Reshaping attitudes

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Acclaimed Human Rights Watch researcher Jayshree Bajoria discusses barriers to justice for victims of gender-based violence in India

In a recent seminar hosted by the University of Sydney’s South Asia Study Group, consultant for Human Rights Watch Jayshree Bajoria delivered an informative and poignant talk about the sociopolitical climate of sexual and gender based violence in India.

Jayshree Bajoria.Indian Link
Jayshree Bajoria

Much of Bajoria’s talk concentrated on dissecting the responses of different institutions within the legal, health and social spheres towards rape victims in India. Bajoria particularly illustrated how the 2012 Delhi gang rape case reshaped the collective attitudes of Indian society. She articulated that a three-month process in reviewing laws and initiating changes was welcomed, and was a key turning point in the Indian legislative system. Reforms included extending the definition of rape, adding new categories of sexual assault, providing free medical treatment for victims and having penalties for police and health professionals who neglect to adequately respond.

However, Bajoria insinuated that many problems and barriers continue to exist for women and rape victims.

“We have a long way to go in India,” Bajoria said. “The first step has to go from education in schools and gender training, but then the laws have to actually be enforced as well – otherwise there will be no deterrence for the perpetrators.”

Bajoria cited issues such as a lack of victim protection laws (where female victims of lower castes who have accused a man of a higher caste are often forced to drop the case) and victim blaming, which have become a major encumbrance in the plight to achieve justice and to ensure the wellbeing of rape survivors.

Jayshree Bajoria.Indian Link

Specifically, Bajoria conveyed dismay at the attitudes of the media and legislative authorities, who continue to question the character, clothing and demeanour of the woman, as opposed to concentrating on the nature of the crime, in spite of continuous social awareness and government campaigns since the 2012 case.

Bajoria described the case of a woman from a scheduled caste in Rajasthan who had accused a man of rape, who in turn then accused the woman of theft. While the police neglected the rape charges, the woman was placed in jail for three months for theft and just barely managed to get her husband to bail her out. At present, the rape charges are pending.

According to Jayshree Bajoria, these cases, which are far from isolated, demonstrate a dire need to continue improving the way in which sexual assault victims are treated in India.

“We are nowhere close to where we need to be,” she said.

Hussain Nadim, coordinator of the South Asia Study Group (SASG), recognised the importance of inviting Jayshree Bajoria, who is well-known in India for working on human and women’s rights.

“The South Asia Study Group works extensively on gender rights in the region, and our purpose is to bring awareness in Australia about issues related to South Asia. We were proud to invite Jayshree to speak to students about such a pressing issue,” Hussain said.

Hussain also acknowledged the valuable information that Jayshree Bajoria imparted. “The talk was very insightful and the take home message for me was that the South Asia region as a whole faces similar problems of violence and rape against women, and that the problems are as much legal, political, bureaucratic as they are cultural. The solution needs to be well thought out and should cover all aspects of the issue.” 

Jayshree Bajoria.Indian Link

Jayshree Bajoria also engaged students in a question and answer dialogue which delved into specificities about the nature of sexual violence and rape, including the entrenched cultural phenomenon of the prevalence of rape in India arising through the concept of ‘eve teasing’, and how can we use mediums such as technology to work for women’s security.

“As someone interested in politics, gender and development, attending the event was a decision I made as soon as I heard about it,” said participant Nishtha Sharma. “Discussions around gender-based violence can initiate change regardless of where in the world you live. Talking about the issue is always positive as it brings the issue out into the public.”

Sharma found Bajoria’s discussion on accessibility to legal and support services in rural India to be very enlightening. “She took a multidimensional approach to the issue which helped bring the complex nature of the problem to light.”