Death penalty for rape of boys, table tennis star in the clear, media impact
The 31 December edition of Note This — our round-up of media reports and opinions on sexual assault
The Union Cabinet last week cleared a proposal to make the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, more stringent and gender neutral. The amendments, which come eight months after an ordinance approving the death penalty for the rape of girls under 12, include the applicability of capital punishment for the “serious sexual assault” of boys and girls below the age of 18. Another story that has been covered widely has been the lifting of a Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) ban on former national champion Soumyajit Ghosh after he married his rape accuser.
The term ‘victim’ is not necessarily disempowering, believes leading victimologist Dr Beulah Shekhar. In an interview with NewsTracker’s Harikesh P, she explains how a victim can become a survivor and why the media’s reportage of sexual assault cases can affect crime reporting rates.
Across India: news since Thursday
In what it has described as a “wholesome initiative”, the Indian government has approved amendments to several sections of the POCSO Act, making punishments “more stringent” for crimes ranging from sexual assault to distributing child pornography. While this development has been covered extensively, there has so far been little in the way of media analysis, with the exception of the Indian Express noting briefly that “data show that less than 3% of all POCSO cases end in convictions and experts warn against the chilling effect the death penalty may have on reporting the crime. Systemic changes in law enforcement and prosecution hold the key to tackling child sexual abuse”.
Table tennis champion Soumyajit Ghosh is now free to “participate in all national and international tournaments”. Ghosh had been suspended by the TTFI in March after his girlfriend accused him of rape when he reneged on his promise to marry her. At the time, he accused her of “blackmailing” him but married her a few months later, stating that the allegations were the result of a “misunderstanding”. Rape charges on the grounds of false promise of marriage are common in India, and though statistics are limited, the Delhi Police in 2016 claimed that as many as 25 per cent of reported rape cases in the national capital fall under this category.
Citing “a media report that the Unnao gangrape victim has accused the Uttar Pradesh government of harassing her and her family members”, the National Human Right Commission has sent a notice to the Uttar Pradesh government asking the state’s chief secretary to “personally look into the matter”. Last week, the police charged the survivor and her family members for allegedly providing a “forged” certificate to prove that she was a minor.
In a report on the murder of a young woman by her alleged stalker last week, the Quint drew attention to its ‘Talking Stalking’ petition that it launched with MP Shashi Tharoor and Varnika Kundu to make stalking a non-bailable offence.
Incidentally, Tharoor on Friday also introduced a private member’s bill seeking to criminalise marital rape. DNA reported that “Tharoor’s expectations that the Bill will be passed in the current Cabinet is ‘very low’”.
The Centre has told the Rajya Sabha that various ministries have disposed of 45 out of a total of 141 complaints of sexual harassment that have been filed with them since 2017. Post #MeToo, Minister of State for Women and Child Development Virendra Kumar said that ministries have been asked to organise workshops to build awareness about sexual harassment. He also said that the ministries that received the greatest number of complaints were Finance (21), Communications (16) and Defence (16). According to Kumar, the private sector has disposed 29 of 169 complaints in the same period.
In a press conference at the Indian Women Press Corps in Delhi, three women have spoken about facing sexual harassment while working at public broadcaster Doordarshan. The Indian Express reported that “at least 10 women have alleged sexual harassment at Doordarshan Television Network”. Some victims have spoken about being terminated from their jobs after complaining. Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar later said that Doordarshan takes such cases “extremely seriously” and that “sweeping generalisations” have been made about the broadcaster.
Tamil Nadu singer Chinmayi Sripada, who accused lyricist Vairamuthu of sexual harassment, has said that she has been unfairly asked to pay Rs 1.5 lakh and send an “apology letter” so that she can be reinstated in the Tamil dubbing artists’ union. She also criticised women members of the union for making sexist statements. The message, she posted on Twitter, is clear: “Stay silent, or else”
In a village in Uttar Pradesh’s Bhadohi district, a woman was allegedly beaten and forced to “run naked” after she resisted sexual harassment by four men. One suspect has been arrested so far.
Eleven years after the rape and murder of a student in a Vijaywada (Andhra Pradesh) hostel, the CBI is investigating the case afresh, including allegations that key evidence was destroyed.
A man who spent 10 years in jail for the rape of his daughter has been found innocent by the Delhi High Court — 10 months after his death. In a detailed report, the Times of India quoted the judge as commenting on the complainant’s “wayward ways” and observing that it was “sad to note that the trial judge blindly accepted the prosecution story”.
In Odisha, the acquittal of the accused in the 2011 Pipli gang-rape and murder case has caused controversy. The Crime Branch of Odisha Police is now planning to move the Orissa High Court to challenge the verdict.
Assault of minors
In East Singhbhum District, Jharkhand, a nine-year-old boy has been accused of raping a seven-year-old girl. Few details are available other than that the boy has been placed in the custody of the Juvenile Justice Board.
In a similar case in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, an eight-year-old girl on Wednesday said she was raped by a classmate. A day later, however, she told police as well as the court that her injuries were due to a bicycle fall and not due to sexual assault. The police, nonetheless, have said that they will continue to investigate the case.
BBC correspondent Priyanka Dubey’s book No nation for women: Ground reportage on rape from the world’s largest democracy has been described by Saikat Majumdar in Scroll as flowing with “haunting lyricism, one born of pain, suffering and violation”. He writes, “Every chapter of this book… is an account of a rape, spread out across different parts of the non-nation, India”. You can read an excerpt here.
This roundup is curated from the RSS feeds of more than 30 English news publications from across India.
Use our case filter to read reports on specific cases: #MeToo, #KeralaPriest, #RapeOfMinors, #Muzaffarapur, #PoliticsOfRape (use the dropdown menu in column A).
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