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 Canadian report on Kunan Poshpora rapes

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PostSubject: Canadian report on Kunan Poshpora rapes   Thu Feb 26, 2009 3:32 pm

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Issue Paper
HUMAN RIGHTS BRIEFS
WOMEN IN INDIA
October 1995
Disclaimer
4. ISSUES OF CONCERN
According to official statistics, violence against women in various forms has been increasing over the past decade (India Alert Bulletin 1992, 18; Country Reports 1993 1994, 1350). Country Reports 1992 lists among serious human rights abuses in India "inadequate implementation of laws protecting women's rights; the infrequent prosecution of 'dowry deaths' (wife murder); and the widespread exploitation of ... child labour" (Country Reports 1992 1993, 1134). This section discusses selected issues affecting women in India including domestic violence, female infanticide, sati, abuse and rape by civilians, military forces and militants, and prostitution and child marriages. Alternatives available to women affected by violence are discussed primarily in Section 5.

4.2 Widow Burning (Sati)
The tradition of sati is the Hindu practice whereby a widow "attains virtue" by burning on her husband's funeral pyre ( Liddle and Joshi 1986, 19; ILHR Mar. 1991, 8; IHDSF 15-18 Feb. 1988, 23). The practice is said to continue in some rural areas (Rocky Mountain News 20 Mar. 1994). Ratna Kapur states that, while instances of sati are rare, the mere fact that they do occur is dangerous ( Kapur 29 Apr. 1994). In Rajasthan, where the tradition is strong, a sati is a candidate for deification and shrines and temples are sometimes built for her (Widows, Abandoned and Destitute Women 1989, 41). While K.S. Singh states in his report that virtually every community believes in the remarriage of widows (India Today 15 Apr. 1993, 52), a report by the International League for Human Rights (ILHR) states that there are some religious fundamentalists who argue that sati is their religious right ( ILHR Mar. 1991, 9).

Although the Abolition of Sati Act dates back to 1829 ( Jethmalani 1990, 70), the practice of "widow-burning" continued. In 1987, the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act was passed ( ibid.). It has been criticized as inadequate for several reasons: it does not ban the propagation of sati practice; it equates sati with simple suicide; and it punishes the person attempting sati rather than those who may be encouraging or even forcing the practice ( ibid.). The constitutionality of the Act is challenged by religious groups who claim that it interferes with freedom of religion which is protected by the Constitution ( Jethmalani 1990, 71).

Sati reportedly has its roots in the low social status of women in general and of widows in particular (WIN News Winter 1988, 55; Widows, Abandoned and Destitute Women 1989, 46). In the past, tradition held that a widow was bad luck and she was prohibited from participating in auspicious functions or celebrations. "The tradition [of sati] ... did not permit a widow to eat well, to wear good clothes [or] to sleep on a bed" ( IHDSF 15-18 Feb. 1988, 23; see also ILHR Mar. 1991, 9; Calman 1992, 54). Today in Rajasthan, widows are reportedly required to shave their heads and beg for food at their in-laws' house ( ILHR Mar. 1991, 9). One source indicates that widows are expected to tolerate advances from all male members of the family (WIN News Winter 1988, 55). According to the IHDSF workshop participants, a widow is vulnerable after her husband's death and is ostracized, "which [is] nothing short of mental and emotional torture" ( IHDSF 15-18 Feb. 1988, 23). In Rajasthan a widow is not usually welcome in her parents' home ( ILHR Mar. 1991, 9). The workshop also reported that 31 per cent of women in prostitution are widows ( IHDSF 15-18 Feb. 1988, 23).

A number of sources dispute, for various reasons, the definition of sati as a voluntary practice ( ibid.; Widows, Abandoned and Destitute Women 1989, 44-45; Jethmalani 1990, 70). According to the workshop participants, if a widow's in-laws do not wish to share her husband's property with her, they may force her to "become sati" ( IHDSF 15-18 Feb. 1988, 23).

Insofar as the community is concerned, there is economic gain to be made from the commercialization of a sati and the worship surrounding her death (Widows, Abandoned and Destitute Women 1989, 46; ILHR Mar. 1991, 8; Jethmalani 1990, 72). The latter practice is illustrated by Roop Kanwar's story. In September 1987, the 18 year-old widow was allegedly dragged from her hiding place to be sacrificed on the funeral pyre of her husband in Rajasthan. Subsequently, the proponents of sati glorified her sacrifice by having town celebrations and by constructing a temple in her honour, without interference from the authorities (WIN News Winter 1988, 55; ILHR Mar. 1991, Cool. In 1990, 400 people attended a celebration of her death, even though the celebration was banned ( ibid.). An article in Women, Law and Development-Action for Change points out that the region where this incident occurred is a fairly "modern" one where the literacy rate is relatively high ( Jethmalani 1990, 72).

4.5.2 Rape by Police, Security Forces and Militants in Areas of Conflict
Abuses by security forces, militant forces and police, including rape and other violence against women, have been recorded all over India ( ILHR Mar. 1991, 11) but particularly in regions where there is armed conflict, such as Jammu and Kashmir ( AI Dec. 1991) and the Punjab ( HRW 1992, 409; Asia Watch Aug. 1991, 113, 118-119). Women appear to be particular targets of security forces during counter-insurgency operations in Kashmir ( ILHR Mar. 1991, 10; AI Dec. 1991; Asia Watch and PHR 9 May 1993, 1). Amnesty International reports that in Jammu and Kashmir women, in their testimony about abuses during such operations, mention only occasionally any attempt by the security forces to extract information from them. Rather they appear to have been victimized simply because they live in an area where armed opposition groups are active, or as punishment for perceived support of the separatist cause, or simply because they were Muslims ( AI Dec. 1991; see also AI 1992, 139).

A report on Kashmir by Asia Watch and Physicians for Human Rights adds that "both security forces and armed militants have used rape as a weapon: to punish, intimidate, coerce, humiliate and degrade" ( Asia Watch and PHR 9 May 1993, 16).

The ILHR quotes a 1990 report by the Committee for Initiative on Kashmir, a Delhi-based human rights group, which concluded that "the method and manner of attack [by security forces] on women had a definite pattern" ( ILHR Mar. 1991, 10). Women are apparently separated from men during cordon and search operations and it is during these crackdowns that women are beaten, raped and tortured ( ibid.; Varadarajan Aug. 1992, 9; Asia Watch and PHR 9 May 1993, 1).

The ILHR adds that "similar patterns of torture and ill-treatment have been reported in other states [besides Jammu and Kashmir]" ( ILHR Mar. 1991, 10). After press reports about rape and harassment of women by security forces in northeastern India, the supreme court declared in July 1991 that the army was under the obligation to adhere to the requirements of the Code of Criminal Procedure when arresting or searching women ( AI Mar. 1992, 9). Reports of such abuses persisted, and in March 1992 the high court of Guwahati in Assam ruled that women should no longer be taken to or held at army camps for interrogation ( AI 1992, 139).

The number of prosecutions are reported to be minimal for violations of human rights perpetrated by military forces including rape and violence against women ( AI 1993, 156). Country Reports 1993 indicates that, according to official claims, four soldiers were sentenced to ten years each for gang raping a Kashmiri woman, but notes that the actual punishments were never officially publicized (Country Reports 1993 1994, 1342). The Home Ministry also gave a note to SAHRDC regarding punishments dealt to security forces in nine cases of rape, extortion or sexual abuse, but, again, the punishments were never publicized ( ibid.). Asia Watch and Physicians for Human Rights report that in seven court martials that took place between April 1990 and July 1991 involving incidents of rape, deaths in custody, illegal detention and indiscriminate firings on civilians, only one soldier was dismissed. Others had their promotions suspended or marks of "severe displeasure" entered on their files ( Asia Watch and PHR 9 May 1993, Cool. Human Rights Watch comments that the authorities' response to the rape of 23 women in Kunan Poshpora in Kashmir during a search operation by security forces indicated that the authorities "have been more interested in shielding the army from charges of abuse" than in investigating (HRW 1992, 412). Asia Watch and Physicians for Human Rights state that generally the military courts are incapable of dealing with serious human rights abuses perpetrated by security forces and are used to cover up evidence and protect the officers involved ( Asia Watch and PHR 9 May 1993, 6). They add that although there is no evidence that rape is sanctioned as a matter of government policy in Kashmir, by failing to prosecute and punish those responsible, or make known any action taken against security forces charged with rape, the Indian authorities have signalled that the practice of rape is tolerated, if not condoned ( ibid., 4).

Rape by militants is reportedly less common than rape by security forces ( ibid., 4, 16). Previously, other forms of violence were used by the militants, including threats against women if they did not follow purdah. In one instance, militants sprayed paint on women who disobeyed ( ibid., 15-16) in an effort to enforce their interpretation of Islamic law (Lawyers Collective July 1993, 23).
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