INDIA: 70 years on and still struggling for humanity

Divya Bharathi, a filmmaker recently released her debut film ‘Kakkoos’, a documentary on the plight of manual scavengers in Tamil Nadu, a South Indian state. In the past one month, there have been two reports of deaths of workers engaged in manual scavenging, both from New Delhi, India’s capital city. Seven manual scavengers died due to the inhalation of toxic fumes and suffocating to death.

But Divya’s efforts, instead of embarrassing the state and spurring them into action has resulted in death threats, rape threats and stalking. She alleged that she is being watched and followed, finally driving her to leave the state. The threats came after she implicated the Dean of the Anna University in manual scavenging and those who are threatening her claim that she has besmirched the ‘name’ of the Pallar community, to which the Dean belongs.
Many cases have been filed against her for offences such as cyber terrorism and the Madurai police booked her for offences under Ss. 153 and 505 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for promoting enmity and hatred among different communities and classes. While she has been questioned in these cases, none of the complaints she filed against the abusers have been taken seriously, with no action being taken by the police.

In another bitter development in India, the Supreme Court of India said that rape or forced sexual intercourse with a married girl between the ages of 15 to 17 cannot be considered as ‘rape’. The Court said that the Parliament had extensively discussed the criminalisation of marital rape and had concluded that it is not an ‘offence’. The Supreme Court has allowed the archaic exception to S.375 (Rape) of the IPC to remain on the books. This exception states that forced sexual intercourse by a married man with his wife who is above the age of 15, is not rape and the Court has thereby effectively allowing the continued legalisation of the rape of minors in child marriages (about which the law is still not very clear).

A few weeks ago, a 10-year old rape survivor, who was reportedly 32 weeks pregnant was prevented by the Supreme Court from having an abortion, citing safety concerns. The reason the case was in the court in the first place, is due to another archaic provision in the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 a which mandates judicial permission to abort a foetus that is more than 20 weeks old.

In Chandigarh, a young woman, while driving home on the night of Aug 4, was chased, stalked and almost kidnapped by two men, one of whom was the son of the BJP chief in Haryana, Subhash Barala. The Chandigarh police, at first, failed to book the accused for attempt to kidnapping under S.365 of the IPC, a non-bailable offence. After incessant media attention and also because the woman is the daughter of an IAS officer, the Chandigarh police seem to be getting their act together, finally arresting the accused under S.365. Some BJP leaders and othersthough, were quick to blame the woman, asking why she was out so late at night, along with outright character assassination on social media even resorting to fake images.

And most recently, more than 60 children died in a state-run hospital in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh. The children were getting treated due to an encephalitis outbreak. While new information is emerging, initial reports suggested that the children died since there was not enough oxygen. Investigations revealed that the government run medical college has failed to pay dues to the supplier.

All these incidents are recent additions to a burgeoning, sad, avoidable statistic in India.

As long as manual scavenging exists, and the state finds ways to employ human beings to scavenge, India should not celebrate its independence. Dependence on the structures of caste, class, and gender to perpetuate stereotypes, and criminal, inhuman practices such as scavenging, exposes that independence has no meaning to large sections of citizens.

While India is still debating the rape of minors and women in marriages, policing women’s access to public spaces; relying on legal loopholes, to allow the continued objectification and sexualisation of the female body, India’s celebration of independence misses large swathes of its population.

For the children who died due to lack of oxygen in state hospitals that are in deplorable conditions; for the 10-year-old rape survivor who is made to run from court to court to get an abortion, for sexual assault survivors who are ridiculed and shamed by the police and the government – what meaning does independence carry?

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-098-2017
Countries : India,
Issues : Institutional reform, Judicial system, Right to fair trial, Rule of law, Torture, Violence against women, Women's rights,