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4 Years After The December 16 Gang Rape, Do We Know Any Better?

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By Arpita Raj and Indu Pandey:

This December is the same as the December of 2012, the same bone-chilling winter, the same night and somewhat the same status of women. Today also women continue to be brutally raped not just physically but also mentally and socially. At present, how many of us know about the laws made exclusively for women? It’s essential that we stop ignoring all the things that happen around us.

On December 16, 2013,  a 23-year-old physiotherapy student was brutally gang-raped, beaten, tortured in a private bus in Delhi. To prevent identification, the media called her ‘Nirbhaya’ (fearless), but later on, her parents decided to declare her name – Jyoti Singh Pandey. Her friend, Awindra Pratap Pandey was with her at the time of the crime. He was badly beaten and thrown out of the bus by the perpetrators.

There was a total of six men accused of committing the heinous crime. They were all arrested and charged with murder and sexual assault. One of the convicts, Ram Singh, died in the trial period and the others (Mukesh Singh, Vinay Sharma, Pawan Gupta and Akshay Thakur), were awarded the death sentence by a trial court in September 2013, and six months later, the high court upheld the sentence.  All four approached the Supreme Court, which stayed their execution in 2014. The juvenile defendant, Md. Afroz was released on December 20, 2015. Pandey’s parents are still struggling and regularly attending court proceedings to get justice.

Both, nationally and internationally, the incident was widely covered, it sparked an outrage among the masses and was condemned by people across the country. There were protests, marches, and rallies in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh demanding the strengthening of women’s security and justice for the victim. In Paris, a march was held outside the Indian Embassy and a petition that demanded adequate actions to be taken to make India safer for women was handed over.

India’s Daughter, a documentary based on the December 16 gangrape was directed by Leslee Udwin as a part of BBC’s ongoing Storyville series and broadcasted in the UK on March 4, 2015. Another major work on the same incident was Indian – Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta’s film, “Anatomy of Violence” (2016).

The Nirbhaya Trust was made to help women who have experienced violence, find legal assistance. The Government of India has set up the Nirbhaya Fund to address violence against women, and the fund is governed by Department of Economic Affairs of the Finance Ministry. However, as of March 2015, very little has been spent on women’s safety.

The protests in December 2012 resulted in the setting up of a judicial committee that had to amend laws and ensure that investigations and prosecution of sex offenders happen faster. The committee was asked to take suggestions from the public. The root cause of crimes against women, the committee concluded, was failure on the part of the police and the government. A few amendments made in the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 has included offences like acid attack, stalking, sexual harassment and voyeurism.

The measures taken by the government after the December 2012 incident included the installation of GPS devices on all public buses; appointment of female police officers; the number of PCR vans have increased; introducing home guards in DTC buses; installation of CCTV cameras etc. These measures, so far, have not been implemented well.

Result so far:

  • Karnataka announced a 24×7 helpline number (1091) to be operated by the state police to register sexual abuse complaints from women.
  • Tamil Nadu announced a 13 – point action plan to ensure the safety of women in Tamil Nadu and probes to be instructed by top police officials.
  • Jammu and Kashmir announced a plan to change state laws against sexual and gender crimes.
  • Himachal Pradesh announced that it will set up state and district level committees to keep an eye all cases of crimes against women.
  • On December 22, 2015, Rajya Sabha passed the Juvenile Justice Bill which proposed that the accused, who are above 16 years of age will be treated as an adult in the court of law.
  • On September 9, 2016, a new intiative where five all-women PCR vans were launched in Delhi.

On August 30, 2016, the Minister of Home Affairs, Rajnath Singh released the annual report of ‘Crime in India 2015’ which indicates a 3.1% decrease in crimes against women (from 3,37,922 cases in 2014 to 3,27,394 cases in 2015).

As per the National Crime Records Bureau, a total of 34, 651 cases of rape were reported in India in 2015. In 33,098 of those cases, the offenders were known to the victim. Out of all the states, maximum cases (4,391) of rape were reported in Madhya Pradesh. Among union territories, the highest number of rape cases (2,199) were reported in Delhi.

Many cases go unreported to protect the family’s ‘dignity’, protect the survivor’s reputation, etc. In Kerala, a total of 910 cases of rape were reported in the first six months of 2016. The number of rape cases reported in the previous year was 1263.

The question is, how many of us are aware of the laws that exist to protect us from sexual offences and physical torture that are mostly of a gendered nature. We are not so confident about our rights because of our ignorance. I spoke to a few female, as well as, male students who were 20-22 year-olds. I had asked them about the December 2012 incident and wanted to know if anything had changed with respect to how they made sense of the world around them, post the incident. Shikha Yadav, a 22-year-old said that she had no knowledge of the amendments that were made to the existing laws (the ones mentioned earlier in the article). Sonali Srivastava, another student, said that her parents would advise her to not go out at night. According to Mayank Bharadwaj, an engineering student, women should be equipped enough to protect themselves. He was of the opinion that the government should morally educate people and also appoint more number of judges to take care of the increasing number of cases. Another student, Arun, was aware about certain law. He thinks severe punishment should be awarded only after the convict is proven guilty. He was concerned about women who falsely accuse men of rape to settle personal grudges. Both Mayank and Arun agreed to the fact that there were no laws or adequate checks against false rape accusations and this needed to be checked. All the respondents had a deep sense of fear and a lot of anger and emotions in their minds.

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Image source: Ajay Aggarwal, Hindustan Times/Getty Images
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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.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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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
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

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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