Indian Tribal Women Rush to a Champion’s Defense #Womenrights

By Swapna Majumdar

WeNews correspondent

Friday, May 31, 2013

Tribal women in India are mobilizing behind a leading maternal-health advocate. Supporters say the case against Madhuri Krishnaswamy was concocted to stop her from flagging rights violations that led to 25 maternal deaths in nine months in one impoverished district.

Tribal women protesting Madhuri Krishnaswamy's arrest.
Tribal women protesting Madhuri Krishnaswamy’s arrest.

Credit: Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (JADS).

NEW DELHI, India (WOMENSENEWS)–The May 30 release of Madhuri Krishnaswamy, a relentless campaigner for better maternal health for marginalized tribal women in Barwani, one of the most impoverished districts in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, has brought temporary peace in the district.

Angry protestors who had been gathering in Barwani included about 2,000 tribal women from different parts of India, estimates Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan, the local advocacy group that Krishnaswamy heads.

Protesters converged on Barwani, ready to face arrest unless police charges against Krishnaswamy, based on the complaint by a Barwani health official, are withdrawn.

The May 16 jailing and arrest of Krishnaswamy on charges of — among things — obstructing a public official, have drawn outcry from rights groups and activists across the country. Demonstrators have been concentrated in Barwani, but some civil society groups have also met with senior health officials at the federal health ministry in Delhi to drum up support for Krishnaswamy.

More demonstrations, public rallies and litigation strategies to hold Madhya Pradesh government officials accountable for violations of women’s rights to life, health and non-discrimination are being pursued to pressure the administration to drop the charges.

The state government turned a blind eye to the health violations that Krishnaswamy was flagging and made up a false case to muzzle her, said Jashodhara Dasgupta of the National Alliance for Maternal Health and Human Rights, a coalition of 17 health advocacies, which has supported Krishnaswamy’s work.

Dasgupta, a member of the alliance, which is headquartered in New Delhi, told Women’s eNews that the arrest was meant to conceal the administration’s failure to implement various government programs for marginalized women.

No Comment from Local Government

The Barwani administration has not commented on the issue. The police filed a closure report in the case for lack of evidence in April. But after testimony by a Barwani health official the court summoned Krishnaswamy and sent her to prison after she refused to seek bail.

The false nature of the case was clear when some of the charges that led to her arrest included “rioting armed with deadly weapons,” said Ajay Lal, a program officer for Support for Advocacy and Training to Health Initiatives, a community health advocacy based in Pune, Maharashtra, that has been working with Krishnaswamy in Barwani.

“Krishnaswamy’s arrest is a blatant act of state reprisal against an activist who has repeatedly drawn attention to the health violations,” Lal said in a phone interview. Lal said poor maternal care in government hospitals was leading to deaths of poor tribal women.

Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan, the nongovernmental organization headed by Krishnaswamy, has staged persistent protests against the poor health services in the largely tribal area of Barwani for the past 14 years.

Barwani has the second-lowest Human Development Index among the 50 districts in the state, according to the Madhya Pradesh Human Development Report 2007. Using a 2003 government sampling, this report put the maternal mortality rate for the district at 905 deaths per 100,000 live births compared to the state’s already-high figure of 379 per 100,000 live births.

Under Millennium Development Goal No. 5 India has pledged to reduce its maternal mortality ratio by three quarters before 2015 to 109 deaths for every 100,000 live births, far lower than the current figure of 212. By comparison, the United States, a laggard among industrialized countries, has a national average maternal mortality rate of 21 per 100,000 live births.

Tribal Women Denied Care

Supporters say Krishnaswamy’s arrest is linked to the 2008 case of Baniya Bai, a tribal woman living in Barwani district.

When the nine-month pregnant Baniya Bai reached the nearest government health center after travelling about nine miles by bullock cart from her village, a local health officer demanded a $2 bribe before allowing her to be attended. When family members couldn’t pay, she was dismissed from the center and wound up giving birth outside the facility, on the street, according to Krishnaswamy’s advocacy group.

Baniya Bai and her child survived.

Vypari Bai, a resident of another village in the same district, did not. Before dying she went through a terrifying 27 hours of labor pain as she was shunted by health officials from one government health facility to another in search of medical attention.

Krishnaswamy documented both cases in a court petition she filed in 2011 that flagged health-rights violations that led to 25 maternal deaths in Barwani government health facilities during a nine-month period of 2010.

“Tribal women are still dying from pregnancy-related causes because of official neglect and apathy,” saidHarsing Jamre, chief program coordinator of Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan, in a phone interview. “Are the lives of tribal women less valuable? No action has been taken against such health officials. But our organization head (Krishnaswamy) raises her voice against this injustice, action is taken against her.”

According to the Human Rights Law Network, a Delhi-based collective of lawyers and social activists that investigated the Barwani maternal deaths, 21 of the 25 deaths from April to November 2010 in the district were women from the marginalized caste tribal group known as Scheduled Tribes, which are eligible for special benefits including free healthcare.

Sixty seven percent of people in Barwani belong to Scheduled Tribes.

Fatal Factors for Tribal Women

Krishnaswamy’s supporters say her cause and her own mistreatment show how government corruption, coupled with caste and gender discrimination are fatal for tribal women.

Disturbing correlations between social inequities and access to healthcare were identified in 2011 by health advocacies investigating maternal deaths and denial of health care in Barwani.

The report–by Sama, CommonHealth and Jan Swasthya Abhiyan — found that marginalized groups, in general, had trouble finding justice and tribal women were doubly disadvantaged by gender power hierarchy and caste.

Earlier this year, on Jan. 27, the Indore bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court directed the state government to improve its healthcare manpower and infrastructure. The order stemmed from a public-interest suit filed by Krishnaswamy’s group and the Human Rights Law Network that documented maternal deaths of tribal women caused by negligence and denial of health care.

Activists working in Barwani say that better infrastructure and more clinicians must also be accompanied by a more humane attitude. Doctors rarely treat marginalized tribal women with empathy, they say, and long wait for service can be fatal for both the pregnant mother and child.

Swapna Majumdar is based in New Delhi and writes on gender, development and politics.


Woman Activist lands in jail for protesting lack of health facilities in tribal district five years ago

Author(s): Kundan Pandey
Date: May 18, 2013

People picket police stations; fellow activist claims case is baseless

Madhuri Krishnaswami had protested the treatment meted out by a health centre to a poor woman in labour. She has also exposed corruption under MGNREGAMadhuri Krishnaswami had protested the treatment meted out by a health centre to a poor woman in labour. She has also exposed corruption under MGNREGAMadhuri Krishnaswami, a health activist working with tribal communities in Barwani district of Madhya Pradesh, was sent to jail on May 16 after she turned down the court’s suggestion to take bail. The court ordered her arrest in connection with a five-year-old case  registered in 2008 against Krishnaswami and others for their protests against the deficiencies in public healthcare facilities in the state.

People protesting against Krishnaswami's arrest People protesting against Krishnaswami’s arrest

Residents of the area have been on sit-in protest in front of six police stations in the district since Friday, demanding the activist’s immediate release.

Krishnaswami is the head of Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (JADS), a non-profit that works on various matters, including healthcare for tribal people and marginalised communities. She has been sent to Khargone women’s jail on 14 days’ judicial remand.

Harassed for exposing corruption

Social activist Chinmay Mishra, who is closely associated with the case, in an interview over the phone, said Krishnaswami has played a significant role in exposing corruption worth several hundred crore in development schemes under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) in the district. The local administration is quite annoyed by her activities and had earlier ordered her externment. However, after protests by locals, the administration cancelled the order. This step (of arresting Krishnaswami) has been also taken for the same reason, adds Mishra.

The 2008 case was registered against Krishnaswami for protesting the treatment meted out to a pregnant woman in labour. Baniya Bai was refused admission by the compounder at the Menimata public health centre, Vijay Klumar. The woman delivered her baby on the road. Krishnaswami, who was in the area, intervened and sent the mother to hospital, and protested her ill-treatment.

Kumar later lodged a complaint against Krishnaswami, Baniya Bai’s husband Basant and other protesters. A case of rioting and assaulting a public servant under sections 353, 332, 147, 148 and 342 of the Indian Penal Code was registered against Krishnaswami and other protesters in 2008. Five years later, police filed a closure report (April 30, this year).

But the court refused to close the case and ordered notices to be served on the parties on May 2, says Mishra. The notice was not served on Krishnaswami, he adds. The activist appeared in court voluntarily to justify her actions. She was informed that the police had filed a closure report but had not stated clear reasons for the closure and so the report was rejected, adds Mishra.

The court suggested that Krishnaswami take bail, but she refused, quoting Mamatma Gandhi, “Jail is rightful place for independent persons of slave country.”  She demanded that the case be revoked and the doctor and compounder responsible for Baniya Bai’s ordeal be punished. Krishnaswami was subsequently placed under arrest on court’s order.

Mishra says that the case is baseless, and was filed with malafide intention.

Baniya Bai is also a party to the writ petition filed in the Indore bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court, in which the status of maternal health services in the state was questioned. Twenty-nine maternal deaths have been recorded in a span of nine months at Barwani district hospital.


India -Noted activist Dr. Sunilam granted bail #goodnews


By Newzfirst Correspondent2/15/13


Jabalpur – The Madhya Pradesh High Court Friday suspended the life sentence of noted activist Dr. Sunilam Mishra and granted him bail in a 14 year old case of rioting. A sessions court in Multai on 19 October 2012 had sentenced Dr. Sunilam and two others to rigorous life .


The High Court, Jabalpur has suspended the life sentence awarded to Dr. Sunilam and two others in a 14 year old case of rioting.The HC has also granted bail to them, Aradhana Bhargava, defense counsel of Sunilam told Newzfirst.


The High Court also granted bail to Prahlad and Sheshrao, who were also convicted along with Dr. Sunilam in the same case.

All the three were sentenced to rigorous imprisonment on 19 October 2012 by a sessions court in Multai under the provisions of section 307 (attempt to murder) and 302 (murder) for seven years on each count.

Dr. Sunilam was charged under sections 148 (rioting with deadly weapons), 145 (unlawful assembly), 152 (assaulting and obstructing public servant when suppressing riot), 333 (causing grievous hurt to deter public servant from his duty), 307(attempt to murder), 302 (murder) and other serious sections of the IPC.

Dr. Sunilam was leading a farmers’ agitation against the district administration of Betul on 12 January, 1998. As the agitation turned violent, 24 farmers were killed in the police firing that was ordered to bring the situation under control.

The MP Government lodged 66 false cases against Dr. Sunilam, who was also a leader of the Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, and other farmers in one single incident of police firing in Multai.

In January 12, 1998, 24 innocent farmers were shot dead and 250 injured during police firing in Multai,  a town of Madhya Pradesh’s Betul district.

Dr. Sunilam, socialist politician and a two time MLA in Madhya Pradesh Assembly was also a part of Indian People’s Movement against WTO and the anti-corruption movement in the country.


#India-Bhopal gas tragedy: #DowChemical may finally be held accountable #justice #goodnews


Moyna-Madhya Pradesh High Court lifts stay that prevented company from being summoned

The Madhya Pradesh High Court has finally lifted a seven-year-old stay that prevented summoning of Dow Chemical in the ongoing criminal case in connection with the Bhopal gas tragedy. Dow Chemical is now the owner of Union Carbide, responsible for the gas tragedy in 1984.

The stay was granted by the high court in March 2005 after Dow Chemical International Private Limited (DCIPL) filed an appeal in response to a January 6, 2005 notice of chief judicial magistrate (CJM) of Bhopal, Anil Kumar Gupta. He had issued a showcause notice to Dow, stating, “It would not be proper to pass an order on fixing criminal and civil liability on Dow… without listening to the opposite party”.

The CJM order came after the Central Bureau of Investigation filed a chargesheet against Union Carbide in 1987. This is the only criminal case registered [1] in India against the owners of the Bhopal pesticide factory.

In its order on October 19, the bench headed by Justice G S Solanki dismissed the petition stating that it is for the trial court to decide whether Union Carbide has ceased to exist following merger with Dow Chemical or if it still exists as a legal entity. The order states, “The question with respect to merger of Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) in the Dow Chemical Company, USA and whether UCC still survives as a separate legal entity are open for determination before the trial court.” The high court further observed the trial court had issued notice to Dow Chemical well within its jurisdiction.

Expressing relief over the progress in the case, Rachna Dhingra of Bhopal Group for Information and Action said it is a big step towards making Union Carbide face trial in India, which has been absconding for over two decades now. In February 2004, Bhopal Group for Information and Action had filed an appeal in the CJM court of Bhopal, asking that Dow Chemical USA be summoned to clarify why it cannot produce its own subsidiary UCC before the Bhopal court in the ongoing criminal case. The company was declared an absconder in 1992 [2] and has officially denied any responsibility for the 1984 disaster. Dhingra also cautioned that the company may file an appeal against the order in the Supreme Court.

SC-Dispose toxic waste in a six months and ensure proper healthcare to Bhopal Victims #Goodnews


, TNN  and Hindu| Aug 10, 2012,

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Thursday directed the Centre and Madhya Pradesh government to take steps within six months for safe disposal of the large quantity of toxic wastelying in and around the defunct Union Carbideplant, from which leak of poisonous gas in December 1984 had resulted in death of thousands and maiming of a lakh people.To ensure proper implementation of the relief and rehabilitation programme and regular health care facilities for the Bhopal gas leak victims, they ordered that all medical records of patients be computerised and health booklets and smart cards be issued to each victim.

Terming the unattended toxic waste at the plant as hazardous to the health of people in Bhopal, a bench of Chief Justice S H Kapadia and Justices A K Patnaik and Swatanter Kumar said “it needs to be disposed of at the earliest and in a scientific manner”.

“We direct the Union of India and the state of Madhya Pradesh to take immediate steps for disposal of the toxic waste laying in and around the Union Carbide factory, Bhopal, on the recommendations of the Empowered Monitoring Committee, Advisory Committee and the National Institute of Research in Environment Health (NIREH) within six months,” said Justice Kumar, who authored the judgment.

“The disposal should be strictly in a scientific manner which may cause no further damage to human health and environment in Bhopal. We direct a collective meeting of these organizations to be held along with the secretary to the government of India and the chief secretary of the state of Madhya Pradesh within one month from today to finalize the entire scheme of disposal of the toxic waste,” the bench said.

Private bodies and NGOs have estimated that around 27,000 tonnes of toxic waste is lying in and around the Carbide plant. They have expressed apprehension that this was responsible for gradual ground water contamination in nearby areas.

The bench also ordered transfer of the 14-year-old PIL by NGO ‘Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog Sangathan’ to Madhya Pradesh High Court for monitoring of proper implementation of the series of directions issued by the apex court on Thursday as well as on earlier occasions to alleviate the suffering of the victims and provide them proper medical help.

It also dissolved the Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust (BMHT), which was taken over by the Centre after former CJI A M Ahmadi resigned as its chairman. The Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre and the Trust were created on the direction of the apex court in 1988 for healthcare of gas victims.

The trust, with a corpus of Rs 436.47 crore, will be dissolved and the money vested with the Union ministry of health and family welfare which will continue with the research work and provide healthcare to victims, the bench said.

In another significant direction, it wanted the accounts of the trust to be audited afresh till July 2010 despite a private chartered accountant pointing to “no irregularity or objections”.

The bench said, “It would still be in the interest of BMHT itself, particularly when the management and corpus of the BMHT have been transferred to the Union of India, that the government agency, besides regularly inspecting the accounts of BMHT, also give their final report for the period ending July 2010.”

It added, “Accounts of BMHRC and allied departments, as far as they are subject matter of the present writ petition, shall be audited by the principal accountant general (audit), Madhya Pradesh. It shall also examine the accounts and the audit report dated 15th July, 2011 submitted by M/s V K Verma and Company within three months from today.”

The court said with passage of time, the figure of gas affected population had risen to 5 lakh. “With the passage of time this disaster has attained wider dimensions and greater concerns, which require discharge of higher responsibilities by all agencies. In terms of Article 21 of the Constitution, all the gas victims are entitled to greater extent of multi-dimensional healthcare, as their sufferings are in no way, directly or indirectly, attributable to them. It was, primarily and undoubtedly, the negligence on the part of Union Carbide Ltd that resulted in leakage of the MIC gas, causing irreversible damage to the health of not only the persons affected but even the children who were still to be born,” the court said.

Entrusting the Empowered Monitoring Committee with this task, the Bench said: “It must undertake to operationalise medical surveillance, computerisation of medical information, publication of ‘health booklets,’ etc. It shall also ensure that ‘health booklets’ and ‘smart cards’ are provided to each… victim irrespective of where such victim is being treated.”

Writing the judgment, Justice Kumar said: “The Empowered Monitoring Committee shall have complete jurisdiction to oversee the proper functioning of the Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre (BMHRC) as well as other government hospitals dealing with the gas victims. This jurisdiction shall be limited to the problems relatable to the gas victims or the problems arising directly from the incident [which occurred on the night of December 2-3, 1984 at Union Carbide’s plant] or even the problems allied thereto. The Monitoring Committee shall have no jurisdiction over the private hospitals, nursing homes and clinics in Bhopal. However, it does not absolve the State of Madhya Pradesh and the Medical Council of India of discharging its responsibilities towards the… victims who are being treated in private hospitals, nursing homes or clinics.”

Justifying the directions, the Bench said: “Unlike natural calamities that are beyond human control, avoidable disasters resulting from human error/negligence prove more tragic and… imbalance the inter-generational equity and cause irretrievable damage to the health and environment for generations to come. Such tragedy may occur from pure negligence, contributory negligence or even failure to take necessary precautions in carrying on certain industrial activities. More often than not, the affected parties have to face avoidable damage and adversity that result from such disasters. The magnitude and extent of adverse impact on the financial soundness, social health and upbringing of younger generation, including progenies, may have been beyond human expectations. In such situations and where the laws are silent or are inadequate, the courts have unexceptionally stepped in to bridge the gaps, to provide for appropriate directions and guidelines to ensure that fundamentals of Article 21 of the Constitution are not violated.”

The Bench directed the State government and the Monitoring Committee to evolve a methodology for a common referral system among the various medical units under the erstwhile BMHRC and the Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation Department to ensure that the victims “are referred to appropriate centres for proper diagnosis and treatment…” The Monitoring Committee shall issue a standardised protocol for treating each category of ailment.

The Bench said: “The management of the Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust (BMHT) has already been vested with the [Union] Ministry of Health and Family Welfare… and the working of the BMHT has come to an end. We, thus, direct that the Union of India and the State of Madhya Pradesh take appropriate steps to ensure the dissolution of the Trust in accordance with law.”


CBI wants Shehla case to be tried in Indore

TNN | Jun 12, 2012,

Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Monday opposed the plea of the five accused in RTI activist Shehla Masood murder case to transfer the case to Bhopal under section 177 of CrPC before the special CBI court. Accused Zaheda Parvez, her accomplice Saba Farooqui, history-sheeter Saquib ‘Danger,’ shooters Irfaan Ali and Tabish Khan were produced before the judge Dr Shubhra Singh.CBI counsel Hemant Shukla said, CBI special court of Indorehas power and jurisdiction to hear the case and that the case should not be transferred to Bhopal. To supplement his argument he gave four instances including one that of 2003 Madhya Pradesh High Courtwhere the cases were heard by the special court away from the place of crime. Shukla argued that section 14 (3) of CrPC 1978 has amended section 177 and empowered the special court to hear cases. In this case, as initial hearing was held in Indore and charge-sheet was also filed here, the trial should also be continued in Indore.However, the defense counsel of all the accused together argued that under section 177 of CrPc, hearing of the case should be held in the place of crime. “Crime was committed in Bhopal, investigation took place in Bhopal, all the witnesses are from Bhopal so the case should also be shifted to that city as per the law,” said defense lawyer Sunil Shirivastav adding that the families of accused are staying in Bhopal and they have to face inconvenience. He stressed that there are certain things beyond law which need to be considered on humanitarian grounds.

Another defense lawyer Y Khan said that several cases are registered against some of the accused in Bhopal and their families too stay in the state capital. Thus, for the convenience of the accused, the court hearing should be shifted to state capital, he reasoned. In his reply, the defense lawyers sought time from the court and will present their argument during the next hearing scheduled for Friday, June 15.

Advocate Memon to appeal for re-investigation

Bagish K Jha

In a new twist to Shehla Masood murder case, the father of slain RTI activist, Sultan Masood, have contested the charge-sheet filed by the CBI. He met famous criminal lawyer advocate Majeed Memon in Mumbai recently with a copy of charge-sheet and alleged that the investigating agency had been protecting BJP MLA Dhruvnarayan Singh and wanted the case to be re-investigated by other officials. The MLA’s name came up several times in the course of investigation and had to undergo lie-detector test following allegations against him in the case.

Talking to TOI over phone from Mumbai, advocate Memon said he would appear before the court on behalf of the Masood family and appeal to re-investigate the case. It is not a matter of a family, but is related to the security of common man and the matter of law and order in Madhya Pradesh, he said.

It seems that the CBI has investigated the case with a view to protecting Dhruvnarayan, who was central character in entire episode, but was not even listed as the witness in the charge-sheet.

More than 145 witnesses have been enlisted in the charge-sheet by the CBI. “Beside this, the call details of Shehla were not submitted to the court which could have thrown light on the case,” Memon said.



Trapped after being forced to say ‘I do’


Child brides are not criminals. They cannot be compared to children accused of committing crimes. Anyone who hears a story of a girl forced into marriage before she turned 18 will tell you that she had little choice in the matter. In fact, under Indian law, children convicted as juveniles cannot be disqualified from having access to any benefits or legal entitlements on the basis of their conviction. So why punish children who were forced to marry by closing the door on them?


The case of Ratnashri Pandey

Take the example of Ratnashri Pandey from Madhya Pradesh. Her family pressured her to marry soon after she passed her class nine examinations. Pandey told Human Rights Watch, “I didn’t want to be married, but a girl’s wishes are not respected. Everyone said I should get married…I got married.” Pandey never set eyes on the groom; not even his photograph. “I told my nana (mother’s father) I wanted to study after marriage.”

She described her struggle to continue her education — juggling household work, fighting with her husband and in-laws to delay pregnancy, and enduring insults and beatings because of her decisions. She separated from her husband because he started beating their young daughter, and eventually divorced him.

She completed her master’s degree and worked as a teacher. But because the income was not enough to support both her and her children, Pandey dreamed of becoming a civil servant. Leaving her children in her parents’ care, she went to another city, moved into a women’s hostel, and started preparing for the State civil services examinations. Her parents spent nearly Rs.300,000 to help. She passed the preliminary examination in 2006. But State policy stopped her in her tracks a month before she was to sit the main examination.

The Madhya Pradesh authorities informed Pandey that she was ineligible to take the exam because she was married as a child, she said. She filed a case in the Madhya Pradesh High Court, which granted her permission to write the examination pending a decision on the merits of the case. She did not pass the first time. After another round of litigation, she sat the exam again in 2009. “I spent more time in courts than with my books,” she said. The Madhya Pradesh High Court upheld the government rule disqualifying applicants who had married as children. She appealed to the Supreme Court, and awaits the verdict.

Violates 2006 Act

India prohibits marriage for girls under 18 and boys under 21, and should do everything possible to prevent child marriages. But when children (usually girls) marry and prevention strategies fail, punitive measures aimed at “discouraging” child marriages victimise girls yet again. This approach contravenes a key principle of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006: no penalty for girls forced into marriages.

There is almost no information on how many such small rules are embedded in regulations or other programmes throughout the country. But there is enough information to show that such an approach is not an aberration.

Central programmes

During the second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) — which is the review of each country’s human rights progress every four years before the U.N. Human Rights Council — India earned high praise for its commitment to education. Other countries urged India to tackle the issue of child marriages and to advance opportunities for education and work for women. Reiterating its commitment to protecting the rights of women and children, India stated that its authorities exercised “greater consciousness” to integrate human rights concerns in every ministry’s policies and programmes. The need for “greater consciousness” in responding to child marriages in the country is dire.

It’s clear that what goes on even at the national level, excluding the victims of child marriages, goes well beyond Pandey’s case. Indian health rights experts have documented at least two other well-known examples. The Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY) programme — sponsored by the Central government — provides conditional cash transfers to women giving birth in health facilities and is linked to prenatal, in-hospital, and post-natal services.

In many States with better health indicators, though, the benefits exclude girls below 19 who are not from Scheduled Castes or Tribes and where the Central government limits the benefits to two live births. The impact of this discriminatory treatment is likely to be mitigated by the Janani-Shishu Suraksha Karyakram (Mother and Child Protection Programme), another new scheme that promises free in-hospital and referral services to all pregnant women. But it is too early to tell.

UNICEF report

The Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahayog Yojana, which is the Central government’s cash assistance programme to supplement pregnant and lactating women’s nutrition and double up as maternity benefit, has identical restrictions. And weigh all this against stark data in a recent UNICEF report which says that 47 per cent of India’s adolescent girls are underweight and 56 per cent of girls from ages 15 to 19 are anaemic. UNICEF calls this a “severe public health problem.”

In April, UNICEF released its world report card on adolescents. It showed that India has 243 million adolescents (ages 10 to 19) — the highest number in the world. Another UNICEF report this year found that 47 per cent of women surveyed in India were married or in unions by age 18.

When the law against child marriages protects the mother and her child, it is appalling that key health and nutrition schemes for pregnant women leave out adolescent pregnant girls, affecting them and their newborns.

To be fair, the Central and State governments have dozens of schemes that “promote” girls, many of which are aimed at delaying marriage. But this is not enough.

Indian officials should develop a holistic response to tackle child marriages — a rights-based approach to Central and State government action. Punitive measures against girls and women forced into child marriages should find no place in government policies, programmes, and practices. Central and State governments should adopt a clear policy of non-discrimination that includes married adolescents in all welfare, higher education, and employment efforts. Without such a coherent response, India will fail its child brides. It’s time India’s approach to child marriages moved beyond this punitive phase and matured.

(Aruna Kashyap is Asia researcher in the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch.)


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