Laws must be sensitive to victims of sexual assault who have disabilities


Ananya Dutta, the Hindu

KOLKATA : A minor girl, suffering hearing and speech impairment, was allegedly raped by a medical professional at the Bankura Medical Hospital in February this year. However, when the victim was asked to identify her assailant in a test identification parade, she was not briefed properly, her disability acting as a barrier in communication. As a result she failed to identify him.

“My daughter was not told what she had to do. And when the time came, she could not point him out,” the mother of the victim told The Hindu here on Monday on the sidelines of a convention on Social Security of Women with Disabilities organised by the Paschimbanga Rajya Pratibandhi Sammilani.

“When it comes to a case of a sexual assault against a disabled woman, the measures taken need to be different from those for ordinary victims. The laws and its enforcement need to take their disability into account,” said Kuhu Das, director of the Association of Women with Disabilities. “No single legislation can ever completely solve a social problem….The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill that lies pending before Parliament has dealt with the problems of women with disabilities separately. But it is important to realise that other laws that become relevant in women’s rights cases must also be amended,” Malini Bhattacharya, former chairperson of the West Bengal Commission for Women, said.

Citing an example, Ms. Bhattacharya said that Sections 375 and 376 of the Indian Penal Code that deal with rape and punishment for rape must be amended. If a woman with disability is the victim of rape, then the sentence for the culprit must be tougher. Similarly, the clauses pertaining to evidence must also be made more suitable to the disabled, she said. Jeeja Ghosh, who suffers from cerebral palsy and was recently forced off an aircraft because the pilot was not comfortable having her on the flight despite the fact that she is capable of flying alone and has done so repeatedly, spoke about the reasons that people with disabilities experience abuse differently.

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