By Counterview Desk
A preliminary report of the hearing at an independent tribunal on violence against Dalit women, organized by the All-India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch (AIDMAM) at the Constitutional Club, New Delhi, has called upon Dalit activists to work for creating awareness around new legislations that are now in place to fight against crimes against women, including the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act, 2012 and the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013.
The jury of the tribunal, consisting of prominent human rights lawyers, scholars and activists – Farah Naqvi, Henri Tiphagne, Vrinda Grover, Gayatri Singh, Prof Vimal Thorat, Dr Srivella Prasad, P Sivakami and Vidyanand Vikal – said in their report that these laws should be urgently used alongside the Scheduled Caste/ Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act (PoA Act), “so as to ensure quality justice to the victims of sexual violence.” During the two days of hearing, the jury heard 45 cases of atrocities against Dalit women from across India.
The jury said, “It is important that we recognize that violence against Dalit women is not confined to women from marginal and lower class locations. Even Dalit women who have become sarpanches, and who then use their office to transform society, are increasingly attacked and violated.” It added, “We can also see that there is an increase in the backlash violence against Dalit women human rights defenders. Many of them work in extremely undesirable situations, encountering multiple levels of corruption and crime and often they are attacked and assaulted for bringing to light the violence against Dalit women.”
Opening the tribunal, Asha Kotwal, general secretary, AIDMAM, said a gruesome atrocity case against a Dalit was being reported widely from Haryana. Hoping that the government will listen to the Dalit women’s grievances, she underlined, “States like Gujarat, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh are not lagging behind in violence and sexual violence on Dalit women. The data provided by the government are inadequate”, hence the need call the tribunal.
The jury observed that how the PoA Act is often found to be ineffective in fighting against atrocities against Dalit women. It said, in all the 45 cases which were brought before it, “even though there were strict provisions within the existing PoA Act, none of them were employed or implemented towards protecting Dalit women. Even in cases that involved caste abuse along with brutal rape, the Act was not employed by the police and the judiciary. Often it was after days of protest and resistance that most of these cases were brought under the purview of the Acts”.
The jury said, the existing commissions which have been set up by the government are often found to be incapable of fighting atrocity cases against Dalit women. “It is important to recognize that Dalit women do not find a central position in both the SC/ST commission (which is in adept to address their gendered status) and in the women’s commission (which is not capable of addressing issues of caste). Often their issues are shunted from one commission to the other and they do not find a specific space in both, given the intersectional nature of the violence against them”, it added.
Pointing towards the “the complete failure and absolute corruption of the existing criminal justice system”, the jury said, “In most cases, the police totally ignore the desperate pleas of the women and families who approach them to prevent atrocities, or to frame the criminals involved in them. They are asked to go back, compromise, come up with a settlement outside the police station, and they are dissuaded from using the law towards their own protection and towards obtaining justice. Dalit women and their families are sent from station to station, citing various reasons, and they are not even allowed to register their cases. Often precious time is lost in such bureaucratic delays, which are deliberately done to protect the criminals and deny justice to the women.”
Further, “FIRs are wrongly written, tampered with, the names of the accused are often left out from the FIRs, women who have just been violated are made to give statements and these statements are then changed or falsely recorded. Often the police not only take money from the perpetrators but also work according to the bidding of the powerful who are behind the criminals. The police and all the officers at the panchayat and the municipality, including government health professionals work in collusion towards providing protection to the criminals than to the Dalit women.”
Referring to how medical officers in government healthcare institutions are compromised and go so far as to protect criminals, the report by the jury stated, “Government health professionals such as doctors and other certifying officers collude with the police and the criminals towards tampering with medical evidence. Often false certification is provided by government health professionals that are used to prove that there has been no assault on a woman. Even minors and corpses of Dalit women who have been gang-raped and murdered are submitted to the ‘two-finger test’ (often repeatedly) with which the victims are declared as being habituated to sexual intercourse. This is then used to prove that they have not been raped or assaulted!”
The jury underlined, “Most state governments do not feel pressurized to envisage any programme or scheme towards preventing violence against Dalit women. None of them have any comprehensive policy or agenda towards helping them. Even those provisions that already exist are not being put to use. There is no political will today to provide even minimal justice to Dalit women. Even officials who are employed in schemes like NREGA, which is meant for marginalized women, are violently assaulting Dalit women at their workplace. In short, though there is so much talk about gender and violence today, this does not automatically extend to Dalit women who are left to suffer and resist alone, often in unthinkably difficult situations.”
In Its recommendations, the jury called for an urgent review of the PoA Act in order to protect the witnesses of an atrocity. “There is also an urgent need to review Act so as to get rid of the existing loopholes”, it said, adding, there should be “a gender audit of the implementation of the Act urgently “so as to ensure that Dalit women are able to make use of it more effectively. The existing Act does not apply to new forms of violence and discrimination in the healthcare system. This should be urgently looked into.”
Asking for monitoring of the criminal justice system, the jury said, “Criminal cases should be filed against officers who tamper with evidence, protect criminals and work to support criminals. Sections 4 and 166 A should be used in the cases of negligence by the police. The DySP should be a woman who deals with the case of violence against Dalit women. Along with the above, right from their training in the police academy there should be provisions to sensitize officers to the Act and other such issues related to the Dalit community and specifically to Dalit women.”
The jury recommended strong vigilance on the medical establishments and doctors and other medical practitioners, both state and private, by involving the Medical Council of India, as Dalit women are victims of sexual violence. “License to practice should be taken away in case of medical negligence, malpractice and destruction of evidence in the case of atrocities against Dalit women”, it said, adding, “Interim medical assistance should be provided to the victims of atrocities. With collaborative medical evidence the case can be strengthened and it should be ensured that this is effectively produced. The ‘two-finger test’ should be strictly prevented from being used on the victims of sexual violence. Victims should also not be identified as habituated to sexual intercourse on the basis of the ‘two-finger test’.”
Wanting the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to come up with a rehabilitation scheme for victims of caste atrocities, the jury stated, “There should be special provisions for the rehabilitation of Dalit women, which would be different from that provided for women in general, as the problems in rehabilitating Dalit women are entirely different. Short stay homes should be created for temporarily rehabilitating Dalit women who are going through the trauma of violence and fighting for justice. These homes should fund by the state, but should be run by the State along with NGOs and other such organizations.”
— Rajiv Shah