Barriers in Accessing Justice: The experiences of 14 rape survivors in Uttar Pradesh, India
This report was published by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), a non-governmental organisation based in New Delhi, in collaboration with the Association for Advocacy and Legal Initiatives (AALI), a Lucknow-based human rights organisation. Released on September 28, 2020, the report highlights the barriers women face in registering complaints of sexual assaults.
It considers 14 case studies of women who faced issues while filing FIRs (first information reports) with the police. The study, conducted during 2019-20, locates cases from seven districts of Uttar Pradesh, namely Aligarh, Amroha, Auraiya, Lucknow, Jhansi, Jaunpur, and Muzaffarnagar. Of the 14, 11 were rape cases and three were cases of gang-rape.
All 14 case studies are based on first-hand accounts of the survivors and their caseworkers. The report concludes that in all cases, women survivors faced discrimination while registering the FIRs with the police. In some instances, the police did not register the complaint. Whereas in others, they registered the complaint only after the survivors and their representatives approached higher authorities. The report notes that such prolonged procedures added to the survivors’ existing trauma.
The 124-page report consists of six chapters: Introduction (Chapter 1); Methodology (Chapter 2); Socio-Economic Profile of Survivors (Chapter 3); Case briefs (Chapter 4); Findings (Chapter 5); and Conclusions & Recommendations (Chapter 6).
Only in 11 of 14 cases did the police register FIRs. Moreover, they took between two to 228 days to register these reports. In all cases, survivors or their representatives had to take their complaints to senior officials or get a court order to have FIRs registered.
Despite the processes laid down under Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, women survivors in 12 of the 14 cases had to describe the details of their sexual assault to a male police officer. The respondents also reported that they were disbelieved by the police and forced to endure misogynistic remarks. Further, Dalit women had to face discrimination on the basis of caste as well.
A profile of survivors shows that most fell in the age group of 18-30 years with the youngest being 19 and the oldest 55 years old. Six of the women had no formal education, four had studied till Class 8 and four were graduates. Seven of the 14 survivors were homemakers, three worked in domestic service and four had other employment.
In certain cases, the survivors reported that police officials had discouraged them from registering the case stating that an FIR could not be filed without an inquiry. One survivor said, “The police told me that the FIR will be registered only after an inquiry; otherwise anyone will come and say rape has been committed against me.”
The report states that when the survivor is a Dalit and the accused is from a dominant caste, lodging complaints becomes even more difficult. One survivor from Jaunpur stated that her FIR was not registered because “they are from the dominant caste. The police officers at the police station and SP rank were of the same caste”.
All 14 survivors registered their complaints to the Superintendent of Police (SP) under Section 154(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Of the 14, 11 learned of this right only after their caseworker or lawyer advised them. Due to such gaps in awareness, the time taken for them to register a complaint to the SP ranged from one to 111 days.
In some instances, survivors and caseworkers were unaware that they could file a complaint against police officials for failing to register FIRs in cases of sexual assault. Many were hesitant to do so. As a caseworker from Auraiya district stated: “If we file any complaint against any police officer then there will be consequences. Survivor and caseworker will get threats from police.”
In light of the various issues, the report compiles a range of recommendations for central ministries, state governments, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the National and State Legal Services Authority (NALSA), state police departments, high courts and civil society organisations.
The report recommends that the NCRB publish district-wise statistics on the nature and number of complaints received orally and the final number of FIRs registered in a year. It also suggests that the NCRB, in its annual Crime in India report, collect and publish the total number of cases brought against police officers for non-registration of FIRs in cases of sexual offences.
In a suggestion to NALSA, the report states that the government body should develop modules to train lawyers and paralegals for better handling of cases concerning crimes against women. It also advocates for legal awareness campaigns at the taluka or district levels to educate citizens regarding the legal protections and remedies to which women are entitled.
Focus and Factoids by Daanish Narayan.
PARI Library’s health archive project is part of an initiative supported by the Azim Premji University to develop a free-access repository of health-related reports relevant to rural India.
Ankur Otto, Devika Prasad, Pratikshya Priyadarshini and Shubhangi SinghEditor: Sanjoy Hazarika
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi and Association for Advocacy and Legal Initiatives Trust, Lucknow
28 Sep, 2020