Women Thwarted At Every Step in Search of Justice Even as Gender Crimes Spike
4,28,278 cases of crimes against women were registered across India in 2021
In India, while everyone is welcoming Supreme Court's decision to legalise abortion in the country, there has been an increase in number of crimes against women. These including rape, domestic violence and cyber-crime.
On September 29, in a landmark judgement the Supreme Court ruled that all women are entitled to a safe and legal abortion process. It put on record that making any distinction between a married and an unmarried woman in this regard is unconstitutional.
The judgement comes in the backdrop of the latest NCRB data, which revealed that crimes against women in India increased by 15.3 per cent in 2021.
Not only the total number of cases registered but the rate of crimes against women also increased. The rate of cases registered per lakh women population increased to 64.5 in 2021 from 56.5 in 2020. A total of 4,28,278 cases of crimes against women were registered across India in 2021, marking an increase of 15.3 percent from 2020.
Majority of cases under crime against women were registered under 'Cruelty by Husband or His Relatives' (31.8 per cent). This was followed by 'Assault on Women with Intent to Outrage her Modesty' (20.8 per cent), 'Kidnapping and Abduction of Women' (17.6 per cent), and 'Rape' (7.4%), according to the NCRB report.
However, according to many the on-ground situation is worse than anyone's expectations.
Seema (name changed on request), is waiting outside the Sonipat District Court, while two of her younger children stand beside her. The 45-year-old works as a domestic worker for an elderly woman.
Seema says she has been subjected to 23 years of domestic violence and abuse from her husband. "It started soon after marriage. He used to beat me up mercilessly," she told The Citizen.
Married when she was still a minor, Seema could not comprehend or process the violence that was instilled upon her. "He would get angry over little things, like less or more salt in food," she added, still trembling when talking about the past. Her husband now fails to show up for their court hearings.
Seema recalled that in 2010, he had tied her up inside their house and tried to burn her to death. "I still feel so helpless thinking about those times. He had put oil on me and left me burning. My arms, legs and back were burning, after which I was rushed to the hospital," she said, adding it was a battle of life and death for her.
Seeing her daughter suffer so much, Seema's mother died due to shock. A case was registered against Seema's husband and he was jailed. However, after persuasion from her brother-in-law, he was released. "I was naïve to think he would change. He used to send me letters, begging me to forgive him," she added.
Seema said, as she had no father, her mother was dependent on her brother, who persuaded her to stay with her husband.
It was when Seema's oldest son started physically assaulting her and their daughter, she decided to leave the family. "I was not so much about leaving. I had left my house in fear that me and my daughter and youngest son were in danger. But after a few days back we tried to come and they did not let us enter. My daughter then persuaded me to take legal action and leave for good," she said.
However, despite this Seema's husband still does not show up for their court hearings, and hence has not been giving any alimony to them. Speaking to The Citizen, their lawyer Vikas Attri called this "an old chapter from the textbook". "They try to avoid the hearing so that they don't have to pay alimony. This is not new and a sad reality," he said.
In the same court, 28-year-old Sonya, has been fighting her case for the last couple of years. "My husband cheated on me and beat me on various occasions. I am educated compared to their families and shifted to their village after marriage. I was living in the city before that and I compromised, yet I was treated this way," she added.
With added anger and trauma, Sonya, who also has a 5-year-old daughter with the husband, said that he has refused to acknowledge his daughter's existence. "I stayed with him for some time, because he was my husband and there is some attachment. But when he did not even come to meet my daughter, his own daughter, it made me realise I will only be unfair to my child if I go back," she said.
Working in a small company, Sonya is also educating herself on women rights. "I don't want my daughter to face the same things I did," she said. Even though her parents were supportive, it took a long time for them to accept that their daughter was suffering. "Initially, they had told me to not come back home and stay with my husband. This has changed and I live with them only," Sonya said sadly.
A longitudinal research study by BMC Women's Health analysing trends and lessons on domestic violence faced by Indian women showed that between 2001 and 2018, the majority of the domestic violence cases were filed under 'cruelty by husband or his relatives', with the reported rate of this crime increasing by 53% over 18 years.
The study has also highlighted that the rate of cases of cruelty by husbands or relatives was 28.3 per 1,00,000 women in 2018, which is an increase of 53% from 2001. The rate of reported dowry deaths and abetment to suicide was 2% and 1.4%, respectively, in 2018.
The data analysed by the researchers was extracted from the annual reports of the National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB) under four domestic violence crime categories: cruelty by husband or his relatives; dowry deaths; abetment to suicide; and protection of women against domestic violence act.
And while there are laws in place, lawyers and experts suggest that the situation on ground only gets worse. Due to certain provisions and onset of Covid, women are reluctant to approach the police and file a complaint. "Many women are now reluctant to approach the police because of how they handle these cases. Many times calling it a personal matter they send the women back," Attri said.
Activist Shabnam Hashmi averring the same said that this has only made women more reluctant to approach the police. Speaking about the on-ground situation, she said, "If a woman goes on her own, then nobody listens to her. It's only when a pressure is created is when a complaint is filed," she said. According to Hashmi, it is worse for women who are not educated. "Only when an activist or someone educated intervenes does the police listen," Hashmi added.
Crime Against Women Cell
However, before a complaint for violence is registered, Delhi Police sends the woman to the Crime Against Women (CAW) cell for intervention. "The police route takes a long time. They would send the parties to the women's cell, and then they keep calling both the husband and the wife there," said Hashmi.
This, Hashmi added, puts pressure on women, who also leave the cases mid-way.
It is not just domestic violence and sexual assault cases have increased, data and trend show a surge in gender-based violence.
A total of 52,974 cases were registered under Cyber Crimes, showing an increase of 5.9% in registration over 2020 (50,035 cases). Crime rate under this category increased from 3.7 in 2020 to 3.9 in 2021. During 2021, 60.8% of cyber-crime cases registered were for the motive of fraud (32,230 out of 52,974 cases) followed by sexual exploitation with 8.6% (4,555 cases) and Extortion with 5.4% (2,883 cases).
The top five states that account for 61 percent of the share in Cyber Crimes against women are Karnataka at number one with 2,243 cases in 2021, Maharashtra with 1,687 cases, and Uttar Pradesh with 958 cases. Telangana accounts for the highest share of all cybercrimes including cyber-crime against women, which has increased to 282 percent from 2,691 in 2019 to 10,303 in 2021.
With cyber attacks like Sulli deals and Bulli Bai, the trend to harass women, especially from marginalised communities has taken a dangerous precedent. "I am scared to share anything personal about myself. When my name came in Sulli deals, I was shocked and traumatised. My identity was a major factor but also how my gender came into play here," a Delhi-based activist said on the condition of anonymity.
National Alliance for Women's Representation Bill, a collective of movements and organisations seeking for greater representation of women in policy making, wrote a letter to President Droupadi Murmu, requesting to frame laws regarding misuse of social media platforms against women.
The letter tried to draw attention towards the abuse women face on social media platforms. "Misogyny and sexism, along with casteism and abusive language cannot be allowed to be the norm. Disparaging women, making threats, assault on our identity based on gender, caste, class, religion or any other criteria cannot be brushed under the carpet under any pretext.
"Nearly all women who are on social media platforms have faced, and continue to face threats and abuse. Women are tagged in posts to humiliate them, there are open threats of rape and violence, there is slut-shaming, insults, cat-calling and many more forms of abuse that degrade and humiliate the identity of the woman," stated the letter.
India has a Cyber Law, which many believe needs to be implemented in a better manner.
The Information Technology Act, 2000, which was enacted by the Indian Parliament in 2000, caters towards matters related to cybercrime and e-commerce. The act was enacted to give legal sanction to electronic commerce and electronic transactions, to enable e-governance, and also to prevent cybercrime.
Meanwhile, in their letter, the organisation demanded a stronger stringency of permits to operate in the country. "The Ministry of Law must frame regulations for the operation of these platforms within the country. The alacrity with which porn sites are blocked, is the same alacrity that is required to block platforms, to curb gender-based abuse.
"The ministry needs to understand that stopping crimes at the earliest would safeguard women and children of the country from physical and mental trauma," the letter stated.
On Thursday, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) ordered Internet service providers to block more than 60 websites containing pornographic material. The orders were based on judgments issued by two High Courts and for violating the Information Technology (IT) Rules, 2021.
In four letters issued to Internet service providers, the DoT has asked them to block 67 such websites: 63 based on the order of a Pune court, and 4 based on a 2018 judgement of the Uttarakhand High Court and directions issued by the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY).
Better Laws Needed
With the Supreme Court legalising abortion, many believe the government needs to come up with stringent gender-based laws, for women and those belonging to LGBTQ community as well.
Speaking about the judgement Delhi based lawyer Tanvi Mishra said, "This judgement has said so many things that the Parliament now needs to ponder over, brush up and come up with the amendments in the existing law and maybe come up with new laws as well."
The court, in its judgement said all women, regardless of their marital status, were entitled to safe and legal abortion. It said that excluding single women in consensual relationships would be "unconstitutional".
Abortions have been legal in India since 1971, but over the years authorities have made strict rules for who can terminate a pregnancy because of the abortions of millions of female foetuses, leading to a terrible gender ratio in the country.
Last year, the government amended the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP) to allow several categories of women to seek abortions between 20 and 24 weeks.
The bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud, A S Bopanna and J B Pardiwala, ruling on a plea by an unmarried pregnant woman who had been in a consensual relationship but was denied the right to abortion because she was past the 20-week limit.
If the Act and Rules, the Bench said, were "to be interpreted such that its benefits extended only to married women, it would perpetuate the stereotype and socially held notion that only married women indulge in sexual intercourse, and that consequently, the benefits in law ought to extend only to them".
With women of domestic and sexual abuse awaiting justice as court proceedings move slow, the new provision has paved way for a positive outcome. With low conviction rates in domestic violence and dowry cases to high registration of cases in gender-based crime, there is still a long way to go.
"My own case made me realise how tedious court is and how helpless one can feel because there is no other way to get justice. I felt like giving up in the middle, but my child is the only source of power I have. I can not give up," said Sonya.