Petition for a comprehensive response to sexual violence


M.A.S.E.S is in solidarity

Immediate Release:  Petition for a comprehensive response to sexual violence submitted to Sonia Gandhi

 Ms.Gandhi was receptive to the need for consultations with women’s groups prior to any finalisation. On the NCW front, she was mindful of and acknowledged its shortcomings; this may require further intervention from women’s rights groups.

We thank Farah Naqvi for the appoinment with the UPA Chair and Aruna Roy for writing to Mrs Gandhi in advance of our meeting, to emphasise the value of our petitions, and extending her support to the cause

Press Release
Demand by women’s groups and concerned individuals for urgent reform of law relating to sexual assault, and seeking accountability of the NCW.
Petition signed by 92 organizations and 546 individuals.
Dated: July 23, 2012
 
A delegation of women representing women’s groups and individuals from across the country met this morning with Smt. Sonia Gandhi, Chairperson of the UPA and presented her with two memorandums concerning the issue of violence against women in the country.
The first memorandum was directed at the Criminal Law Amendment Bill which proposes amendments to the existing provisions on rape and sexual assault.  The women’s groups demanded that the proposed amendment define rape as a gender specific crime in recognition of the fact that rape is primarily a crime perpetrated by men against women, and is accompanied by specific consequences for women. In light of this, they opposed transforming rape into a gender neutral offence. The need for introducing a gradation in sexual assault offences was also highlighted as necessary, to enable law to respond appropriately to aggravated assault such as public stripping and parading to less severe forms of molestation. The delegation emphasised that the age of statutory consent be 16 years and not 18 years as was being proposed, so as to penalise only non-consensual sex between young persons. The delegation emphasised that any amendment at this stage must aim to introduce holistic reform for victims of sexual assault, including that related to victim and witness protection as well as provision of criminal injuries compensation for victims. Partial reforms at this stage would not just be belated, but also tokenistic if they failed to take into account the holistic duty the state bears to provide redress to victims of sexual assault. They demanded that the government must consult with women’s groups in order to address all the shortcomings of the law, so as to integrate all the concerns prior to presenting the Bill to the Parliament.
The delegation also pressed for institutional reforms of   the National Commission for Women, pointing out its consistent failures in upholding women’s rights and responding to widespread and gross violations of women, as highlighted recently by the NCW’s response to the Guwahati case. They stressed the urgency of putting in place a transparent, democratic and non partisan selection process for members and the Chairperson of the Commission. Further they also demanded a comprehensive review of the performance of the Commission. And finally in light of recent events, they demanded that the current Chairperson be replaced immediately.
Smt. Gandhi keenly heard all the issues and acknowledged the concerns. She assured the delegation that she would look into the matter and ensure that women’s groups were consulted by the nodal Ministry to give their critical inputs into the Bill before it is finalised.
For further information, contact
Madhu Mehra 9810737686

Vrinda Grover   9810806181

To: Srimati Sonia Gandhi

Chairperson, UPA

10 Janpath

New Delhi

Subject: Seeking Institutional Reform of the National Commission for

   Women, and replacement of the current Chairperson

Date: July 23, 2012

Dear Madam Chairperson:

At the outset, women’s rights groups from across the country wish to express our dismay at the manner in which the National Commission for Women (NCW) has recently handled the issue of a young girl being molested by a mob in public in Guwahati:

  • Constituting a fact-finding team with little expertise or background in women’s issues
  • Holding a press conference before the fact-finding report was finalized
  • Revealing the victim’s name
  • And, Chairperson Mamta Sharma’s subsequent comments to a leading newspaper, saying “Be comfortable, but at the same time, be careful about how you dress… Aping the west blindly is eroding our culture and causing such crimes to happen.”

However, these are not single failures of individual members of the Commission. They exemplify the failure of the NCW as an institution, which we urge you to address on an urgent basis if India is to hold its head high in the global family of democratic nations that place value on women’s rights.

Violations of women’s rights take place by both State and non-State actors. It must fall to a nodal human rights body like the NCW to steadfastly and impartially hold both sets of actors accountable in order to protect, above all else, the rights of India’s women. The NCW has repeatedly failed in this sworn duty – to protect those in whose name it was created. Just a few examples of its lapses over the years:

  • Despite overwhelming evidence of mass sexual violence against minority women in Gujarat in 2002, the NCW’s fact finding found that no particular community was targeted, in complete contrast to the reports of the National Human Rights Commission and subsequent observations by the Supreme Court. Even as the NHRC moved the courts to seek justice, the NCW failed to pursue a single case of sexual violence to bring justice to a single woman whose life was destroyed by this carnage.
  • On January 24, 2009, when about 40 men belonging to Sri Ram Sena attacked a group of young women in a pub in Mangalore, Nirmala Venkatesh, a Commission member who carried out a fact finding, noted that the women’s clothes were a major provocation for the attack. She did not even meet with the victims during the course of the fact finding. She was subsequently removed for making the findings public to the media. Upon her removal from the NCW, she claimed that she had been pressurized to give an “anti-Karnataka government” report.
  • NCW has frequently denied reports of sexual violence by security forces in several parts of the country, instead of seeking to investigate and end impunity for such crimes.
  • In the recent Guwahati incident of July 10, 2012 the NCW has failed to foreground the most critical issue – that the crime committed on a young girl publically mauled by a mob of men is not even considered sexual assault under the current laws of our land. Current law considers this merely the ‘outraging of a woman’s modesty’ carrying a maximum sentence of only 2 years and a minimum of only a fine, rather than a heinous and traumatizing sexual crime.
  • Over the last several years it has fallen to women’s rights groups to repeatedly push for law reform, to prepare and submit draft amendments to the law, to address these grave lacunae, rather than this being a priority of the NCW.

This conduct of the Commission over successive years has obscured systemic injustices to women, trivialized their violations, reduced the dignity of the institution and revealed an institutional collapse of this nodal body.

We urge you to take the lead in ensuring that the government, in consultation with women’s rights groups, undertakes a comprehensive review of the NCW to achieve the following objectives:

  1. Safeguard the political autonomy of this nodal women’s rights institution by replacing the current nomination system with a transparent, democratic and non-partisan selection process for members and Chairperson of the Commission. The current nomination process is entirely contrary to international standards, which clearly state that the State Executive should not solely determine the composition of human rights bodies, such as the NCW. Only a transparent selection process, determined by GOI in consultation with women’s rights groups, can ensure that the NCW’s members and Chairperson are women with both the necessary expertise and sensitivity to uphold women’s rights.
  2. Undertake a comprehensive review of the performance of the Commissionin terms of – its role in addressing systemic gender-related social, economic and legal issues (including law reform and police reform); its ability to pin accountability for violations of women’s rights; its ability to further the cause of justice for women –with a view to proposing institutional reform of this nodal body.
  3. Finally, while such a review process is instituted, we urge you to replace with immediate effect the current Chairperson of the NCW, whose words and actions, have betrayed our faith, damaged the credibility of one of India’s nodal human rights institutions, and undermined Indian women’s fight for equality.

Sincerely yours,

Madhu Mehra

Sadhna Arya

Suneeta Dhar

Farah Naqvi

(on behalf of women’s rights groups from across India)

source: http://kractivist.wordpress.com/2012/07/24/immediate-realease-petition-sonia-gandhi/

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