REPORT: Rape Often Targeted, Underreported In India

Protester at Dec. 18 rally in New Dehli

A report from a UN-affiliated working group on human rights in India exposes the constant struggle that women face, as sexual violence is used by security forces to implement their whims and targeted against lower castes.

Drafted by the Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN (WGHR), “Human Rights in India: Status Report 2012” covers the gamut of human rights failures that take place within the state. Several sections deal with sexual assault and violence towards women in both conflict zones and during peacetime, highlighting the neglect that many of these cases face from the legal system and authorities. Among other statistics the WGHR uncovered, one of the most staggering is that “every 60 minutes two women are raped, and every six hours a young married woman is found beaten to death, burnt or driven to suicide.”

Security forces within India are frequent perpetrators of violence against women, according to the report, though the stigma associated with victimhood results in cases of rape being under reported. At one point, the report accused the armed forces of thwarting investigations where “circumstantial evidence strongly indicates the involvement of armed forces.” Prosecution of those in the armed forces discharged for committing rape is particularly difficult as well, thanks to provisions in India’s legal system that require a waiver from the state or central government to allow charges to go forward.

Women of the Dalit group — the lowest place in the Indian caste system — face a particular stigma and are the subject of a disproportionate amount of violence:

Violence against Dalit women is targeted, 361 and atrocities committed against them include: verbal abuse and sexual epithets, naked parading, pulling out of teeth, tongue and nails, and violence, including murder. Dalit women are also threatened by rape as part of collective violence by higher castes. The National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) reported a total of 1,349 rape cases of Dalit women for 2010, with the state of Madhya Pradesh reporting 316 cases, followed by Uttar Pradesh with 311 cases. There are cases of kidnapping and abduction of women, with Uttar Pradesh alone accounting nearly 48.5% of the 511 cases for 2010. Notably, there is no disaggregated data collected on atrocities against Dalit women.

The report comes at a time when violence against women is in the spotlight in India, following the horrific rape and death of a young woman in the capital city New Dehli. Mass protests broke out throughout the country in the aftermath of the vicious attack on the victim — identified as Jyoti Signh Pandi — with the potential for a change in India’s laws beginning to take shape.

Meanwhile, the trial against the accused attackers has already been closed to the media due to the interest the case has generated. The trial is sure to be contentious as defense lawyers have already both engaged in blaming the victim for the attack and claiming that police tortured a confession out of one of the defendants.