Caribbean Times 29 July 1997 reported: "Over 70 women and men from various nationalities gathered to discuss how 'law and order' legislation diverts attention from the real obstacles which victims face in getting justice from a discriminatory legal system. The Chhatisgarh Women's Organisation, Black Women's Rape Action Project and Women Against Rape were amongst the groups who met to discuss the hardship faced by asylum seekers, wives, prostitutes and rape survivors who consistently found themselves fighting to get justice, protection and compensation."
Manju Gardia (Chhatisgarh Women’s Organisation, India) speaks at London meeting: Does “Law and Order” Lead To Justice? July 1997
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
It is my privilege to testify before you as the chairperson of CWO. It is my first time to speak on the subject “Does law and order lead to justice?”
This is a very special occasion for me to speak here and I would like to give special thanks to Wages for Housework Campaign, who made it possible for me to come here and speak with you. I, myself, as a woman, come from the very lowest strata of Indian society and have a very rich experience about the law and order situation in our country. And we are organising with the women of Chhatisgarh against their exploitation oppression, suffering and bondage.
It is very surprising, if you look at the existing laws in relation to women in India, it looks quite progressive and it will give a picture to the outsider that Indian women are well protected by law and safe. But in practice it is not true. Violence against women is one such expression, which comes out of deep rooted gender bias, discrimination and violation of basic human rights. A crucial social mechanism of male domination and subjugation of women and girls. It results in physical, sexual and psychological harm, suffering and distress. It cuts across class, caste and race. It goes beyond. This is probably the worst form of exploitation of our times: injustice in all social spheres.
Women in our society are facing violence, and very broadly the violence against women is divided into three major categories, such as sexual, physical and psychological violence. It also includes the violence in particularly extraordinary situations, like wars, armed conflicts, communal riots and migration. This kind of violence stems out of violation of the basic human rights too, and should be viewed in that broader perspective. It is difficult to separate these different forms, as they are an intrinsic part of our social realities.
Sexual violence occurs in the family and generally women are exposed to it since childhood. Sexual abuse of female children in the household, marital rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women are some of the serious and worst forms of violence against women. It includes rape, sexual abuse in the community, sexual harassment and intimidation at work places, in educational institutions and elsewhere. Even the forced pregnancy is a form of violence against women where a woman has to suffer physically and mentally and is denied her basic rights over her own body.
Now I would like to share with you a few cases of rape from Chhatisgarh where the landlords rape the women.
The story of Dukhnibai, wife of a bonded labourer. They are forced to work in fields as well as in the landlords’ houses cleaning utensils, sweeping floors, washing, looking after cattle, etc. Unfortunately the landlords also use their power to exploit them sexually. Dukhaibai and her husband were kept in perpetual bondage by one landlord in the village of Kalmideepa by giving a loan. Generally the landlords forced the bonded labourers wife to have sexual relations. They were in a helpless state having no other alternative but to surrender to the will of her master. This type of exploitation is common in Chhatisgarh. But as the Chhatisgarh Women’s Organisation organised this type of woman against rape and violence, so when Dukhnibai’s landlord wants to rape her, she raises her voice and calls others working nearby for help. She was rescued.
The matter was brought to the village Panchayat. The landlord managed the Panchayat, that he will pay some rupees to the Panchayat for drinks so the Panchayat will keep quiet. But the women’s organisation raise their voice against this decision. And the organisation mobilise women of surrounding villages, they all went to the police station and lodged a report. In the beginning the police did not take this case seriously and kept silent without taking any legal action against the landlord. The women’s organisation put pressure on the police and forced him to take action against the landlord. For the first time in the history of that village, the landlord was arrested and put in jail. After some days he was granted bail. When he came out from jail, he threatened the women’s organisation and Dukhnibai to withdraw the case, or otherwise face serious consequences. But, they invited other organisations to take an oath to fight this case whatever may be the consequences.
The trial was open, women gave strong witness and the landlord was punished with six months’ rigorous imprisonment. This was the great victory for the women’s organisation and also for Dukhnibai. This judgement was unusual; we got the judgement through our organisation.
Another story is of Puspalata who was raped and she became pregnant and delivered a boy child. The rapist refused to keep her. The matter was put before the village Panchayat. The Panchayat ordered him to keep her as his wife. He kept her one month with him but later on he drove her out. Then Puspalata came to our organisation and we helped her to register the rape case with the police. The Police Authority asked for some money as a bribe. We refused to pay the bribe, then we sent a postcard signature campaign demanding the arrest of the rapist. Three thousand protest letters were sent to the Collector and Superintendent of Police. Due to the pressure of women’s organisation, the town inspector, who asked for the bribe, was suspended and the rapist was arrested and put in prison.
The trial started and Puspalata failed to prove that this was a rape. The court came to the decision that this was a mutual understanding for a relationship and the rapist was acquitted. But, the court admitted that the father of the child was the rapist. Now Puspalata is appealing in the court for maintenance. The case is in the court.
These are cases where the organisation mobilised the women and created public opinion and demonstrated to apply pressure. But, there are thousands of cases which are not reported and the women are suffering.
If anyone wants to use the laws in favour, it is very expensive and time consuming. Women are illiterate, they do not know what are the laws for them. It is not easy for the women to engage a defence lawyer, as they are very expensive.
It takes years and years to get justice. Women are struggling hard for their survival so they cannot spare money for court cases.
Delay in justice is the denial of justice. And in India the culprit always manages the judiciary in their favour. Courts are also overloaded with cases. It is not easy to get early judgement.
In this situation we are organising the women, we are educating them, making them aware about their situation and trying to use the existing laws as weapons for getting justice.
But unless there is a strong move with commitment and vigour, there will not be any change in the situation. The effort in this direction should be comprehensive, encompassing different aspects together. The struggle for justice goes on and on; there should be no stop in this to create a just society. Awareness and struggle and unity are a must. With these words I would like to thank once again the organisers who gave me this opportunity to speak to you. I have come to participate in the celebration on behalf of Chhatisgarh Women’s Organisation, which wishes all success. We express our solidarity so that we can march toward a better society.
Power to Sisters,
Naiya Jamana Ayega (translation: A new age is coming)
· We won the case against one big landlord and got him punished by the court.
· We make general awareness among the women, they are coming forward to register their case.
· We are working in 400 villages and in every village one woman and one male leader are our contact persons.
· We are part of women’s networks, regional and national.
New laws – in favour of women amended due to pressure from women’s organisation.
1 If it is proved that a woman is raped by any person, then the victim woman will get Rs 10,000/- compensation
2 If a husband has sexual relations with his wife who is below 15 years old, it will be considered rape.
3 Before, it was the responsibility of the woman to produce evidence in court that she has been raped. Now it is the responsibility of the accused that he has not raped.
4 If the woman wants then lady doctor will do medical check up. Otherwise no need for medical check up.
5 After sunset, no woman will call to police station for any investigation. And the investigation authority must be a woman. No male officers will investigate or record evidence from the victim. Woman’s evidence is urgent so evidence recording officer should go to the house of the victim woman and record the evidence.
6 Due to mass awareness done by the women’s organisation many cases are now reported at the police station. Previously they are not reporting the case for social reasons.