Legal Framework of redressal mechanism to Rights of Women Victims in India
Written by: Khushi Gupta
One may or may not be surprised with the increasing number of crimes against women in India, just last year, India reported the highest ever crimes against women under the type of Domestic abuse or cruelty by husband and/or relatives. Assault ranked second that year, with over 85 thousand cases filed. Rape, which makes headlines regularly in the country recorded over 28 thousand. This was from a total of over 371 thousand cases of crime reported against women that year.
When crimes increase our hope falls to the courts for doing due justice and creating deterrence against perpetrators of crimes. This hope also gets crushed when the crimes make headlines for a few days but the case remains unsolved and mostly unheard until people forget about it. This has to be the saddest reality today, its gravity was further highlighted in a report by the National Crime Records Bureau which released the stats that cases of crimes against women were pending at a rate of 92.9% in the year 2017 while a total of 91.8% in 2016. The current year statistics do not fall far from these too.
So where should women go when they have been put through worse? Where should they claim their rights, grossly violated by others? Is there a system for women too and if yes how efficient is that?
The existing redressal mechanism
Some of the crimes against women that make an appearance in the headlines on a daily basis are sexual harassment at the workplace, acid attacks, rape, dowry death, domestic abuse, and cruelty. These crimes are so intense that according to the Thomas Reuters 2018 survey on the ‘World’s Most Dangerous Countries for Women’, India lies at the top of the list.
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act 2003 is a legislative act in India that seeks to protect women from sexual harassment at their workplace and came into force from 9 December 2013, similarly, other acts targeting individual crimes against women are – The Commission of Sati Act, 1987 which banned the practice of Sati, The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 (Amended in 1986), the Protection of women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (prevention, prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013 and The Indecent Representation of Women Act, 1986.
The increasing number of pending cases makes us wonder if there are any separate courts for crimes against women, disappointingly no formal courts exist that give priority to the rights of victims of women crimes, but our hope is not completely lost, the Alternate Dispute Redressal (ADRs) have established their women courts that aim to aid women victims. They use mediation and negotiation for women, however here the deterrence element is completely lost.
Maybe we will see increased sensitivity towards women victims if more female judges will be there, as voiced by the current Chief Justice of India, Justice N.V.Ramana.
Tracing trends of development through Indian courts
One of the most important cases for sexual harassment against women has been the case of Vishakha vs. State of Rajasthan, where the Supreme Court laid down the ‘Vishakha Guidelines’ to be followed to prevent sexual harassment at the workplace. Some important guidelines were to create a safer environment and to file complaints of harassment by the employer himself, among others. These guidelines were so important that the Act made in 2003 for the same purpose was designed around these guidelines themselves.
The court also took some major decisions related to acid attacks when they made acid availability and purchase difficult for people, the court disallowed the sale of acid to people below 18 years of age, they also made proper identification of buyers a necessary condition. This case of Laxmi vs. The Union of India has been a landmark case in terms of the prevention of acid attacks.
The international system of redressal for women
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is the core international human rights instrument for the protection and promotion of women’s human rights. Although it has been widely ratified, the number of reservations entered by many countries limits its binding character in key areas of women’s rights.
Several other international human rights instruments have provisions on equality between men and women, and each emphasizes the right to non-discrimination. Regional standards, like the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol), the Istanbul Convention against violence against women and domestic violence, and the InterAmerican Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women, complement the body of law protecting women’s rights
Challenges and scope for improvements
The reformation of the entire redressal system for women and developing a better structure for the same will not be effective unless some fundamental challenges are not addressed. First, the problem of approaching the women victims who might be separated due to language barriers or other cultural barriers, second is the problem of tackling under-reporting of crimes, many women victims either are unaware of the fact that they are victims or simply cannot gather enough courage to take any action against the wrong happening against them.
The third issue is that any redressal mechanism that is developed has to be absolutely careful with the identity of the victim, its unwanted exposition can invite a lot of stigma for the victim and her family delving them deeper into the trauma that accompanies crimes against them,
The legal framework for redressal for women is not even halfway close to the need for the women in the country, sadly the same can be said for the international redressal system too. The lack of a formal system is a common concern and has to be tackled immediately, so while progress in this field has been made it is not nearly enough. It’s high time we devote ourselves to the creation of a better system for women victims of crime who can heal emotionally and physically better.
Legal Framework, Rights, Redressal Mechanism, Women Victims, Rights of Women Victims