Saturday, January 28, 2012

Disability and Violence against Women

Photo: Art for Prabhat, Disability India Network
Within the gamut of violence against women, one of the things that I find extremely intriguing, at least, in the context of India, is reluctance among organizations and activists to take up issues of sexual violence against children, especially girls by their family members and sexual violence against disabled women. Here, I want to bring attention to a general apathy, and denial around sexual lives of disabled women and sexual violence against them. References to sexual rights of this population group and their violations are rarely heard. Discussion and programmes designed to address violence against women rarely keep this group in view. These groups’ numerical under-representation in the organizations working on violence against women could be one of the reasons.

I find that the reluctance also has to do with this group being a minority – accessing information about the abuses this group goes through and reaching them with protection and care services would require some extra efforts which do not seem ‘cost effective’ to many.
The disability movement in India has focused on political ideas of universal physical access and survival. The issue of violence against them is not a priority. As a result, public and private violence against disabled women, especially intellectually challenged women, has not surfaced as an issue.

Families, most of them, somehow cannot see their intellectually challenged family members as anything other than a curse and a liability on the family. It is not surprising then that despite protests by some women’s activists, institutional violence against disabled women is sometimes carried out with the support of their family members. Examples of such collaborations include prevention of (potential) pregnancy by violent methods like vaginal hysterectomy or uterine hysterectomy.

These actions are given the name of protection measures. But protection from what – living with implications of having a sexual life or from implications of sexual violence like rape? If such measures are a protection from implications of having a sexual life, shouldn’t one treat these measures as violations of reproductive rights? And if these measures are being treated as protection from implications of sexual violence like rape, shouldn’t these measures be considered as institutional and family ‘approval’ of men’s ‘right’ to rape women?

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Protection of the Girl Child

Photo: Guardian
Battered baby in coma:
Two female foetuses found in CP dustbins:
Manipur girl raped in Delhi: 48 hours on, no breakthrough
Read more at: 
Girl jumps off roof to escape rape:
A class X student was allegedly raped:

The above links are just a few examples to indicate the status and extent of sexual abuse of women and girls in the city of Delhi alone. Abuse at home remains a taboo topic, rarely brought out.
Sexual abuse of children in any form of household setting by a family member or someone in a holding power over a child in India is among the most urgent forms of child abuse which our society must address. As per women's organizations and activists nearly ninety-five percent of the abused are girls and more than ninety-five percent abusers are males. Surveys carried out in schools and informal chats reveal that around 40% girls experience incest abuse or sexual abuse in one or the other form in India. Still it is not an issue in most child protection discussions, policies and measures. Till now majority of the Indians avoid it or deny it and ignore it. We have been an ostrich society.
Feminists in India have been are in the forefront among those who are ready to spell, explain, and act against incest abuse. There are lawyers and child rights activists as well who have been raising the issue. But even if we put together all such people, they are still not a critical mass and their views strong enough to be able to impact consciousness of the policymakers, police, lawyers, judges, teachers, schools, mental, physical and sexual health professionals, and all those who could take up the issue. In general incest abuse continues to be treated as a rarity rather than a norm.

Backlash against the victim or survivor of incest abuse or those who try to support the victim or survivor is commonplace. Family honour, social sniggering and abuse of other family members of the abused child and a lack of support mechanism and resources are major barriers that prevent the defence of the abused child - within the household and or from resorting to legal defence. More than often there is a counter attack on an abused child by the other family members, if the child dares to report or complain or raise the issue in any other form.

The Indian laws on sexual offences do not recognize incest abuse. For that matter, even the broader issue of child sexual abuse is not addressed by the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860, specifically Section 376 of the IPC. As of now recognition of sexual abuse is limited only to rape (read vaginal-penis intercourse) and sodomy. Any other form of rape and abuse is expressed as 'outraging the modesty' and is a bailable offence in the law (Section 354 of the IPC). The limitations of such a law reduce it to mere tokenism. Anomaly among several laws affecting children make it further easier for abuse of children in homes to go on.

There have been several talks of amendment of the IPC over the last two decades but till the profile of the issue is visible among those involved in advocacy and processing of the amendment, it is bound to be ignored.

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