Dr. Manmohan Singh
Honorable Prime Minister of India
Dear Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh:
We the undersigned organizations would like to urgently bring to your notice and reiterate our concerns about the treatment and care given to women and children who experience sexual assault in light of a series of disturbing news reports on this issue.
While on the one hand we acknowledge that the increasing numbers of news reports of sexual assault in the country could be indicative of women’s improved ability to report the crime, what concerns us about these reports is that they consistently reveal the woefully poor treatment meted out by state authorities to those who experience such violence.
One of the more recent and disturbing examples of this is the case of Soni Sori, who, after alleging sexual assault in police custody in Chhattisgarh state in October 2011, has waited for a long time for independent medical treatment and care without police intimidation or bias. The Chhattisgarh police took her to the Kolkata medical college hospital for independent medical treatment and examination following a Supreme Court order on October 20, 2011. After a hiatus of over six months, the Supreme Court of India issued another order on May 2, 2012, directing that Soni Sori be taken to New Delhi for follow-up medical treatment. Even six months after the alleged sexual assault, the Chhattisgarh state government has yet to register any First Information Report (FIR) and investigate the allegations of custodial torture.
The reports of bias and damaging stereotypes against survivors of sexual assault are endemic and cut across a range of government or other officials who provide assistance. These include the police, local government officials, public prosecutors, hospitals, staff of children’s homes, and even some judges in many parts of the country.
We remain deeply concerned by the extent of such bias and the poor care for those who experience sexual assault and would like to draw your attention to government reports that have recommended further government action:
Sexual assault could jeopardize the health of a survivor in many ways. These include pregnancy, exposure to HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, and mental health concerns. The Indian government has an array of programs as part of its National Rural Health Mission, the Integrated Action Plan for Selected Tribal and Backward Districts, the proposed National Urban Health Mission, and the National Mental Health Program, but these have thus far not included detailed norms, monitoring parameters, guidelines, or related training for reproductive, sexual, and mental health care services for women and children who experience violence, especially sexual assault or abuse.
The Ministry of Women and Child Development announced a scheme for financial assistance for victims/survivors of rape in the country, which will in some ways assist women who have little or no money to pay for the post-trauma services they desperately need, but this scheme has yet to be implemented.
India is party to many international treaties that oblige it to respect, protect, and fulfill women’s and children’s rights to life, health, freedom from violence, and access to justice without discrimination. The Indian Constitution also guarantees the fundamental rights to life and equality before the law and equal protection of the law.
We hope you will treat this as an urgent national priority and take the following measures:
Such a high-level task force should include representatives from the ministries of home, health, finance, women and child development, law and justice, road transport and highways, department of information technology, and leading experts in the fields of forensic science, reproductive and sexual health, mental health, and human rights.
The high-level task force should advise the government concerning the creation of a set of accessible, affordable, quality multidisciplinary joint response teams, one-stop crisis centers, and witness and victim protection programs, which are together funded by the central and state governments. These should have clearly specified norms for implementation, monitoring, and evaluating such responses. In particular, there should be a clear standard protocol for police action in accordance with international human rights law and existing Supreme Court guidelines and mechanisms. There should be a clear mechanism for monitoring police action and holding police accountable for inaction and interference while providing health care to those who experience violence.
The high-level task force should outline norms and standards for responses to violence against women and children, especially sexual assault, without discrimination based on language, caste, tribe, religion, political or other opinion, occupation, sex, gender, marital status, sexual orientation, disability, migrant, HIV or other status. In particular, the task force should ensure that treatment for those living with HIV, disability, persons from transgender communities, sex workers, and those reporting sexual assault by police is provided in a nondiscriminatory manner.
We hope you will treat this as urgent national priority. We look forward to receiving information regarding the steps taken by your office to initiate measures in response to the concerns raised and recommendations made in this letter. Please do not hesitate to contact us for additional information.
President, Public Health Foundation of India, New Delhi
Executive Director, Naz Foundation India Trust, New Delhi
Member, Steering Committee, CommonHealth, Coalition on Maternal-Neonatal Health and Safe Abortion
Director, Center for Health and Social Justice, New Delhi
Executive Director, Population Foundation of India (PFI), New Delhi
Founder Director, Majlis, Mumbai
Director, Women’s Rights Initiative, Lawyers Collective, New Delhi
Director, VIMOCHANA, Bengaluru
Director, SANGRAM, Sangli
Council for Social Development, Hyderabad
Member, Executive Committee, Asmita Resource Centre for Women, Secunderabad
Executive Director, North East Network
Coordinator, Center for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes
Director, Women’s Rights Division, Human Rights Watch, New York
Director, Gender, Sexuality, and Identity Programme, Amnesty International, London
Coordinator, International Federation of Health and Human Rights Organizations
Co-Convenor, Mahila Sarvangeen Utkarsh Mandal (MASUM), Pune
Director, Swayam, Kolkata
Director, Society for Women’s Action and Training Initiative (SWATI)
Emeritus Professor of Law, University of Warwick
Emeritus Professor of Law, University of Delhi
Associate Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai
Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai
Assistant Professor, Centre for the Study of Law and Governance,
Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
Associate Professor, Women’s Studies Programme, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
Professor of Medicine, Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences
Sevagram ( Maharashtra)
Professor, Centre for the Study of Law and Governance
Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
Professor of Sociology, University of Delhi, New Delhi
Co-director, Akshara, Mumbai
Executive Director, Partners for Law in Development, New Delhi
Trustee, Anusandhan Trust, Mumbai
Trustee, Anusandhan Trust, Mumbai
Secretary, Prayas, Chittorgarh
Secretary, SOCHARA, Bengaluru
Lawyer and Researcher, New Delhi
The Ant, Assam
Member, Saheli Women's Resource Center and Delhi Science Forum, New Delhi
Trustee, Women's Research & Action Group, Mumbai
Secretary, Parichiti-A Society for Empowerment of Women, West Bengal
Legal Advisor, Jagrutha Mahila Sangathan, Raichur
Freelance development professional
Consultant, Gender-based violence, New Delhi
Independent health researcher
Health researcher and activist
Human rights lawyer and activist
Dr. Syeda Hameed,
Member, Planning Commission of India