in the case of spousal abuse and certain categories of adultery, while for a man adultery alone is sufficient. Under Islamic law, a Muslim husband may divorce his wife spontaneously and unilaterally; there is no such provision for women. Islamic law also allows a man to have up to four wives, but explicitly prohibits a woman to marry more than once.

Dowry Deaths Article 5 CEDAW: States Parties shall take all appropriate measures . . . to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women.

According to Government figures there were a total of 5,377 dowry deaths in 1993, an increase of 12% from 1992. Despite the existence of rigorous laws to prevent dowry-deaths under a 1986 amendment to the Indian Penal Code (IPC), convictions are rare, and judges (usually men) are often uninterested and susceptible to bribery. Recent newspaper reports have focused on the alarming rate of deaths of married women in Hamirpur, Mandi and Bilaspur districts in the state of Himachal Pradesh

In Orissa, dowry-related deaths have increased 11 times during the past 10 years. The state recorded 232 such deaths in 1993, with the total number of dowry-deaths reported between 1990-1994 coming to 745.

Female Infanticide/Son Preference

According to a recent report by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) up to 50 million girls and women are missing from India' s population as a result of systematic gender discrimination. In most countries in the world, there are approximately 105 female births for every 100 males. In India, there are less than 93 women for every 100 men in the population. The accepted reason for such a disparity is the practice of female infanticide, prompted by the existence of a dowry system which requires the family to pay out a great deal of money when a female child is married. For a poor family, the birth of a girl child can signal the beginning of financial ruin and extreme hardship. However this anti-female bias is by no means limited to poor families. Much of the discrimination is to do with cultural beliefs and social norms. These norms themselves must be challenged if this practice is to stop.

Diagnostic teams with ultrasound scanners which detect the sex of a child advertise with catchlines such as spend 600 rupees now and save 50,000 rupees later. The implication is that by avoiding a girl, a family will avoid paying a large dowry on the marriage of her daughter. According to UNICEF, the problem is getting worse as scientific methods of detecting the sex of a baby and of performing abortions are improving. These methods are becoming increasing available in rural areas, fuelling fears that the trend towards the abortion of female foetuses is on the increase.

Khalsa Human Rights welcomes the fact that pregnancy screening has now been banned in India, but recognises that discrimination against the girl child, including female infanticide, is far from over.

Rape

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

As in other countries throughout the world, rape is extremely common in India. Hardly a day passes without a case of rape being reported in the newspapers.

Women belonging to low castes, and tribal women are especially at risk. What is particularly worrying about rape in India is the lack of seriousness with which the crime is often treated, and the degrading treatment to which alleged rape victims are often subjected by law courts and by their own communities. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that rape laws are inadequate and definitions so narrow that prosecution is made difficult. In a notorious case from Rajasthan, alleged gang-rapers were acquitted on account of their high-caste and middle-agedness.

A case study which has received a great deal of media attention recently regarding a woman social activist from Rajasthan powerfully illustrates the difficulties of women who have been raped, and gives an insight into the status of women in India.

43 year-old Bhanwari Devi, a backward-caste voluntary worker from Bhateri village in Rajasthan filed a complaint with the police in 1992 alleging that she had been gang-raped. She had allegedly been raped on September 22, 1992, by members of a rich, high-caste family, whom she had attempted to report for organising a child marriage as part of her job in the state sponsored Rajasthan's Women's Development Project.

Following its transference from the local police to the state Criminal Investigations Department, and then under pressure from women's groups, to the Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI), the district and sessions court in Jaipur dismissed her case and acquitted all five accused: Ram Sukh Gujjar, Ram Karan Gujjar, Gyarsa Gujjar, Badri Gujjar, and Shravan Sharma. The judgement emphasised that her First Information Report (FIR) was not immediately filed and that she did not tell anyone else in the village about her ordeal.

Khalsa Human Rights does not consider that this would be a surprising reaction to gang-rape and the emotional trauma and stigma attached to it. Based on an examination of available press reports, Khalsa Human Rights remains very concerned about the outco me of this case and the poor treatment which has been accorded to Ms. Bhanwari Devi.

Custodial Rape Article 7 ICCPR: No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.Article 10(1) ICCPR: All persons deprived of their shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.\

Custodial rape is a particularly important category of rape since it represents a flagrant abuse of the authority of the Indian government, the ver y same institution which is bound to promote and protect the rights of women. The degree to which government authorities are willing to ensure that the perpetrators of this crime are brought to justice is likely to be a good indication of the esteem in which women's rights are held in the society as a whole.

Hundreds of cases of police rape have been reported in India in recent years, but convictions of police officers for raping women in their custody remain rare. Few cases of custodial rape reach the trial stage. In 1990 five police officers in West Bengal were suspended for allegedly raping Kankuli Santra in Singur police station. The police at first tried to avoid responsibility by claiming that she was mentally ill. Then they said that she was a bad woman. Public protests eventually forced charges to be brought against two of the officers, but the case was dismissed for lack of evidence.

According to a recent report by the People's Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) -- an Indian human rights organisation -- police officers were charged in 10 cases of rape in New Delhi between 1989-1993. They reported that the courts tended to ignore the victim's vulnerability, and often subject the victim to so much emotional strain that the case is dropped completely.

Of the ten cases it is reported that six of the women wanted to withdraw the charges in order to end their ordeal; two of the women did not show up to complete proceedings; one of the remaining cases was still in progress, with all four def endants on bail. In the only remaining case, there was a failure to produce any of the accused in court. In another case which has been brought to the attention of Khalsa Human Rights, , the wife of Kanwar Singh Dhami, a well-known advocate of an independent Sikh homeland (Khalistan) in Punjab, was arrested in Himachal Predesh in 1993, following a seditious speech given by her husband at the Anandpur Sahib Gurdwara (Sikh Temple). Kanwar Singh Dhami claimed that he and his wife were tortured in front of each other by Punjab police during their detention.

Kuldip Kaur alleged that she had been raped by the police during her detention, and that she had to have an abortion on April 11, 1994, because of the pain that she was suffering.

Rape in Kashmir: Rape by the Border Security Force

Custodial rape is frequently reported in Kashmir, where it has a greater significance than mere abuse of authority, but has become a tool of war. Since Indian crackdowns began against militants in Kashmir in 1990, rape has been used as a weapon by both the Indian Border Security Force (BSF), and by militant groups.

In October 1992, Human Rights Watch/Asia and Physicians for Human Rights documented 15 cases of reported rape by the army and BSF.

Rape by the BSF usually occurs during crackdowns and \ldblquote cordon-and-search operations, during which men are held for identification while security forces search their homes. It is used as means of humiliating entire communities, and as a means of reprisal following militant ambushes.

On October 10, 1992 an Indian Army Unit entered the village of Chak Saidpora near the town of Shopian, district Pulwama, searching for suspected militants. During the operation, six to nine women were gang-raped by army officers.

The investigations which followed were inadequate and characterised by an unwillingness on the part of the Indian government to accept responsibility, and a deliberate attempt to discredit the testimony of the victims.

These events at Shopian are but one example of abuses against women committed by the army and BSF. India's criminal law prescribes punishment for members of the police or security forces who have committed rape.

Section 376(1)}{\fs24 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) -- A minimum of 7 years may be imposed for rape.

Criminal Law Amendment (Prevention) Act 1983 -- Provides for the offence of custodial rape carrying a sentence of 10 years imprisonment, which may be extended to life imprisonment and may also include a fine.

Commissioned officers of paramilitary and military forces are included under Section 376 (2)(b) of the IPC and are also subject to this mandatory sentence.

Military laws governing federal paramilitary forces also prescribe courts-martial and punishments for members of these forces who rape. These laws are not enforced by the authorities, and according to Human Rights Watch, the character of the victim is all too often the basis for decisions in cases, rather than the nature of the behaviour of the alleged rapist towards the woman in question.

Rape by Militants Although opposition groups have no obligation to uphold international human rights law, which only applies to independent states, human rights abuses by militant groups must be similarly condemned. Under Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions which govern the laws of war, each party to an internal conflict is bound to respect basic human rights guarantees.

Frequently members of militant groups rape women who are believed to be from families of other rival militant groups. Women have been raped and killed after being abducted by rival militant groups and held as hostages for their male relatives.

In other cases, members of armed groups have abducted a woman after threatening to shoot the rest of the family unless she was handed over.

Victims of rape are stigmatised, their testimonies often treated with little concern, Social attitudes make prosecution difficult, and women are understandably reluctant to press charges.

Case Studies Mrs Sees Kaur was abducted by a police party led by Sub-Inspector Radha Kishan, and comprising head constables Charanjit Singh and Kashmiri. They had picked her up from Pailli village, near Balachaur (Hoshiarpur district) on the charge of harbouring terrorists. She was allegedly to rtured and gang-raped in the police station for two days. After seven years of tenacity in the face of cover-ups and deliberate attempts to destroy relevant evidence -- the police intervened to ensure that Mrs. Kaur would be incapable of receiving medica l examination to corroborate her evidence and burned her house containing her bloodstained clothes -- the trial of the accused officers was due to begin at the end of September. Khalsa Human Rights has no further details.

Zawra and Wahab Noori of Theno Budapathry village in Kashmir were allegedly collecting firewood from a local forest when several soldiers took them to a nearby house and repeatedly raped them at gunpoint. It is reported by village elders that several families had fled Theno Budapathry to search for safer places to live after Indian soldiers were apparently looking around for more young women.

Ms. Katia, a 24 year old French visitor to Punjab, was abducted and allegedly gang-raped by five men suspected of having been police. Even though in her initial report filed with the Mohali police she filed a charge of gang-rape, she later changed her statement to say that she had been abduct ed and molested. It is alleged that she was pressurised into making the change.

Torture/Abuses Against Women in Custody Article 7 of the ICCPR proscribes torture.

Article 10 of the ICCPR states that all persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.

United Nations resolutions such as the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners mandate non-discrimination on the basis of sex whilst in custody, and require that prisoners have procedures for filing complaints and are given full information about these procedures.

Article 17 of the ICCPR provides for the right to be protected against unlawful interference with privacy.

Articles 9-16 of the ICCPRobligate states to ensure effective redress for women victims of custodial violence, and freedom from arbitrary detention.

In addition to men who are hounded by the police in secessionist regions such as Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir, women and children have similarly been subjected to harassment, torture and custodial death at the hands of brutal police. \par \par }{\b\fs24 Resham Kaur}{\fs24 of 15D Secto r House #3453, Chandigarh, Punjab was detained along with her son, Simranjit Singh (8 months old) on October 22, 1993 in order to determine the whereabouts of her husband Jagjit Singh, who was suspected of involvement with militant organisations. It was reported that Resham Kaur was unwilling (or unable) to disclose any information. Her son was held down on a block of ice in the hope of forcing her to talk. On October 23, 1993 the police announced that Resham Kaur had died in custody, adding that she h ad committed suicide. Her family believe that she died due to prolonged torture.

As far as Khalsa Human Rights is aware, there is no evidence that Resham Kaur received an independent or police post mortem. Jagjit Singh alleges that Hansa Singh, who witnessed the torture of the child, was pressurised to sign a statement that Resham Kaur had committed suicide.

Incidents of physical torture of women and their public auction have been recently reported in the Thane district of Maharashtra, particularly Sahapur.

It was recently reported that an auction was planned of a 25 year old woman Kahni Dharma Mondula, and that 3 women were auctioned and 3 auctions stopped at the intervention of a local organisation.

Similar auctions have been reported in the past four years in the villages of Sakadbab, Kothere and Umbarvadi following suspicion of infidelity. Intervention prevented the auction of Ahilyabai Kevari and Kamal Chandu Khadka, however they could not preven t them from being tortured. Huge stones were placed on the heads of the women and they were tortured and forced to confess their misdeeds.

Reports from certain tribal societies in West Bengal illustrate that the practice of witch-hunting continues. 105 women are reported to have been lynched as witches in Malda, and there have been 45 deaths in garden areas of Dooars since 1989. The practice is said to continue amongst the following tribes: Santhals, Mundas, Kimans and Mahelis.

Prostitution/Sex Trade

Article 6: States Parties shall take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women. According to a 1994 report in Asian Age there are at least 70,000 women sex workers in Delhi, Madras, Calcutta, Bangalore and Hyderbad. 30% of these women are under 20 years of age. 40% are 20-30 years of age, and approximately 15% of them became prostitutes as children under the age of 12. The majority of these women are Dalits or from castes which are recognised as backward under the Indian Constitution. Many are forced into prostitution by their husbands.

Non-Governmental Women's Rights Movement

There are many committed and hardworking grassroots organisations and non-governmental organisations (ngos) in India working for the advancement of women's rights in addition to government appointed agencies. The Indian government has a National Commission for Women, although at the Beijing conference ngos complained that the Commission paid insufficient attention to their concerns.

Conclusion and Recommendations

It is evident that there exist deep rooted prejudices against women in India. Cultural practices such as the payment of dowry serve to subordinate women in Indian society. The traditional roles of women in Indian society also result in a low level of participation in political and public life and a low socioeceonomic status.

The Indian government is obligated under CEDAW to work to remove traditional practices which subordinate women. It is vital that this commit ment is accorded high priority in order to improve the quality of life of women in India, and to put a stop to female infanticide and violence against women.

The endeavours of women's grassroots organisations and non-governmental organisations are vital to the process of improving social and economic conditions for women, and in working to remove traditional practices such as dowry payment. These important endeavours should be supported by the Indian government in their work to promote the equal rights of women under CEDAW.

In addition to providing support to women's organisations, the government must prioritise women's rights and ensure that those responsible for crimes against women (including rape) are brought to justice, and that women are treated fairly and with respect during legal proceedings.

Khalsa Human Rights is particularly concerned that women who are victims of crime are fully compensated for the trauma that they have suffered.

In the case of alleged abuses committed against women by members of the security forces and the army, it is vital that the government ensures that these abuses are promptly and independently investigated, and that any member of the security forces found to be guilty of rape or other crime against women is promptly brought to justice in accordance with existing laws.

 

 

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