Indian government's poor response to national violence crisis - AIPWA | Asia Pacific

Indian government's poor response to national violence crisis - AIPWA

Indian government's poor response to national violence crisis - AIPWA

Updated 4 February 2013, 10:08 AEDT

A peak women's group in India has been scathing about the government's response to the country's gender violence crisis.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh this week promised to pursue the recommendations of the Verma Commission.

The legal reforms include punishment for marital rape, harsher sentences for perpetrators and medical tests to be more sensitive to rape victims.

The Verma Commission also recommended an overhaul of police procedures, including how rape and other complaints are handled, plus greater police accountability.

The All India Progressive Women's Association has applauded the Verma recommendations, but says India's political establishment is still resistant to safeguarding women's freedom and autonomy.

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: Kavita Krishnan, national secretary, All-India Proggressive Women's Association in New Delhi

KRISHNAN: I think the response has been very, very poor indeed. They have responded to the protests with outright repression. They've heaped contempt on the protestors, branding them as "tainted and painted women" and so on, and they have been completely unwilling to look at any of the substantial demands being made by the movement (against gender violence).

Even with the Justice Verma recommendations - the Justice Verma Committee, headed by this retired chief justice, has himself gone on record to say that their committee was provided with no resources by the government, no team except a car to ferry them from the home to the office, but with no other team. So in a way, the team members themselves drew upon their personal resources in order to be able to prepare this very excellent report, in record time.

The report was uploaded on the India's home ministry website, when it was submitted to the Home Ministry, but subsequently removed from the website.

LAM: What do you make of the recommendations from this panel?

KRISHNAN: I think the recommendations (of the Verma Commission) are path-breaking in the sense that they called for a radical shift in the prevailing view on women and sexual violence, as in they're calling for violence against women to be looked at from the perspective of women's bodily integrity and autonomy and dignity, rather than from the pervailing perspective of honour and shame and modesty - which is the language that the Indian laws still use, for violence against women.

They've also touched upon custodial violence, custodial sexual violence by police and army offices, stating that the laws should be amended, so that the prevailing protection from prosecution which is given to army officers, should be removed in cases of complaints of sexual violence.

LAM: The former chief justice JS Verma, who headed the three-member Commission, pointed out that not one of the state police chiefs had sent recommendations to the panel. Did you find this disappointing? Do you think police culture in India is in dire need of change?

KRISHNAN: It isn't just police culture. The thing is, that the police are under political control. So I would certainly blame the senior police officers, but also I would question why the respective chief ministers of the states not instruct the police people to attend the Justice Verma hearing? So clearly, it is a very deliberate rejection of this committee by the entire establishment, including the political establishment as well as the police. And the policing in India suffers from several problems, including political interference and so on, but also very crucially, gender bias.

LAM: Why do you think there's this political resistance to this legal panel, given that everyone in India wants an end to gender violence?

KRISHNAN: You know, it isn't a question of agreeing to end the gender violence. I think the point is the gender violence is linked with patriarchal bias, and institutional patriarchal bias. And this is something which the political powers in India benefit from in a very big way. It helps because you're able to pay women less at the work place, you're able to exploit their unpaid work in the home, the patriarchal forces in India which would like women to continue to remain in a subordinate position, are politically very influential. And so, I think essentially, they don't want to rock that boat at all.

They would like to have some cosmetic changes, some very minor changes in the quantum of punishment or minor changes in the number of police people on the road, or something like that. But they do not want to go beyond that, to make fundamental changes in the way violence against women are viewed - as in to view violence against women from the perspective of women's autonomy, would be then that the state would be called upon to safeguard women's freedom and autonomy. That is something which Indian political - the ruling political establishment in India is absolutely unwilling to do.

And one other pretty important recommendation is - an overhaul of the medical legal tests which rape survivors have to undergo - especially the demeaning and misogynist two-finger test, and other medical tests that focus on the past sexual history of the victim.

Basically what Justice Verma has recommended is, even where the laws are concerned, that the laws should describe the crime, rather than focus on the character of the victim.

LAM: Given the political resistance, given the patriarchal nature of Indian society, it does seem to me that the outlook is a bit bleak - that change will come, if it does come at all, very very slowly?

KRISHNAN: You see.. I don't think this is peculiar to India. I think that across the world, sexual violence has always looked at from a patriarchal prism, so I think the attitude which women responsible for sexual violence is not peculiar to India.

I'm hopeful within India, because I feel that the movement, the ongoing movement is not one that is going to die down very soon. We're planning protests in the coming budget session of India's parliament, and I'm hopeful that we will be able to generate enough pressure to force the government to act.

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