India: Chastity belts a common practice in Rajasthan

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission.
A female passenger in a public bus was found bleeding from her thighs and the fellow passengers took her to hospital. At the hospital, the doctors who examined the lady found that she was wearing a chastity belt. The lady was bleeding from the injuries caused by wearing the belt. In case anyone is wondering where this happened, the incident is reported from the north-western Indian state of Rajasthan.
Rajasthan is known to be one of the prime tourist destinations in India. However, what is least known is the horrifying condition of women in that state. The state, known more for its tourist attractions like the ancient forts and the Rajput culture, is a graveyard of women旧 rights. The practice of forcing women to wear a chastity belt is so common in Rajasthan that a website hosting advertisements of Indian industries boasts about various designs of chastity belts, even made from precious metals like silver and gold.

Violence committed against women is very high in Rajasthan. Evil practices like the demand and acceptance of dowry is widespread in the state. The practice of payment of dowry is more rampant within the middleclass society. Even highly educated women from prestigious institutions are married off to strangers against their will. One of the well known women旧 colleges in the state has a considerable number of dropouts in their higher degree courses since their students are often forced into marriages, often against their will, before they complete their studies. Once married, the woman is expected to remain at home and is confined to the four walls of her husband旧 house. Higher education for women is only considered as a quotient to bargain for less dowry in the middleclass society in Rajasthan.

The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 prohibits the demand and acceptance of dowry in India. However, if the Act is to be implemented, and the practice of dowry to be rooted out, what the state requires is good policing and a criminal justice system that functions. But in the state where women are treated as chattels, valued at par with cattle, the execution of the Act has failed. One has only to look at the records of the National Crime Records Bureau. Cases registered against the demand and acceptance of dowry in Rajasthan are relatively low in comparison to other cases of violence committed against women across the country.

Criminal acts, like verbal, emotional and physical abuse of women within the home is not considered as a crime in the state. Even courts reject complaints filed by women complainants on the ground that a woman does not have a right to complain, particularly if the complaint is against her husband or any other relative. This situation gives a handle to criminals abusing women.

Women are often compelled to engage in drug trafficking and prostitution in Rajasthan. Women forced into such activities are abducted from rural villages at a very young age, trained in distant places and later forced into active service. Several of them who get caught by the law enforcement agencies at a later stage in their 螋areer� end up in state prisons. Those who get arrested remain in prison for years without any recourse to legal or medical aid. Many are raped in custody. Not being able to complain about their situation they end up as carriers of life-threatening diseases and other sexually transmitted ailments.

The commonly heard excuse for this dismal condition of women in Rajasthan is the feudal mindset of the society in that state. Even though it is true to a certain extent that several persons in Rajasthan indeed entertain a feudal mindset, the actual cause for the uninterrupted continuation of violence against the women in Rajasthan is the failure of the law enforcing agencies to maintain rule of law in the state.

In many parts of the state, the law enforcement agency, particularly the police, are controlled by the local political party leaders. Most of them, believing and propagating their interpretation of Hinduism, promoted by the Bahratiya Janata Party [BJP] advocate Manu旧 proposition of women being equated to a Dalit. According to Manu旧 law, the Manusmriti, women do not have equal status vis a vis the men. They have no other right other than those that have been granted to them by their husbands.

The local police are controlled by the political henchmen who are in turn motivated by the interpretation of Hinduism as dictated by the BJP, the ruling party of the state. This is the cause for the blatant refusal of the police to register complaints by women and women groups in the state for crimes committed against them. Anyone who is adamant is referred to the local political party leader or the party office. Such referrals often result in further abuse, often in public, which serves as a powerful deterrent against any woman or group, who is already isolated within the society. The courts in Rajasthan are also not free from a similar influence.

Continuing violence against a particular section in the society does not happen in a vacuum. There are several factors that facilitate such unfettered continuation of evil practices. In the state of Rajasthan, a corrupt law enforcement mechanism including a non- independent judiciary is the key factor that has sanctioned the unabated recurrence of barbaric crimes against women. The religiously charged political ideology that leads the state administration is just the veil covering an almost fallen system in which the women in Rajasthan continue to be persecuted within the confines of their own family.

3 August 2007

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.