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UN Reports Sexual Abuse By Indian Peacekeepers, And We Ignore Similar Situation Back Home

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By Bhanvi Satija:

recent evaluation report released by the United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) looks into the allegations of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA) in its peacekeeping operations around the globe. The report is aimed at assessing the achievement of the enforcement and remedial strategy of the UN to address SEA, in the period 2010-2013. It also assesses the responses received by the countries that are contributing troops i.e. if there is prima facie evidence of SEA by the personnel or member of the country.

Picture used for representational purpose only. Credit: UN News Centre
Picture used for representational purpose only. Credit: UN News Centre

Where does India stand?

According to the report, the Indian peacekeeping forces have three cases of substantiated allegations against them.
afspaThis comes as an embarrassment to the army that contributes the third largest contingent to the UN missions, and brings back memories of a cash-for-sex scandal in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2008. “Strictest action is taken against soldiers bringing a bad name to the army on foreign soil. The army is also putting in place tougher rules for monitoring conduct and discipline to curb such cases,” a senior army officer told Hindustan Times.

On the other hand, the report itself notes that the largest contributors of troops to the UN, like India, had lower incidence of cases of abuse. “While many variables, including contingent size, could affect the numbers of substantiated allegations, it appears that the largest TCCs (troop contributing countries) do not have the highest number of substantiated allegations against their personnel,” says the report. The other largest contributors of uniformed personnel to the UN are Pakistan, which has more than 8,750 in UN operations and had four substantiated cases, and Bangladesh with over 9,000 personnel and two such cases. Britain, which has fewer than 300 personnel serving in UN operations, had one substantiated case. South Africa with 2,160 had the highest number of cases at nine. Uruguay with fewer than 1,500 personnel had eight cases.

One of the major concerns of the report is that only a few TCCs comply with the 10-day deadline; some do not respond at all and timeliness and comprehensiveness of information provided remains an issue. It is important to note that India’s name has not been listed among the nations that had not complied with the UN’s requests for reports on follow-up actions and investigation. If this is to be believed, then it means that with respect to the army personnel deployed outside the country India is ready to look into the matter and take action when the code of conduct is breached. However, back home India’s stand on the similar issues has been quite the opposite.

The situation back home

While we are apparently complying with the UN’s standard and norms for investigating into SEA allegations, based solely on prima facie evidence, sometimes we refuse to acknowledge the excesses committed by our own army within the boundaries of the country. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which provides immunity to India’s soldiers for acts committed in the line of duty, has been under fire for years. Critics say that the law allows security forces to get away, and that the soldiers who commit SEA on women hide behind its protective clauses.

AFSPA’s special provisions give the security forces unbridled powers to raid without evidence or warrant and use force, even fatally. Both commissioned and noncommissioned personnel have immunity under Section 6 of this act; prosecution can be initiated only if the Government of India sanctions it. Right from 2004 (and much before that), Badar Payeen Rape Case in Kashmir, and the case of Thangjam Manorama, who was picked up by jawans of the Assam Rifles on suspicion of being a militant in Manipur in 2004; to the recent cases of three women being raped in the Karbi Anglong District in Assam – little has changed, and not much has been done. Ten years later, when Thangjam Manorama’s plight has come to light, after the Upendra Commission Report was made public, none of the Army men who were named guilty are to face trial and prosecution.

Till now, there has been very little development on these above listed cases, and there are a countless others that go unreported. Even when cases like that of Thangjam Manorama come to light, the procedure for initiating hearings in the regular court of law against army personnel is tiresome and takes a lot of time. This gap of time occurring due to the procedure often results in loss of crucial evidence in cases of sexual exploitation and abuse making the identification of perpetrators an impossible task – as the forces get transferred routinely, especially in areas of conflict.

A significant development in this regard took place when the Justice J.S. Verma Committee looking into legal reforms related to violence against women called for a review of the AFSPA. It noted that “impunity for systematic or isolated sexual violence in the process of internal security duties is being legitimised by the AFSPA” and “women in conflict areas are entitled to all the security and dignity that is afforded to citizens in any other part of our country.” The committee also recommended that “special care must also be taken for the safety of complainants and witnesses in cases of sexual assault by armed personnel”. While the government in power then adopted several of the Verma Committee’s recommendations in the form of a new anti-rape law, the recommendations related to AFSPA remained unacknowledged.

Sexual assault can never be part of ‘official duty’, swift and strict action should be taken against any personnel accused of such violence. While the government dithers over whether or not to repeal the AFSPA, the least it can do is to make sure that the armed forces do not get protection under it for violence against women — an offence that simply cannot be justified as having been committed ‘in the line of duty’.

There is a clear contrast between the treatment meted out to army personnel working outside the country and those working within the national borders. What it looks like is that India is more concerned about the country’s image across the globe, than it is concerned with listening to the voices of its own people. It is okay to continue sanctioning rape and sexual assault by Army men as long as they are within the border of the country, and to encourage such blatant impunity as long as it occurs within the four walls of our home (country) – kyunki yeh sab to ghar ki baat hai?

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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