Dear Hon. Justice Verma,
Referring to your public notice on ‘Inviting suggestions on amendments to Criminal Laws Relating to Safety and Security of Women’, please find enclosed the submission of women’s groups, progressive groups and individuals, endorsed by approximately 1000 people, condemning sexual violence and opposing death penalty for sexual assault/rape.
We request you to kindly take this into account in your recommendations.
At the same time, we urge you to organise a meeting where we and other groups can share our views in person.
Citizens’ Collective against Sexual Assault (CCSA) is a group of individuals and organisations based in Delhi and the NCR. It was formed in the wake of a spate of crimes against women that took place in the region in 2012. The Collective has come together to raise awareness about and protest against the extreme culture of sexual violence against women, girls and transgender people in Delhi, Noida and Gurgaon. The Collective raises these issues with the public, the media, as well as the administration and the police of Delhi-NCR and work in different ways to stop and prevent sexual harassment against vulnerable groups.
On 16 December, 2012, a 23-year old woman and her friend hailed a bus at a crossing in South Delhi. In the bus, they were both brutally attacked by a group of men who claimed to be out on a ‘joy-ride’. The woman was gang raped and the man beaten up; after several hours, they were both stripped and dumped on the road. While the young woman is still in hospital, bravely battling for her life, her friend has been discharged and is helping identify the men responsible for the heinous crime.
We, the undersigned, women’s, students’ and progressive groups and concerned citizens from around the country, are outraged at this incident and, in very strong terms, condemn her gang rape and the physical and sexual assault.
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.
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, trans 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 urge that the wheels of justice turn not only to incidents such as the Delhi bus case, but to the epidemic of sexual violence that threatens all of us. We need to evolve punishments that act as true deterrents to the very large number of men who commit these crimes. Our stance is not anti-punishment but against the State executing the death penalty. The fact that cases of rape have a conviction rate of as low as 26% shows that perpetrators of sexual violence enjoy a high degree of impunity, including being freed of charges.
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.
We also reject voices that are ready to imprison and control women and girls under the garb of ‘safety’, instead of ensuring their freedom as equal participants in society and their right to a life free of perpetual threats of sexual assault, both inside and outside their homes.
In cases (like this) which have lead to a huge public outcry all across the country, and where the perpetrators have been caught, we hope that justice will be speedily served and they will be convicted for the ghastly acts that they have committed. However, our vision of this justice does not include death penalty, which is neither a deterrent nor an effective or ethical response to these acts of sexual violence. We are opposed to it for the following reasons:
- We recognise that every human being has a right to life. Our rage cannot give way to what are, in no uncertain terms, new cycles of violence. We refuse to deem ‘legitimate’ any act of violence that would give the State the right to take life in our names. Justice meted by the State cannot bypass complex socio-political questions of violence against women by punishing rapists by death. Death penalty is often used to distract attention away from the real issue – it changes nothing but becomes a tool in the hands of the State to further exert its power over its citizens. A huge set of changes are required in the system to end the widespread and daily culture of rape.
- There is no evidence to suggest that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to rape. Available data shows that there is a low rate of conviction in rape cases and a strong possibility that the death penalty would lower this conviction rate even further as it is awarded only under the ‘rarest of rare’ circumstances. The most important factor that can act as a deterrent is the certainty of punishment, rather than the severity of its form.
- As seen in countries like the US, men from minority communities make up a disproportionate number of death row inmates. In the context of India, a review of crimes that warrant capital punishment reveals the discriminatory way in which such laws are selectively and arbitrarily applied to disadvantaged communities, religious and ethnic minorities. This is a real and major concern, as the possibility of differential consequences for the same crime is injustice in itself.
- The logic of awarding death penalty to rapists is based on the belief that rape is a fate worse than death. Patriarchal notions of ‘honour’ lead us to believe that rape is the worst thing that can happen to a woman. There is a need to strongly challenge this stereotype of the ‘destroyed’ woman who loses her honour and who has no place in society after she’s been sexually assaulted. We believe that rape is tool of patriarchy, an act of violence, and has nothing to do with morality, character or behaviour.
- An overwhelming number of women are sexually assaulted by people known to them, and often include near or distant family, friends and partners. Who will be able to face the psychological and social trauma of having reported against their own relatives? Would marital rape (currently not recognised by law), even conceptually, ever be looked at through the same retributive prism?
- The State often reserves for itself the ‘right to kill’ — through the armed forces, the paramilitary and the police. We cannot forget the torture, rape and murder of Thangjam Manorama by the Assam Rifles in Manipur in 2004 or the abduction, gang rape and murder of Neelofar and Aasiya of Shopian (Kashmir) in 2009. Giving more powers to the State, whether arming the police and giving them the right to shoot at sight or awarding capital punishment, is not a viable solution to lessen the incidence of crime.
Furthermore, with death penalty at stake, the ‘guardians of the law’ will make sure that no complaints against them get registered and they will go to any length to make sure that justice does not see the light of day. The ordeal of Soni Sori, who had been tortured in police custody last year, still continues her fight from inside a prison in Chattisgarh, in spite of widespread publicity around her torture.
- As we know, in cases of sexual assault where the perpetrator is in a position of power (such as in cases of custodial rape or caste and communal violence), conviction is notoriously difficult. The death penalty, for reasons that have already been mentioned, would make conviction next to impossible.
We, the undersigned, demand the following:
- 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.
- Provision of improved infrastructure to make cities safer for women, including well-lit pavements and bus stops, help lines and emergency services.
- Effective registration, monitoring and regulation of transport services (whether public, private or contractual) to make them safe, accessible and available to all.
- Compulsory courses within the training curriculum on gender sensitisation for all personnel employed and engaged by the State in its various institutions, including the police.
- 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 National Commission for Women has time and again proved itself to be an institution that works against the interests of women. NCW’s inability to fulfil its mandate of addressing issues of violence against women, the problematic nature of the statements made by the Chairperson and its sheer inertia in many serious situations warrants that the NCW role be reviewed and audited as soon as possible.
- 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.
- Regarding the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2012, women’s groups have already submitted detailed recommendations to the Home Ministry. We strongly underline that the Bill must not be passed in its current form because of its many serious loopholes and lacuna. Some points:
- There has been no amendment to the flawed definition of consent under Sec 375IPC and this has worked against the interest of justice for women.
- The formulation of the crime of sexual assault as gender neutral makes the identity of the perpetrator/accused also gender neutral. We demand that the definition of perpetrator be gender-specific and limited to men. Sexual violence also targets transgender people and legal reform must address this.
- In its current form, the Bill does not recognise the structural and graded nature of sexual assault, based on concepts of hurt, harm, injury, humiliation and degradation. The Bill also does not use well-established categories of sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault and sexual offences.
- It does not mention sexual assault by security forces as a specific category of aggravated sexual assault. We strongly recommend the inclusion of perpetration of sexual assault by security forces under Sec 376(2).
Endorsed by the following groups and individuals:
10. Maitreyi Gupta, Lawyers Collective, New Delhi
11. Kavita Krishnan, AIPWA, New Delhi
12. Anuradha Kapoor ,Swayam, Calcutta
13. People’s Union for Democratic Rights PUDR
14. Indira, Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression, (WSS), New Delhi
15. Kavita Srivastav, PUCL
16. Padma Deosthali, CEHAT, Mumbai
17. Partners for Law in Development, New Delhi
18. Kalpana Mehta, Manasi Swasthya Sansthan, Indore
19. Nandita Gandhi, Akshara, Bombay
20. AALI (Association for Advocacy and Legal Initiatives), Lucknow
21. National Alliance of people’s Movements (NAPM)
22. Mallika, Maati, Uttarakhand
23. Meena Saraswathi Seshu, SANGRAM, Sangli
24. Zubaan, New Delhi
25. Indrani Sinha, Sanlaap, Calcutta
26. GRAMEENA MAHILA Okkutta, Karnataka
27. WinG Assam
28. Arati Chokshi, PUCL, Bangalore.
29. Action India, Delhi
30. North East Network (NEN)
31. National Network Of Sex Workers NNSW
32. Majlis Law, Legal Services for Women, Mumbai
33. Sahiayar (Stree Sangathan), Vadodara
34. National Federation of Indian Women
35. Vasanth Kannabiran (NAWO, AP) Asmita
36. Sheba George, SAHRWARU, Ahmedabad
37. Anandi, Gujarat
38. Medha Kotwal, Aalochana, Pune
39. Sakhi Women’s Resource Centre, Kerala
40. SAMYAK, Pune
41. Shabana Kazi, VAMP, Sangli
42. Sruti disAbility Rights Centre, Kolkata
43. Forum to Engage Men (FEM), New Delhi
44. MASVAW( Men Action for stopping Violence Against Women), UP
45. YP Foundation
46. Breakthrough, New Delhi
47. V Rukmini Rao, Gramya Resource Centre for Women, Secunderabad
48. LABIA, a queer feminist LBT collective, Mumbai
49. Law Trust, Tamil Nadu
50. Men’s Action to Stop Violence against Women (MASVAW), UP
51. National Forum for Single Women’s Rights
52. NAWO-AP, Arunachal Pradesh Women’s Welfare Society (APWWS)
53. Indigenous Women’s Resource Centre (IWRC)
54. New Socialist Initiative, Delhi
55. Gabriele Dietrich, Pennurimai Iyakkam
56. Sangat, a South Asian Feminist Network
57. Stree Mukti Sanghatana, Mumbai
58. SWATI, Ahmedabad
59. Tamil Nadu Women Fish Workers Forum
60. Subhash Mendhapurkar,SUTRA, H.P.
61. Mario, Nigah, queer collective, New Delhi
62. Sushma Varma, Samanatha Mahila Vedike, Bangalore
63. Mahila Sarvangeen Utkarsh Mandal (MASUM), Pune
64. Priti Darooka, PWESCR (The Programme on Women’s Economic, Social and Cultural Rights), New Delhi
65. Pushpa Achanta (WSS, Karnataka)
66. AWN, Kabul
67. AZAD and Sakha Team, Delhi
68. Ekta, Madurai
69. Empower People
70. Society for Women’s action and Training Initiatives-SWATI
71. Centre for Health and Social Justice
72. All India Network of Sex Workers (AINSW)
73. Qashti: A support group for LBT people assigned female at birth
74. Deep Sonpal, UNNATI Organisation for Development Education
75. Gautam Bandyopadhyay, Nadi Ghati Morcha, Chhattisgarh
76. Women’s Welfare Center, Pune
77. Dolon Ganguly, Jeevika Development Society
78. Sangini (I) Trust
79. Parichiti – A Society for Empowermnet of Women
80. Minu Sud, Simla
81. Maya Ratnam, Baltimore, MD, United States
82. Diane Smith, Hornby Island, Canada
83. Ramlath Kavil
84. carmen urbín, Spain
85. Kochurani Abraham
86. Georgie Wemyss, London, United Kingdom
87. Sonali Gulati, Richmond, VA, United States
88. Ruchi Chaturvedi, South Africa
89. Nandini Manjrekar
90. Poulomi Pal
91. Juhi Agrawal, London, United Kingdom
92. Nandini Ghosh
93. shreya S
94. Varuni Bhatia, Ann Arbor, MI, United States
95. Ellen Sprenger, Johannesburg, South Africa
96. Sumita Chatterjee, Miami, FL, United States
97. Giovanna Pompele, Miami, FL, United States
98. Abhay Kashalkar
99. Monisha Dhingra
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