A 12-year-old girl with speech and hearing impairments was abducted on October 16 and her body was found on the next day. The incident happened at a village in Banaskantha district of Gujarat. Her body was found was found in a field with her throat slit. The police started probing the angle of sexual violence. In a similar case in August, a 10-year-old deaf girl was kidnapped in Hodal near Palwal of Haryana. It was found that she was raped and murdered and her mutilated body was recovered from the fields.
Needless to say, these incidents remind us of the unfortunate Hathras gangrape incident. Yet, these failed to catch the attention of the media, activists and/or netizens at large. Though few disability groups protested, it did not create the kind of impact that mainstream protests could have led to. Thus, a question that comes to mind is: Why is the violence on women with disabilities not seen as a serious issue? The Hathras rape case opened up discussions on how Dalit women, owing to their caste status in the social hierarchy in addition to their position as women, are often victims of caste-based sexual violence. However, the same kind of community consciousness is not seen among majority of the disability groups.
That is, the rape or sexual assault of a woman or a girl with disability is often not seen from the standpoint of the double discrimination they face as a woman as well as a person with disability. Unfortunately, majority of disability groups are far away from this understanding.
According to a 2018 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), Invisible Victims of Sexual Violence: Access to Justice for Women and Girls with Disabilities in India, women and girls with disabilities face significant barriers to justice and face a higher risk of sexual violence.
The above-mentioned ones are not the only cases of sexual violence on disabled women that happened in the last few months. Cases of rape were reported from Goa, Chennai, Kolkata–obviously there are many more cases which barely gets covered in the media. Prior to COVID-19 too, girls and women with disabilities were considered soft targets. The inaccessible criminal justice system fails in many respects in rendering justice to survivors of violence. Criminal law amendments brought about by the JS Verma Committee recommendations ensured that specific issues of sexual violence on women with disabilities are part of our justice system. POCSO, too, includes children with disabilities within in its ambit. Moreover, Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act mentions violence, abuse on children and women with disabilities separately. However, implementation of these laws remains a far cry.
Gender-based violence on disabled women is an important issue which needs to be looked into from manifold approaches. One of the major hurdles that we face as activists is that we barely find any data on violence on disabled people in our country. As a result, the enormity of the issue never comes into forefront. So, when people like us, who work along the intersections of gender and disability, talk about these cases, it becomes anecdotal evidences. The fact that sexual violence is part of everyday lives of disabled women is conveniently forgotten. Committee on CRPD (United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities) in September 2019 in its concluding remarks recommended to Indian Government the following among many others –
The Committee recommends that the State party:
(a) Adopt and implement national and state strategies to identify, prevent, combat and end all forms of violence against persons with disabilities, including against women, girls and boys with disabilities. This process should involve organizations of persons with disabilities, particularly of women with disabilities in adopting measures to identify instances of gender-based violence against women and girls with disabilities;
(c) Ensure that the National Crime Records Bureau collect data disaggregated by sex, age, place of residence, relationship with perpetrator and disability in cases of violence and exploitation, including gender-based violence against women and girls with disabilities, and violence inflicted by intimate partners.
In September 2020, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in its Advisory on Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the context of COVID-19 also reaffirmed the importance of data on violence on disabled people and specifically mentioned –
“National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) must include data on PwDs also.” Activists who are working on intersections of disability and gender rights are demanding the same for quite some time too.
It’s high time that the government of India takes heed to these advisories by the UN body and the NHRC. That will be one more step towards making judicial system accessible to be one of the most marginalised groups in India.
Featured Image Source: HRW