Strong mandate for fast-track judicial process for cases of sexual violence

[हिंदी] Gender-sensitive judiciary and police administration, stronger laws, faster legal process to give judgement within six months, protection and social support for those sexually violated, were among some of the key demands getting the mandate of key discussants at the open forum on 'what needs to change in our laws in cases of sexual violence' organized at Ambedkar Mahasabha, opposite Lucknow Vidhan Sabha, by Humsafar - Support Centre for Women, National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM), Asha Parivar, Lok Rajniti Manch and Socialist Party.

This discussion was followed by a candle light demonstration on the issue of gender-based discrimination and violence drawing attention to countless of those women and girls who have faced varied levels of oppression and violence, and are also waiting for justice. This discussion will be summarised and sent to Justice JS Verma Committee that is seeking public input till 5th January 2013 on “possible amendments to the criminal law for faster trial and proper punishment for criminals accused of committing sexual assault of extreme nature against women.” Submissions can be sent by email: .

"We are outraged at the Delhi gang-rape incident and, in very strong terms, condemn all forms of physical and sexual assault on women. As our protests spill over to the streets all across the country, our demands for justice are strengthened by knowing that there are countless others who share this anger. We assert that rape and other forms of sexual violence are not just a women's issue, but a political one that should concern every citizen. We strongly demand that justice is done in this and all other cases and the perpetrators are punished"said Dr Sandeep Pandey, Vice President of Socialist Party (India) and Magsaysay Awardee for emergent leadership (2002).

Added Arundhati Dhuru, senior social activist and national convener of NAPM: "This incident is not an isolated one; sexual assault occurs with frightening regularity in this country. Adivasi and dalit women and those working in the unorganised sector, women with disabilities, Hijras, Kothis, transgender people and sex workers are especially targeted with impunity - it is well known that the complaints of sexual assault they file are simply disregarded. We need to evolve punishments that act as true deterrents to the very large number of men who commit these crimes. We believe death penalty for perpetrators of sexual violence is neither a deterrent nor an effective or ethical response."

Added Dhuru: "Silent witnesses to everyday forms of sexual assault such as leering, groping, passing comments, stalking and whistling are equally responsible for rape being embedded in our culture and hence being so prevalent today. We, therefore, also condemn the culture of silence and tolerance for sexual assault and the culture of valorising this kind of violence."

Anjali Singh, child rights activist who leads Saaksham Foundation said that when children or minors are subjected to graded forms of sexual violence then ‘unnatural acts’ are not represented in Indian Penal Code (IPC) Sections for rape despite the extreme nature of violence. Also medical examination is seldom done of such minors. So the laws should be amended so that those who perpetrate sexual violence against minors must be tried under them.

Anjali Singh, a noted journalist herself, added that if a child or a minor reports sexual violence then case must be registered and prompt action taken to bring those responsible to books, and to protect those who complained. CWOs (Child Welfare Officers) should be engaged in such cases too. Anjali said that often cases are filed under IPC Sections that warrant lesser punishment and it is very difficult to get IPC Sections enhanced in later stages of legal proceedings. Appeal for enhancement of IPC Sections should be heard and acted upon as appropriate in legal proceedings at the earliest, said Singh.

Other demands included:
* Greater dignity, equality, autonomy and rights for women and girls from a society that should stop questioning and policing their actions at every step.
* Immediate relief in terms of legal, medical, financial and psychological assistance and long-term rehabilitation measures must be provided to survivors of sexual assault.
* That the police do its duty to ensure that public spaces are free from harassment, molestation and assault. This means that they themselves have to stop sexually assaulting women who come to make complaints. They have to register all FIRs and attend to complaints. CCTV cameras should be set up in all police stations and swift action must be taken against errant police personnel.
* Immediate setting up of fast track courts for rape and other forms of sexual violence all across the country. State governments should operationalise their creation on a priority basis. Sentencing should be done within a period of six months.
* The State acknowledges the reality of custodial violence against women in many parts of the country, especially in Kashmir, North-East and Chhattisgarh. There are several pending cases and immediate action should be taken by the government to punish the guilty and to ensure that these incidents of violence are not allowed to be repeated.

Bobby Ramakant, Citizen News Service - CNS