Kashmir: Sexual violence increases as justice under law is examined

Women News Network

Srinagar, India Administered KASHMIR, SOUTH ASIA: “Justice has to and should be done.”; “Justice delayed is justice denied.”; and “Teach your sons not to harass rather than teaching your daughter how to dress.” – these were some of the recent slogans that men and women of all ages in Kashmir have been chanting to show solidarity with the victims of violence in the northern Indian Administered region of Kashmir.

Condemnation against the perpetrators with what advocates have described as ‘shock and outrage’, have reached the public from all quarters of the Kashmiri region. The protesters come from a wide and diverse population, from all genders and ages as they join hands to fight for the rights of women in the region. The goal: to pressure law-enforcement agencies to amend their existing sexual assault laws in India’s northern Jammu and Kashmir region. They also hope to get the high court in India’s capital city of New Delhi to improve laws protecting women.

“The seriousness of rape and sexual assault warrants the need for better investigation and prosecution of such cases,” says the new Amnesty International India submission to India’s Justice Verma Committee, which is working to examine current laws in India that cover issues of violence against women. “When attempting to seek justice, the victims of such assault often find themselves at the mercy of a system riddled with misconceptions, bias and delay,” continues Amnesty International India.

Cases of sexual assault in India have been increasing, even though violence against women in India is not new, but the intensity of injury to women also appears to be increasing. In only one year, from 2009 to 2010, India’s NCRB – National Crime Records Bureau statistics show that rape crime is rising in the region at a shocking rate.

“The number of Rape cases showed significant increase…,” outlined India’s NCRB in 2011. In 2009 the total number of cases of rape in India that were scheduled for trial, including cases extending over from 2008, was 84,940.

But only 3,698 sexual assault cases reached a conviction in 2009. There is currently one rape case in India every 22 minutes, says the NCRB.

The December case of the ‘illegal’ transport bus gang rape in New Delhi; the case of a minor girl raped in Kashmir’s Shopian district; and the recent January 2013 stalking acid attack of a 30-year-old private school teacher in Kashmir’s capital city of Srinagar have brought widespread protest to the streets of Srinagar.

But are the vigorous prosecutions of these cases reaching the courts? And more specifically, are victims being helped as much as possible under the law?

Specific local law reform may now be in process in the Jammu and Kashmir region, as well as regions throughout India, but first examination of the intake and processing for rape victims in police stations; by medical staff; and in the courts must be made.

An additional recent case of violence against with a 19-year-old teen-girl’s rape case in the beautiful Himalayan tourist area in the Kashmir town known as Pahalgam, on December 31, 2012, is only one in an a growing list of cases that are reaching a growing and larger ‘concerned’ public.

The use of forensic DNA rape assessment kits, also called ‘rape kits’, to help in the prosecution of cases to provide clear and undeniable evidence for court prosecution is seldom used in India. Instead women are often demeaned and psychologically damaged by what advocates say are “callous” police and medical practices.

In some sexual assault cases the ‘two finger test’ is done to women who report rape. This test has no medical, scientific or forensic basis. Instead it assesses the amount of sexual activity a woman has been involved in prior to a rape as a preconceived ‘judgement’ on the morality of a rape victim. This amounts to what numerous advocates call “a second rape” by police and/or medical staff when a woman tries to report sexual violence. Too often a woman who reports a rape is also accused by others of dressing in a way that ‘invites’ violence.

“Even if a woman doesn’t dress properly, a man still does not have the right to rape her,” said Shameema Firdous, Chairperson of India’s State Women’s Commission. “This is unjustified by any logic of human nature that to justify their criminal pretensions, they hold the opposite gender responsible for their own culpability. Women are indeed at the receiving end. At [the] commission we always deal with such cases where women are always held responsible directly as well as indirectly,” continued Firdous.

Even though the Indian Evidence (Amendment) Act of 2002 deleted section 155(4) and added a new protective section stating that it is not permissible for a victim to be cross examined with questions about her ‘moral character’ this law has not been enforced.  Today protesters throughout India are asking that stronger legal protections for women are enforced. They are also asking that the two finger test be banned definitively from any mention or use in court.

“…there is a strong and urgent need for a systemic change that will result in the specialized treatment of cases involving sexual assault and rape,” says human rights advocates Amnesty International India. “This change may be brought about through amendments to the existing laws and policies relating to the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault trials,” they continued.

Questioning the security of women in the workplace in Srinagar, the teacher who was victim of the acid-based crime was followed by a previous suitor who had been rejected years earlier, but she had few protection against this stalker. Brought to New Delhi, India for reconstructive surgery in the Indraprastha Apollo Hospital this victim is now in recovery, but the scars of her injuries with severe trauma on her appearance and the loss of 80 percent of her ability to see in one eye will impact her for the rest of her life.

“The patient has been admitted today [this] afternoon with severe acid burns to her face and small patches on her right upper limbs,” said the hospital press office on January 3, 2013. Although her attacker was arrested under charges of ‘attempt to murder’, a delay in reporting the acid violence by the family may cause this victim to face an uphill climb in court.