The National Human Rights Commission on Monday issued notices to the Centre and all states and Union Territories seeking reports within six weeks on the standard operating procedures to deal with cases of sexual assault. It also asked for reports on the status of the Nirbhaya Fund including details about availability of the money and the amount spent during the last three years.
“The largest democracy of the world, which has adopted the longest written constitution and has a rich cultural heritage of gender equality, is today being criticised for having the most unsafe environment for women,” the commission said in its statement. “The incidents of rapes, molestation, gender based discrimination and other such atrocities against women have, unfortunately, become routine media headlines.”
The notices were issued in light of the murder and alleged rape of a veterinarian in Hyderabad last week. On Monday, both Houses of Parliament discussed women’s safety, and MPs across party lines demanded stringent action against such crimes.
The commission has also issued notices to the director-generals of police asking them about the best practices adopted to deal with cases of sexual abuse. It also asked for details of the action taken against the police officers found insensitive and guilty of negligence. “The Commission has also considered it necessary to call for a detailed report from the secretary, Union Ministry of Women and Child Development, giving details about the schemes or guidelines initiated by the union government and status of their implementation.” It added that mere announcements of schemes, framing laws and setting up of funds would not serve the purpose unless these were properly implemented.
The commission cited media reports to say that the Nirbhaya Fund has been “reduced and also not being appropriately utilised by the state governments”. The Nirbhaya Fund is a corpus of Rs 10 billion announced by the Centre after the 2012 Delhi gangrape case. The money is meant to offer support to initiatives by organisations working towards protecting the safety of women.
The commission said that police officers often assume that a woman have eloped with someone when a family member files a missing complaint. “This humiliating and stereotype mindset is needed to be changed,” it said. “There is need to effectively address the core issue as this serious challenge has not only created an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty in our society but has also badly tarnishing the image of our country.”
In the Telangana vet’s case too, the family has alleged that the police presumed the woman had gone away with someone on her own. The woman’s sister said the police asked if the woman had a boyfriend and was in regular touch with men and sought to know her phone habits when they approached for help.
The commission said many incidents of sexual violence take place because of negligence by the administration and the law enforcing agencies. Citing the Telangana vet’s case, the panel said had timely action been taken by the police the incident could, perhaps, be stopped. “Being the apex body for the protection and promotion of human rights at national level, it considers its intervention into the matter necessary to understand as to where the state agencies and other stakeholders are lacking on their part and what can immediately be done,” the rights panel observed.