This article is written by Aditya Singh, from Symbiosis Law School, Noida. This article deals with the increasing rates of crime against women and the trend in which different forms of crimes are following. The article also deals with the provisions enacted for different crimes and explains how efficient they are in providing justice to the victims.
Violence against women is a problem across the world. It affects women of all races, ethnic groups, classes and nationalities. It is a life-threatening problem for an individual woman and a serious problem for all socio-economic and educational classes. It cuts across cultural and religious barriers, impeding the right of women to participate fully in society. Violence against women takes a dismaying variety of forms, from domestic abuse to rape to child marriages, and female circumcision. All of them are violations of the most Fundamental Human Rights.
The concept of equality and nondiscrimination finds its due place in the Indian Constitution. Besides, it also enables the state to adopt measures of affirmative discrimination in favour of women. However, despite constitutional protection and several legislations, gender discrimination and injustice continue to occur.
According to the NCRB data for 2017, the maximum cases were registered in Uttar Pradesh (56,011), which is the country’s most populated state. Maharashtra recorded the second-highest number of crimes against women with 31,979 cases, followed by 30,992 in West Bengal, 29,778 in Madhya Pradesh, 25,993 in Rajasthan and 23,082 in Assam. As per Crime in India report for 2017, a total of 3,59,849 cases of crimes against women out of total 50,07,044 cases of Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Special & Local Laws (SLL) crimes were reported by States / Union Territories.
Violence against women
Violence against women has been on the growth since ages. Women experience violence in numerous ways and it could be from physical or emotional abuse to sexual assault and from financial abuse to sexual harassment or trafficking. The most commonly heard term is Domestic Violence which is defined in the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA), 2005 as any commission or omission of act or conduct, which leads to violence and endangers the health, safety or well-being of a person, whether mentally or physically. Domestic violence can also happen when the aggrieved person or anyone related to her is coerced by harassing or causing injury or endangering the person to fulfil some unlawful demand related to dowry or property purposes.
In the present situation when everybody is in a lockdown due to COVID-19, the cases for domestic violence have seen unprecedented growth. Even the National Commission for Women (NCW) has raised an alert observing the increase in domestic violence cases. Due to which, the NCW had to announce a WhatsApp number for receiving complaints and be more accessible to women. Women reported being slapped by their husbands, being pushed, shaken, had objects thrown at them, had their hands twisted, their hair pulled, punched or kicked, dragged or beaten, were choked or burned, and were threatened or assaulted with a knife, gun, or any other weapon. They also reported that their husbands physically forced them to have sex even though they didn’t want to and reported that their husbands forced them to do sexual acts they didn’t want to do through threats or other means.
Women are subject to violence not only by husbands but also by the members of both the natal and the marital home. National Health Family Survey (NFHS-3) has pointed out that it was alarming that more than half of women (54%) and men (51%) accepted that under such circumstances, it is justifiable that a husband beat a wife. They thought it was appropriate to beat a woman when the woman disrespected her in-laws. The neglect of the house or children was the second most generally accepted reason by both women and men to beat their wives.
Increase in Rape cases
Nirbhaya (fearless) was the pseudonym given to the 2012 Delhi gang-rape victim to hide her actual identity. Tens of thousands of people were on the streets across India for the widely reported rape and murder of a woman in a moving bus in New Delhi in 2012, which triggered an outcry from film stars and leaders, leading to stricter penalties and the development of new fast-track courts. However, the brutality remains unabated.
The rape of a young woman in 2017 by former BJP state politician Kuldeep Singh Sengar which came to national attention only when the victim tried to kill herself a year later, accusing the police of inaction. A six-year-old girl was brutally raped in Madhya Pradesh, where the attacker inflicted serious injuries to the girl’s eyes and face to prevent her from identifying him.
A 25-year-old man was arrested in February for allegedly raping a 5-year-old girl at US embassy premises in Delhi. The gang-rape and murder of a 27-year-old vet in Hyderabad’s southern city sparked countrywide protests and was also covered by global media in November. In January 2018, an 8-year-old girl was kidnapped, raped and murdered by a group of men in Rasana village near Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir.
The news of the disturbing act has led to demonstrations around the nation and demands for severe punishments. Regrettably, these are just the cases that we’re able to gain the focus and attention of the media and the public.
According to government statistics published in 2018, one woman in India reported a rape every 15 minutes. In 2018, nearly 34,000 rapes were registered by women which were barely any improvement from the previous year. According to the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB), the annual crime report issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs — just over 85% led to charges being established and 27% to convictions. To make matters worse is the poor conviction rate in rape cases which is one of the lowest in the world. These estimates were awful, being only 0.3 per cent in 2018. About 156,327 rape cases went on trial that year, according to the NCRB. Of these, only 17,313 cases entered the trial and only 4,708 cases resulted in a conviction. Acquittals were reported in 11,133 cases of rape and discharge in 1,472 cases.
Harassment against women
Under the POSH Act, Sexual harassment can be both verbal and non-verbal in conduct. Usually, women who face insulting sexual remarks or overtures in professional situations by colleagues or superiors often do not report due to fears related to job security. But just to reiterate the generality of sexual harassment at the workplace, thousands of people joined the #MeToo movement.
The Mrs Rupan Deol Bajaj v. Kanwar Pal Singh Gill case has altered the meaning of the words modesty and privacy in such a manner that if any harassment or inconvenience is caused either publicly or privately in the life of a woman, it will be considered as an offence. Section 354 and Section 509 of the IPC is the penal provisions applied in most cases of sexual assault, although the scope of such provisions is limited. We can, therefore, say there is no proper regulatory structure against sexual harassment at work.
In the case of Vishakha & others Vs. State of Rajasthan & others, the Supreme Court established numerous guidelines that recognized it not just as an individual woman’s damage, but rather as an infringement of her Fundamental Human Rights. These regulations are important because sexual harassment was thus recognized for the first time as a separate section of legally prohibited behaviour. But overall, the organizations ignored the Vishakha Guidelines and took the provisions seriously or established the mandatory Internal Complaints Committee.
According to official statistics, recorded cases of sexual assault at Indian workplaces rose 54 per cent from 371 in 2014 to 570 in 2017. In total, 2,535 such cases have been recorded over the four years ending July 27, 2018, which is approximately two reported cases nearly every day. According to the government data presented on July 27, 2018, and December 15, 2017, in Lok Sabha. As per the statistics, 533 cases of sexual assault have been registered across the country during the first seven months of 2018, ending July 27.
Cyber crimes with alarming growth rates
In 2016, cybercrime increased by 6.3% (12,317) as compared to 2015 (11,592). The majority of cases were registered from Uttar Pradesh (2,639 cases, 21.4%), followed by 19.3% by Maharashtra (2,380 cases) and 8.9% by Karnataka (1,101 cases).
Cyberbullying is a means to use the Internet to threaten and abuse anyone online. A cyberstalker does not indulge in a victim’s direct physical assault but monitors the online behaviour of the victim to collect information and make threats in different types of verbal bullying. The anonymity of online contact lowers identification risks and makes cyberstalking more frequent and dangerous than physical stalking.
During the COVID-19-induced lockdown, the criminals started targeting women online. There was a major rise in cybercrime against women, especially crimes such as sextortion. As per the data released by the National Commission for Women (NCW), from 25 March to 25 April, they received a total of 412 authentic grievances of cyber abuse. Of these, as many as 396 women’s complaints were severe in nature, ranging from harassment, indecent exposure, unsolicited pornographic images, threats, malicious emails alleging their account was hacked, demands for ransoms, extortion and more.
There are various forms of Cyber Crimes threatening women, and in need of urgent attention, these include:
- Cyber defamation, which comprises both libels as well as defamation. It includes publishing on a website defamatory information about the individual or sharing it among the group or association of friends of the victim.
- Morphing is a method for altering original images for misusing it. Preparators import pictures of women from social networking sites, WhatsApp or any other platforms and post manipulated pictures to other websites, such as private networking pages, porn sites or for anonymous registration.
- Cyber-pornography is another danger to women and children as this involves the use of computers and the internet to publish pornographic materials on pornography websites.
- E-mail Spoofing refers to an e-mail that comes from one source but is sent from another. It is capable of causing monetary damage.
- Phishing is the act of obtaining confidential information through the circulation of rigged links and files containing viruses to record personal data such as the username and password of the one who accesses these links and files.
- Trolling starts with spreading of a conflict on the Internet, criminal attempts to quarrel or annoy the victim by posting online community offensive or off-topic messages, such as a newsgroup, website, chat room, or blog with the intention of provoking victims into giving an angry and disturbing response.
It was in this sense of widespread abuse and exploitation in the country that women’s organizations initiated a concerted campaign and eventually, after two decades, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA or the Domestic Violence Act) was enforced in 2005. The Act extended the domestic violence definition to include not only physical but also mental, emotional, sexual and economic abuse. Recognizing that domestic abuse is a widespread and prevalent issue in power relationships. The Act made a move away from the penal provisions which relied on harsh sentences to substantive civil protection and injunction reliefs. The Act provided for the scope for immediate, preventive injunctions, dispossession from a marriage home, or alternative place of residence. Economic rights including maintenance and compensation were also provided.
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act was passed in 2013, which mandated the formation of the Internal Complaints Committee. According to the Act, anybody is liable for compensation under the law from regular employees to temporary and contract workers including daily wage labourers paid or unpaid volunteer workers. Any instance of harassment that takes place at the place of work or outside of the office premises, such as work-related travel or meetings, will also be protected by the Act. Any employer with more than 10 employees is expected to have an Internal Complaints Committee consisting of at least four members to resolve sexual harassment-related complaints. It should be led by one senior woman employee and should have at least one external member who belongs to a women’s health organization. According to the Act, the committee has the same powers as a civil court.
Section 375 of the IPC made sex or intercourse by a man with a woman criminal in nature, if it had been committed against her will or without her consent. Sex with or without her consent is always considered rape while she is under 18 years of age. Article 376 states that anyone who committed the crime of Rape should face imprisonment ranging from seven years to life imprisonment. With the exception that a man’s sexual intercourse or sexual acts with his spouse, the wife, not being under the age of 15, is not considered rape. Section 228A was also introduced to the IPC which makes it illegal to reveal the victim’s identity of certain offences like rape.
The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 (Nirbhaya Act) was adopted after the Nirbhaya rape case, which provided for reforms to the Indian Penal Code, Indian Evidence Act and Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 on regulations related to sexual offences. This amendment led to various reforms like it created new offences, such as the use of criminal force on a woman with intent to disrobe, voyeurism and stalking. Stalking was made punishable with up to jail term for three years. This also provided for Capital Punishment in cases of rape causing the victim’s death or leaving her in a vegetative state. The punishment for gang rape was also raised, ranging from 20 years to life imprisonment. The Kathua rape case resulted in the enactment of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2018, which, for the first instance, placed the death penalty as a potential punishment for the rape of a girl under the age of 12, with the minimum sentence being 20 years jail term. Another new provision to deal explicitly with rape on a girl under 16 years was also introduced into the IPC. The clause made the crime punishable by a minimum of 20 years imprisonment which could lead to life imprisonment.
As per the Information and Technology Act, 2000, stalkers and cybercriminals may be booked for violation of privacy under many Sections, such as Section 67 of the Act deals with publishing obscene material in electronic form and Section 66(C) for offences involving theft of passwords or electronic signatures, etc.
Regrettably, even after a decade and a half, as we analyze the cases that are brought under this act, the guarantees made in the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act were never really realized. This can be seen from the case of Anita George, a woman in her 40’s fighting a case for her protection of rights and maintenance under Section 498A IPC and the Domestic Violence Act for a long period of time, but to no avail.
All the debate about the death penalty for rape suggests that we could see more people being executed or murdered so that they cannot stay alive as a witness. Capital punishment serves as a perverse motivation for criminals to kill their victims in an effort to erase the evidence. This is supported by data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), which reveals a 30 per cent increase in victims being brutally killed after the rape.
Cyber laws and procedures need to be constantly evaluated as women face difficulties while seeking redress due to a lack of awareness. Unless there is sufficient emphasis on increasing sensitization at the workplace, no legal reform would be achieved. For decreasing the crime rates, the men should also be sensitized with respect to women from a very early age so that they do not treat and consider women as their personal object and as a medium to release their frustration or impose their sexual desires.
Women are also needed to be educated about their rights under the Indian Constitution and should be made aware of their legal rights and the different portals made available for their protection. They should be made aware about how to get justice for themselves in case they, unfortunately, become victims of any such crimes, furthermore, they should be assured that the identity of the complainant would be kept hidden for their security. Though there are fast-track courts available for providing speedy remedy, the number of magistrates present in these courts should also be increased so that they are not overburdened and can review all the pending and latest cases within a reasonable period.
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