Access to justice still elusive for women

A UN report says 35 per cent women in India face physical violence

By Divya Sharma
Published: Tuesday 26 July 2011

When 50-year-old Usha Vashisht received a lewd call on her mobile phone she ignored it. But soon it became a regular feature. Then she decided to file a complaint with Delhi police's anti-obscene cell.  “To my surprise, even after innumerable attempts no one answered the dedicated helpline number 1096,” she recalls. Then she filed a complaint with the police control room. “I was assured that I will be informed of any updates in the case but the officer concerned never called back,” she says.
This miserable state of security for women is also reflected in a report released by the UN Women's wing of the United Nations. The report titled “Progress of the World's Women” looks at access of women to legal systems across the world. The report offers interesting facts in the context of India. While it praises the Panchayati Raj system for ensuring active participation of women it notes that 39 per cent of both men and women feel that it is sometimes or always justified for a man to beat his wife. In addition the report data shows that 35 per cent women in India face physical violence and 10 per cent women face sexual violence at the hands of their partners.

Activists say the findings show that there is a need for stronger laws. They say the discrimination and exploitation has been going on for too long and in many cases women are denied the rights over their own bodies by their , leading to marital rapes. More often, irrespective of the capacity of a woman’s body, she is forced to either have a child or abort one. “India being a patriarchal society, not many changes have been made (to the laws),” says Nilanju Dutta, manager with a Delhi-based non-profit Jagori. Though instances of marital rape are not new, the country still awaits an exclusive law on the same.  Paroma Ray, programme officer with Lawyers Collective, a public interest service providing organisation in Delhi notes, “The law against rape does not include marital rape.” In a way, this gives the men the sanction to ill-treat their spouses, she adds.
Crime against women is also on the rise. As per the records of the National Crime Records Bureau's (NCRB) a total of 11,009 cases of sexual harassment were reported and the conviction rate was 49.2 per cent in 2009.

Many a times women do not come forward and complain. The UN report says the reason lies in the functioning of the judiciary. It notes that the participation of women in the Indian judiciary is a mere three per cent. “The ratio of women in the judiciary is disproportionate. Out of the 28 judges in the Supreme , only one is a woman. The high courts barely have 20 to 25 per cent women judges,” says Ray. Another reason why women are hesitant Ray says is the lack of accountability in the justice delivery system. “Not too many laws have been monitored and evaluated.”

The report also mentions, a 1996 survey by an Indian non-profit, Sakshi whicg talked to lawyers, judges and female litigants to explore the impact of judicial perceptions and decision-making on women who come to court. More than two-third of the judges said that women who wore provocative attire are inviting rape.

Ray says in order to improve access to judiciary for women, the implementation system needs to be overhauled. “Proper training is required for the people in the legal system. If the police are not trained properly, then they will not know how to deal with women.” For example, The Domestic Violence Act of 2005 mandates that a female constable should accompany woman complainant. “The Act in itself is sufficient, but the implementation is a problem. If you want a female constable to be available at all times then she has to be provided various  amenities like pick and drop facility.”

As per the report, in order to ease the position of the victim, more women should be inducted in the police force and law courts.
The basis of this report is the 1979 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), adopted by the UN General Assembly. So far, a total of 186 countries have ratified the Convention, committing themselves to undertake steps to put a full-stop to discrimination against women. India ratified to the Convention on July 9, 1993.


Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.