From: Rita Banerji

Founder, The 50 Million Missing Campaign
website: www.ritabanerji.com
email: banerji.rita@gmail.com

To: The Academic Council on the United Nations System
NGO Committee on the Status of Women, Vienna
The Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs
The Small Arms Survey

 

For: The Symposium on Femicide
Vienna, November 26, 2012

The following are strategies that I would like to suggest on basis of my experience as founder and director of The 50 Million Missing Campaign[1], a grassroots lobby working to end female genocide in India since 2006, as well as my research on this subject for my book Sex and Power: Defining History, Shaping Societies[2] and other papers and articles. Please note there are some references here to information in my slide-presentation to the November 26, 2012, Symposium on Femicide.

1)    Establish as issue of national priority through a media blitzkrieg : I have found much denial in the Indian public about the genocidal scale of violence on women and girls in India. This denial persists even among the professionals, doctors and ex-civil servants for example, as I found out while addressing a Rotary International chapter in Kolkata[3].  The government must launch a media blitzkrieg, to establish the stopping of this genocidal violence as an issue of national priority, of the type it recently used to successfully inform all citizens about the digitization of television in India, by addressing it every 15-30 minutes on all media networks.

2)    Establish as issue of citizens’ legal/ moral accountability: The media blitzkrieg as well as all other government campaigns must directly inform and warn the public that killing daughters, forcing women to abort female fetuses, dowry extortion and murders, ‘honour’ killings and ‘witch’ lynching are crimes and of the penalties they entail under law. As of now, the public is simply urged to be ‘nice’ or ‘kind’ to girls and women by references to them as mothers or goddesses that bring wealth!

3)    Establish separate and specialized police and court units to deal only with Femicide cases: Given the massive volume of femicidal crimes in India, there is an enormous need for police that are trained to be gender sensitive and to efficiently book and investigate cases.  There is also an enormous need for efficient, fast-track courts. The rapid rates in increase of these crimes undoubtedly are also a response to the inefficiency and corruption of the police and judicial systems in addressing these crimes. I have often heard the families of victims say, it’s no use going to the police because they won’t do anything anyway, or will botch the case for a bribe from the criminal party.  It took Anshu Singh’s middle-class family that could afford to hire a lawyer, almost eight months just to get arrests for their daughter’s dowry related murder[4]. Moreover, the police are also known to commit dowry murders[5] and other crimes against women and girls, for e.g. in one case they were found to be sexually abusing and exploiting girls in a home for orphaned girls[6].

4)    Demand responses/actions from female politicians and government offices dealing with women’s issues : Female politicians whether they head states, or the nation’s ruling party, never publicly address crimes against women and girls, even when there are cases that hit the media headlines[7]. When they do, their stance is derogatory of women[8]. This is true even for the government offices meant to deal with women’s rights[9]. It also needs to be pointed out that because of this approach of women politicians and government servants, crimes against women rise in states governed by women[10].

5)    Set up a system of monitoring and regulating the standards of NGOs for women and children There’s an urgent need to establish minimum standards, regulatory guidelines, and routine inspections of the NGOs and shelters for girls and women in India. As of now there is widespread abuse, physical and sexual in many of these homes[11].  In my experience I found, that most of these homes, even when funded by large agencies do not provide adequate services or the services they claim to provide.  Many of these appear to be set up simply to garner funds for the private use of the individuals running these establishments. There is also no systematic education or job training provided at these organizations, which would allow for the girls to be competitive, independent, and able in finding their individual dreams and aspirations.  What is provided is simply perfunctory, and is often dependent on foreign volunteers who work or teach in short spurts, and often don’t even speak the local language.  In most children’s homes a dowry is paid to marry off the girls by the age of 18 years. For adult women these homes are like, squalid, life-time, concentration camps, where there is always the possibility of sexual abuse and exploitation[12].

6)    Make mandatory the record of all births and bi-annual monitoring of children till the age of 6 years: There is no means to estimate how many girls are actually killed after birth in India, since most births are not recorded.  The government regards 0-6years as the age range for the ‘child sex ratio’, and uses this scale to estimate the number of sex-selected abortions[13].  However this is a convenient way of lumping sex-selective abortions and the killing of infants and girls up to age 6 years into one category to obfuscate the actual data for the latter. Different studies, looking at different factors killing girls after birth in India, consistently establish 6 years as the age up to when most girls are killed[14].

7)    Make mandatory the record and/or autopsy of all deaths up to the age of 35 years: Most cases of female infanticide, death of girls under 5 by starvation or violence, dowry related murders, deaths due to forced abortions, ‘honor’ killings, and death of under-age married girls due to maternity complications do not come to light as there is no hospital or police record of when or how they died.

8)    De-emphasize Culture and Emphasize Law and Human rights in all projects and approaches: The collective psychology that engenders and sustains female genocide in India is deeply embedded in India’s history, culture and traditions, which I establish in my book ‘Sex and Power.’ There are other indicators of a collective, cultural mind-set at play.  For e.g. most forms of violence on women and girls take a “gang” form[15]. Almost all dowry murders and ‘witch’ hunts are ‘gang’ style lynching. Most reported rapes by strangers are gang-rapes. The killing of infant girls and forced abortions of female fetuses are also almost always due to collective family pressure on women bearing children. This ‘gang’ factor is a critical indicator that this genocidal violence stems from a collective cultural identity,  which often boosts itself by diminishing the individual (de-individuation) and diffusing personal responsibility[16].  It is therefore imperative that the line of policy and action to stop femicides must be separated from and independent of pre-existent cultural moulds, and focus exclusively on protecting the rights of individuals (infants, girls and women) under existent national and international laws.

9)    Raise women’s awareness about their legal rights The media, government and NGO campaigns often do not address women and girls directly.  Instead they address the families, entreating them to treat their daughters, daughters-in-law and wives well. This is a passive approach that objectifies women.  Women and girls need to be addressed directly, informed of their rights and resources, and urged to stand up for themselves in a way that is morally and psychologically empowering.

10)Set up a medical ethics body to monitor and evaluate role of doctors in cases of feticides, forced abortions, and dowry violence: From accounts of women I’ve spoken to and as was also recently shown on a T.V. talk show, often women who are forced by their husbands and in-laws to abort female fetuses, say the doctors collude with the family[17].  Often the women are subject to medical procedures, and sex selected abortions without their consent, which in itself is illegal, as are the procedures for sex selection abortions, because it violates the patient’s integrity. Also, women violently assaulted with acid, raped or burnt, are frequently turned away by hospitals and clinics that do not want to get involved in possible criminal cases. This was also true in Roopa’s case[18].  If she had got help earlier there might have been less damage done to her.

11)Intensify awareness campaigns and special police/court response units to femicide in areas with more/increasing wealth and development:  Existent government and NGO efforts to stop female genocide in India, continue to focus on the poorest communities, and on providing economic incentives and other such projects.  Though it is imperative to continue the effort to provide education, and raise the basic standard of living in the poorest communities, this approach does not address the actual pattern of female genocide.  The census data and other studies consistently show that as education and wealth increases (even for women), the violence on[19] and annihilation of women increases in India[20].  Why this is, I’ve explained in my slide-show. It is therefore very important to strategically focus anti-femicide projects on areas where there is inflow of or greater wealth and development. Even in rural communities, families with farms and property are more likely to kill than those without.

12)Set up special review and censor panels for T.V. programs in India Television is the most widely watched and influential medium across all class boundaries in India today.  Its impact is far-reaching. Many of the most popular T.V. programs, with the highest viewership ratings, actually reinforce the misogynistic, patriarchal, power-wielding customs, and entertain ideas such as child-marriage, the oppression of brides by the in-laws, ‘control’ of women through violence and the marginalization of widows[21].

13)Mandate Laws that will allow the removal of children from homes where they are at risk of abuse and/or violence: India currently has no laws that permits and/or necessitates the removal of children from unsafe homes.  Hence, in cases like Karishma’s even when there is established danger to a child’s life and well-being, she cannot be removed from the home[22]. As evidenced from a recent custody battle that India had with Norway about the removal of children from the care of an Indian family, specifically the mother, the Indian government intervened and the children were forcibly returned to India[23], whereupon over-riding an agreement with the Norwegian government, an Indian court has placed the children back in the care of the mother[24].

14)Mandate a law regulating the sale and distribution of acid which is fast increasing in its use as an inexpensive and lethal weapon against women in India:  At the time Roopa was undergoing surgery there were two other young girls in the same emergency surgery ward, whose in-laws had also force-fed them acid because they didn’t get more dowry. This is what I witnessed in one week, in one hospital, in one city in India. The doctor told me he gets about 200 such cases a year.  There is no official record of how many women endure this type of acid violence in India. Acid is also used by communities to threaten women to socially control them, and assault women in cases of sexual harassment, which leaves them disfigured, blind and maimed for life[25]. Yet, the courts in India consistently refuse to control the sale and distribution of acid for economic reasons[26].  It’s available cheaply in every small utility store because it is also used as an inexpensive cleaning agent.

15)Involve foreign embassies and women’s NGOs in recognizing and addressing these issues in expatriate Indian communities:  All the issues discussed here, also impact on women in Indian communities outside of India, in North America, Europe, and Australia[27]. From my own experience of having lived in the United States for 11 years, and also communicating with other Indian feminists in expatriate Indian communities, I find that the response from Indians outside India mirrors what I’ve described for India in this report[28]. Most vulnerable are first generation women who migrate to these countries, often through marriage. Because the police are unaware of the internal cultural dynamics of violence in the Indian communities they may not deal with cases of dowry violence or murder appropriately, as in the case of Smalin Jenita[29].  Smalin who lived in the U.S. was being abused for dowry, and when 3 months pregnant she was thrown out of a moving car by her husband and in-laws.  The response of Indian women’s NGOs and even Indian feminists and female academics, especially in North America, (the U.K. groups are far more pro-active), is much like what it is in India – often cloaked in denial[30]. Their response is geared more towards protecting cultural identity instead of protecting the women.  For instance, one Indo-American women’s rights activist while discussing how an Indian woman desperately called her when her husband and in-laws forcibly took her in for an abortion, who it’s not clear was actually even helped, still seemed more concerned that the U.S. bill to restrain sex-selection was “extremely anti-immigrant” because it was targeting Asians.[31] Often the community closes ranks and views the victim as a threat to its ‘image’ and forces her to accept her situation. It is therefore very important for western women’s NGOs to reach out to women in these communities and create a safe space for them. In one Indian television show on dowry violence an Indian woman who had migrated through marriage to the U.S., and who feared for her life testified that it was ultimately the American women’s groups that helped her there[32]. Foreign embassies need to work with the key women’s NGOs in their own countries to incorporate awareness among immigrant women (especially those who come through marriage) of their rights and resources available at the time of issuing visas.  Similarly, often foreign governments and women’s NGOs hold the safety of girls and women in third world cultures to a different standard than they would hold their own. They often prioritize cultural ‘sensitivity’ over the safety of individual women and girls, and pander to the former.  The ‘gang’ dynamics that I discussed earlier in the report do manifest in expatriate Indian communities too.

I can testify to that through my own experience.  While living in Washington D.C. in the late 90s, I had tried to help a young, married Indian woman, a psychologist, escape from her extremely violent and controlling husband – a computer engineer. I secretly organized for her to go to her brother’s house in California, xeroxing her passport and visa, helping her hide clothing and other items she’d need and arranging for her travel.  Two weeks later she returned to the building, because her extended family had flown in from India and other cities in the U.S., and as a group decided that she had been brainwashed by me into breaking up her ‘marriage’ and the family!  I was uncomfortable with the husband’s silently aggressive attitude towards me from then on, and I could ask for protection from my building management or the police, had the need arisen.  But many women in Indian communities in and outside India, are trapped in a violent, cultural prison.

 

[1] website: http://www.50millionmissing.info

[2] Rita Banerji. Sex and Power: Defining History, Shaping Societies. Penguin Books, India, 2008; Penguin Global, 2009. ISBN 9780143064718

[3] Rita Banerji. Female Genocide in India and The 50 Million Missing Campaign. Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific, Issue 22, October 2009. Online: http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue22/banerji.htm

[4] Anshu’s Story: Killed 45 days after her wedding.  Gender Equal: A blog on India’s Gendercide, August 27, 2010. Online: http://genderbytes.wordpress.com/2010/08/27/killed-45-days-after-her-wedding-anshus-story/

[5] Newspaper reports of police committing dowry related crimes. The 50 Million Missing Newslog. Online: http://violenceonindianwomen.wordpress.com/?s=police+dowry

[6] Raghav Ohri. Haryana cops raped us: Children’s home inmates. The Indian Express, 06 Jun, 2012. Online: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/haryana-cops-raped-us-childrens-home-inmates/958499/

[7] Maitreyee. Why women’s issues are unpopular among women politicians.  One India News, October 22, 2012. Online: http://news.oneindia.in/feature/2012/why-womens-issues-are-unpopular-among-women-politician-1087522.html

[8] Swati Sengupta. Victim’s character has no bearing on the case.  The Times of India, February 17, 2012. Online: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-02-17/kolkata/31071037_1_cheating-cases-police-station-rizwanur-rehman

[9] Dress carefully to avoid crime: NCW Chief. The Times of India, July 19, 2012. Online: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-07-19/india/32745853_1_ncw-chairperson-rajasthan-pradesh-mahila-congress-molestation-case

[10] Rajat Rai. In Mayawati’s U.P., crime against women rising. The Indian Express, 13 March 2008. Online: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/in-mayawati-s-up-crime-against-women-rising/283845 ; Ananya Sengupta. Bengal tops list of crimes against women.  The Telegraph, 03 July 2012. Online:  http://www.telegraphindia.com/1120703/jsp/nation/story_15684914.jsp#.UK0cL2dginA

[11] Agence France-Presse. Wide-spread sexual abuse uncovered at Indian orphanages. The Raw Story, July 20, 2012. Online: http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/07/11/widespread-sexual-abuse-uncovered-at-indian-orphanages/

[12] Falguni Banerjee. Inmates raped at will by outsiders in Hoogly rehabilitation home. The Times of India, 13 July 2012. Online: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-07-13/kolkata/32663133_1_guriya-death-certificate-hooghly

[13] Jansankhya Sthirata Kosh (National Population Stabilisation Fund) Online: http://www.jsk.gov.in/sexratio_and_population.asp

[14] Rita Banerji. Where infant girls face premeditated murder. Women’s News Network, 07 Februrary, 2012. Online: http://womennewsnetwork.net/2012/02/07/india-girl-infants-murder-femicide/

[15] See tag ‘gang’ on The 50 Million Missing Newslog online: http://violenceonindianwomen.wordpress.com/tag/gang/

[16] Rhonda Oneslager. Gange Rape: A psychological perspective of group dynamics.  Yahoo Contributor Network, 23 Oct, 2006. Online: http://voices.yahoo.com/gang-rape-psychological-perspective-group-dynamics-97868.html?cat=9

[17] Satyameva Jayate: Female Foeticide, Part I  Online: http://youtu.be/YbtSKgIgaoY

[19] Sindhu Kannan. Posh south Chennai tops in dowry abuse cases. The Times of India, 11 June, 2012. Online: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-06-11/chennai/32173881_1_dowry-harassment-dowry-deaths-husbands-and-in-laws

[20] Rita Banerji. Why education and economics are not the solution to India’s female genocide. Gender Equal: A blog on India’s gendercide,  12 June, 2011. Online: http://genderbytes.wordpress.com/2011/06/12/why-education-and-economics-are-not-the-solution-to-indias-female-genocide/

[21] Radhika Bhirani. Slapped, Kicked, Abused – Whither women’s empowerment  on TV? The Weekly Voice, 22 November, 2012. Online: http://www.weeklyvoice.com/bollywood-entertainment/slapped-kicked-abused-whither-womens-empowerment-on-tv/

[22] Karishma’s Story. Gender Equal: A blog on India’s Gendercide, 17 May, 2010. Online: http://genderbytes.wordpress.com/2010/05/17/her-story-karishmas-grandmother-tried-to-kill-her/

[23] Rita Banerji. Indian child custody case causes culture clash and concern in Norway. Women’s News Network, 24 April, 2012. Online: http://womennewsnetwork.net/2012/04/24/indian-child-custody-case-norway/

[24] Norway foster children to return to Indian mother. Ice News, 17 Nov, 2012. Online: http://www.icenews.is/2012/11/17/norway-foster-children-to-return-to-indian-mother/

[25] See ‘acid’ tag in The 50 Million Missing Newslog. Online: http://violenceonindianwomen.wordpress.com/?s=acid

[26] Strive for a consensus among states to regulate retail sale of acid, SC tells Centre. The Times of India, 01 Sept 2012. Online: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-09-01/india/33535154_1_acid-attack-aparna-bhatt-separate-offence

[27] Rita Banerji. Indian girls ‘missing’ world-wide. Pickled Politics, 19 May 2011. Online: http://www.pickledpolitics.com/archives/12663

[28] Interview with Artist Soraya Nulliah on Art, apartheid women and violence. Gender Equal: A blog on India’s gendercide, 02 July 2012. Online: http://genderbytes.wordpress.com/2012/07/02/artist-soraya-nulliah-on-art-apartheid-women-and-violence/

[29] Vidya Venkat. Jenita’s tale. Frontline, Vol.24, Iss.24, Dec 08-21, 2007. Online: http://www.frontlineonnet.com/fl2424/stories/20071221502102900.htm

[30] Rita Banerji. Why Kali Won’t Rage: A Critique of Indian Feminism. Gender Forum: An Internet Journal for Gender Studies, Issue 38, 2012. Online: http://www.genderforum.org/issues/passages-to-india/why-kali-wont-rage/

[31] Saira Kurup. Sex determination tests happen not only in India but also in West with sizeable Indian population. The Economic Times, 03 June, 2012.  Online: http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2012-06-03/news/32006504_1_pakistan-born-selection-and-female-foeticide-india-and-china

[32] Rituparna Chatterjee. Satyameva Jayate: Ugly dowry truths of big fat Indian weddings. IBN-Live, 20 May, 2012. Online: http://ibnlive.in.com/news/satyamev-jayate-ugly-dowry-truths-of-big-fat-indian-weddings/259706-44-124.html

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