Guest post by Rutika Yeolekar
Activism and its forms (excluding the extreme ones) have always helped in strengthening the democracy. When I interned in a legal resource center I knew what I had in mind. My purpose was clear. People around me had already tagged me with the label of being a feminist. Some called it extreme, some respected it, while the others thought it was completely natural that I feel this way because the society needs to protect its women.
Feminism in any way tries to provide you with a window. And while I wasn’t going to let them label me in any way, nor was I of the view that women need sympathy, I had a different train of thought running in my mind. I really wanted to be a part of the social system and work for what I believed in. More than feminism, it was about and justice, two things that the women who have been abused in Indian Society crave for.
All said and done, I knew right then that it was time for action! My mother’s friend referred me to this legal recourse center called Majlis, which worked for women who were victims of rape, domestic violence, dowry and provided them legal aid. It also conducted awareness programs regarding women and law, their rights, offered paralegal training to budding social workers or people who were interested in developmental studies.
I was quite jealous of my fellow classmates who were now working for corporate media firms. On the other hand, I knew that if I take this internship I’d be able to come close to the harsh realities of how the women subjected to heinous crimes suffer and how the law deals with offenders.
The police officers prepare FIRs regarding cases of rapes or violence against women and the case is registered in the court according to the sections or IPC or CrPc. And since my first job was to translate the statements of the victims, I realized that the Police’s handwriting is worse than the doctors’. We keep hearing the word FIR very often, but do we really know what FIR stands for or even which offenses could be classified as cognizable and which as non-cognizable?
Well, let me just explain these two in a few words: a cognizable case means a case in which a police officer under CrPc or any other law can arrest the accused for the time being without warrant. Non-cognizable is exactly the opposite.
These are just a few basic things that we need to know in case we become victims of a criminal offense. Rape has been defined a number of times, but the narrow legal definition fails to encompass the complexities of it as a crime. While most rape cases are likely to be consensual ones, some of them are very brutal.
Many marriages in India are based on trust, commitment and love. But what if they instead turn into nightmares? Around 70% of the women in India are victims of Domestic Violence and thus we need to make them aware of the existence and the intricacies of the PWDVA Act (Protection of Women Against Domestic Violence), brought into force in 2006 addressing the various types of violence women face in the private spaces and how the offenders can be severely punished.
Through the PWDVA, affected women are entitled to:
- Protection: The magistrate can pass orders to stop the offender from aiding or committing violence within and outside the home, communicating with the woman, taking away her assets, and/or intimidating her family and those assisting her against the violence.
- Residence: The woman cannot be evicted from the shared household.
- Monetary relief and maintenance: The woman is entitled to maintenance, including loss of earnings, medical expenses, and damage to property.
- Compensation: She can claim damages for mental and physical injuries.
- Custody: The court can grant her temporary custody of children. Interim order/ex parte order. The court can pass an interim order to prevent violence before the final order. In the absence of the other party to the dispute, an ex parte order can be passed. Women have the right to free legal services under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987.
Registration of marriages is vital since most of the Indian marriages are not registered and thus it creates a problem for the woman to access her right to maintenance or even custodial rights, although marriages can also be proved with the help of pictures, witnesses, documents etc.
Due to the increasing cases of sexual harassment and rapes on children, a new act came into force on 14th of November, 2012 called the POCSO Act ( Protection of Children Against Sexual Offenses). The Act under its ambit defines child as a person below the age of 18 and is gender neutral and has a clear definition for all types of sexual abuses like sexual harassment, penetrative or non-penetrative sexual abuse, and pornography.
Many of the children around us are being abused by our own family members and they don’t even realize they are being abused, and thus we need to trust them when they tell us stories of how their games with elders turned into painful ones or even when they hate some family members because they hurt them. Try your level best to help these kids. More than anything else, they need emotional support from the loved ones.
Violence in any form is lethal to a person’s well being and thus if it is inflicted upon anyone close to you, report it immediately to the nearby police station.
We need to also be more empathetic towards the police and understand just how taxing their jobs are when they try to protect and safeguard the interests of about 1.27 billion people with a labor force of 130 police per 100,000 people. No doubt that not all of them are very honest or efficient persons, but all I am saying is not all of them are bad either. Cooperation with them is a must.
At Majlis, I got to see many movies made by Madhushree Dutta and let me tell you, even though they were either documentaries or feature films, they were amazing. Even Flavia Agnes and her publications were very enlightening.
Coming from a secure middle class home, an experience like this helped me to evolve as a better human being. Here I learnt that there is so much more to the world than just news. Sometimes when journalists try and capture the news, they focus on what is noteworthy and what will spark interest. But reality may not always be very interesting, it’s definitely noteworthy. It may also provide deeper insight on the issues that public discourses fail to address on many occasions.
(You can contact the author here.)