Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, except spousal rape when the woman is over the age of 15. Punishment ranges from prison terms of two years to life in prison, a fine of 20,418 rupees ($306), or both. Official statistics pointed to rape as the country’s fastest growing crime, prompted by the increasing willingness of victims to report rapes, although observers believed the number of rapes remained underreported. Law enforcement and legal recourse for rape victims was inadequate, overtaxed, and unable to address the problem effectively. Police officers sometimes worked to reconcile rape victims and their attackers, in some cases encouraging female rape victims to marry their attackers. NGO Lawyers Collective noted the length of trials, lack of victim support, and inadequate protection of witnesses and victims remained major concerns. Doctors continued to carry out the invasive “two-finger test” to speculate sexual history, despite the Supreme Court holding that that the test violates a victim’s right to privacy. In 2015 the government introduced new guidelines for health professionals for medical examinations of victims of sexual violence. It included provisions regarding consent of the victim during various stages of examination, which some NGOs claimed was an improvement to recording incidents. Some sources maintained that despite these directions, many medical professionals remained unaware of state guidelines for treating survivors of sexual violence.
Women in conflict areas, such as in Jammu and Kashmir, the northeast, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh, as well as vulnerable Dalit or tribal women, were often victims of rape or threats of rape. National crime statistics indicated Dalit women were disproportionately victimized compared with other caste affiliations.
The law provides for protection against some forms of abuse against women in the home, including verbal, emotional, and economic abuse, as well as the threat of abuse. The law recognizes the right of a woman to reside in a shared household with her spouse or partner while a dispute continues, although a woman may seek accommodations at the partner’s expense. Although the law also provides women with the right to police assistance, legal aid, shelter, and medical care, domestic abuse remained a serious problem. Lack of law enforcement safeguards and pervasive corruption limited the effectiveness of the law.
The Ministry of Women and Child Development promulgated guidelines for the establishment of social services for women, but due to lack of funding, personnel, and proper training, services were primarily available only in metropolitan areas. Some police officials, especially in smaller towns, were reluctant to register cases of crimes against women, especially against persons of influence.
On May 17, the Ministry of Women and Child Development unveiled the “National Policy for Women 2016,” a roadmap on women’s issues for government action over the next 15 to 20 years. Drafted after consultations with NGOs and civil society, the policy addresses cybercrime, maternity leave, nutrition, education, and a review of the criminalization of marital rape among other issues.
Domestic violence continued to be a problem, and the National Family Health Survey revealed more than 50 percent of women reported experiencing some form of violence in their home. Advocates reported many women refrained from reporting domestic abuses due to social pressures. According to some NGOs, the lack of consolidated data was a disadvantage in framing policies and taking appropriate action. Attitudes of law enforcement officials treating domestic violence as a “private matter” also remained a concern for NGOs.
Gender-based violence remained one of the key issues facing women in Jammu and Kashmir. According to the state’s Commission for Women, the number of incidents of crime against women registered an increase of about 11 percent in 2016 compared with 2015.
Crimes against women, including kidnapping, rape, dowry deaths, and domestic abuse, remained a significant problem. The NCRB noted underreporting of such crimes was likely. The NCRB estimated the conviction rate for crimes against women to be 19.6 percent. Acid attacks against women caused death and permanent disfigurement. According to the NCRB, the number of acid attack victims increased from 241 in 2014 to 305 in 2015, an increase of 27 percent.
Acid, commonly used as a household cleaner, was available at local markets. Despite a 2013 Supreme Court order regulating the sale of acid across the country, media reports indicated acid was easily available. In June 2015, pursuant to the Supreme Court directive, the Karnataka State Commission for Women increased compensation for acid and kerosene attack victims from 200,000 rupees ($3,000) to 300,000 rupees ($4,500). The sum awarded is irrespective of the degree of harm sustained. In April 2015 the Supreme Court directed all private hospitals to provide medical assistance to victims of acid attacks. During the year implementation of the policy began in Chennai.
In the first conviction for an acid attack in the country, on September 9, a special court convicted Ankur Panwar for a fatal acid attack of 23-year-old Preeti Rathi at a railway station in Mumbai in 2013. In July the central government launched a revised Central Victim Compensation Fund scheme to reduce disparities in compensation for victims of crime including rape, acid attacks, crime against children, and human trafficking across India. Started with a one-time grant of two billion rupees ($300 million) under the Nirbhaya Fund, the scheme will provide a minimum compensation of 300,000 rupees ($4,500) for acid attack victims. Compensation increases by 50 percent if the victim is less than 14.
Media reported rioters raped at least 10 women traveling on a national highway through Haryana on February 22. The alleged rapes occurred during a series of protests organized across Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Delhi by the Jat community demanding reservations in government jobs. After initially denying the allegations, the Haryana government acknowledged to the Punjab and Haryana High Court in August that state police investigations indicated rapes appeared to have occurred. Although the report of the government-appointed Special Investigating Team was presented to the court, the government counsel claimed no witnesses came forward to file complaints. He also informed the court the investigation continued and that five persons had been arrested in connection to the case.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): No national law addresses the practice of FGM/C. According to human rights groups and media reports, between 70 and 90 percent of Dawoodi Bohras, a population of approximately one million concentrated in Maharashtra and Gujarat, practiced various forms of FGM/C. On June 4, the Bohra spiritual head, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, for the first time spoke publicly about the practice of FGM/C as an “act of religious purity,” and a religious obligation for all women and girls in the community. Prior to this statement, local congregations had issued directives calling on their members to refrain from practicing FGM/C where the procedure is legally banned. On May 7, a rival claimant for the sect’s leadership, Syedna Taher Fakhruddin, issued a public statement condemning FGM/C as “an un-Islamic and horrific practice” that should only be allowed after a girl attained adulthood and of her free volition.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law forbids the provision or acceptance of a dowry, but families continued to offer and accept dowries, and dowry disputes remained a serious problem. The law also bans harassment in the form of dowry demands and empowers magistrates to issue protection orders. NCRB data showed authorities arrested 19,973 persons for dowry deaths in 2015.
“Sumangali schemes” affected an estimated 120,000 young women. These plans, named after the Tamil word for “happily married woman,” are a form of bonded labor in which young women or girls work to earn money for a dowry to be able to marry. The promised lump-sum compensation ranged from 80,000 to 100,000 rupees ($1,200 to $1,500), which was withheld until the end of three to five years of employment. Compensation, however, sometimes went partially or entirely unpaid. While in bonded labor, employers reportedly subjected women to serious workplace abuses, severe restrictions on freedom of movement and communication, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, sex trafficking, and murder. The majority of sumangali-bonded laborers came from the Scheduled Castes, and of those, employers subjected Dalits, the lowest-ranking Arunthathiyars, and migrants from northern India, to particular abuse. Authorities did not allow trade unions in sumangali factories, and some sumangali workers reportedly did not report abuses due to fear of retribution. A 2014 case study by NGO Vaan Muhil described health problems among workers and working conditions reportedly involving physical and sexual exploitation. In July the Madras High Court ordered the Tamil Nadu government to evaluate the legality of sumangali schemes.
Most states employed dowry prohibition officers, with the exception of Mizoram and Nagaland, states that do not have a tradition of dowry. The Dowry Prohibition Act does not apply to Jammu and Kashmir. A 2010 Supreme Court ruling makes it mandatory for all trial courts to charge defendants in dowry-death cases with murder.
So-called honor killings remained a problem, especially in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana. These states also had low female birth ratios due to gender-selective abortions. Some killings resulted from extrajudicial decisions by traditional community elders, such as “khap panchayats,” unelected caste-based village assemblies that have no legal standing. The NGO Center for Social Research conducted extensive awareness campaigns in several districts in Haryana and noted that khap panchayats had not publicly deliberated on the issue of honor killings during the year. In December Junior Home Minister Hansraj Ahir told lawmakers that police registered 251 cases of honor killing in 2015, compared with 28 in 2014 when the country began counting them separately from murder. The most common justification for the killings cited by the accused or by their relatives was that the victim married against her family’s wishes. Statistics for honor killings remained difficult to verify since many killings were either unreported or reported as natural deaths or suicides by family members.
There were reports women and girls in the “devadasi” system of symbolic marriages to Hindu deities were victims of rape or sexual abuse at the hands of priests and temple patrons--a form of sex trafficking. NGOs suggested families forced some SC girls into prostitution in temples to mitigate household financial burdens and the prospect of marriage dowries. Some states have laws to curb prostitution or sexual abuse of women and girls in temple service. Enforcement of these laws remained lax, and the problem was widespread. Some observers estimated more than 450,000 women and girls engaged in temple-related prostitution.
There was no federal law addressing accusations of witchcraft; however, authorities can use provisions under the penal code as an alternative for a victim accused of witchcraft. Bihar, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Assam, and Jharkhand have laws criminalizing those who accuse others of witchcraft. In August 2015 the Assam state legislature unanimously passed a law making “witch-hunting” a criminal offense. Most reports stated villagers and local council usually banned the accused from the village. The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry think tank reported many accusations and related violence have roots in property disputes and local politics.
According to a Partners for Law in Development on Contemporary Practices of Witch Hunting 2015 study, special laws against witch hunting were rarely, if at all, invoked in Chhattisgarh, Bihar, and Jharkhand, where the fieldwork for the study was undertaken. The study claimed action was more likely under the penal code when violence escalated and preventive action was unlikely.
More than a year after Rajasthan passed its 2015 Prevention of Witch Hunting Bill, victims were still awaiting justice. While official figures showed approximately 20 women were accused of witchcraft in Bhilwara, NGOs stated there were 61 cases of witch hunting between 1998 and 2016. Women were killed in three cases, and the accused were in jail briefly before they were granted bail. The NHRC issued a notice to the Rajasthan government regarding the plight of women accused of witchcraft in Rajasthan’s Bhilwara District.
Discrimination against widows occurred throughout the country. According to some cultural traditions, widows were inauspicious and sometimes cast out by their own families. Many widows became destitute and resorted to begging for survival.
Sexual Harassment: Authorities required all state departments and institutions with more than 50 employees to operate committees to prevent and address sexual harassment, often referred to as “Eve teasing.” By law sexual harassment includes one or more unwelcome acts or behavior, such as physical contact, a request for sexual favors, making sexually suggestive remarks, or showing pornography. Employers who fail to establish complaint committees faced fines of up to 50,000 rupees ($750). The law also includes penalties for false or malicious charges.
Reproductive Rights: Lack of access to quality reproductive and maternal health care services, skilled attendants at birth, contraception to space pregnancies, and unsafe abortion continued to contribute to high rates of maternal mortality. According to UN estimates, the maternal mortality ratio was 174 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015. A woman’s lifetime risk of maternal death was one in 220, and 45,000 women died during pregnancy and childbirth. The 2010-12 Sample Registration Report of the registrar general, released in 2013, showed during three years Assam’s maternal mortality rate was the highest in the country at 300, followed by Uttar Pradesh/Uttarakhand at 285. Kerala at 66, Maharashtra at 68, and Tamil Nadu at 79 had the lowest rates. Maternal mortality rates were difficult to calculate in many northeast states, which suffered from inadequate infrastructure and insufficiently trained medical staff.
According to the law, contraceptive information and services must be available, accessible, acceptable, and of reliable quality. Official policy promotes the right of a woman to access contraceptive information and services; however, there were often limited resources available. UN research in 2015 indicated 13 percent of married women between the ages of 15 and 49 did not wish to have additional children or wished to space births but could not access contraception.
Some women reportedly were pressured to have tubal ligations, hysterectomies, or other forms of sterilization because of the payment structures for health workers and insurance payments for private facilities. This pressure appeared to affect disproportionately poor and lower-caste women. In September the Supreme Court ordered the closure of all sterilization camps within three years, citing concerns regarding unsafe and unsanitary conditions that resulted in high rates of illness and mortality.
Although the government achieved a significant increase in institutional births, there were reports health facilities continued to be overburdened, underequipped, and undersupplied, in addition to demonstrating substandard regard for hygiene and patient dignity.
In community health centers, 70 percent of gynecologist positions remained unfilled, according to a 2012 report by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on rural health statistics. Only 13 percent of the centers had the requisite number of specialists. Poor health infrastructure disproportionately affected marginalized women, including homeless, Dalit and tribal women, those working on tea estates or in the informal labor sector, and women with disabilities.
The government permitted health clinics and local NGOs to operate freely in disseminating information about family planning. The country continued nevertheless to have unmet needs for contraception, deaths related to unsafe abortion, maternal mortality, and coercive family planning practices, including coerced or unethical sterilization and policies restricting access to entitlements for women with more than two children. Policies and guideline initiatives penalizing families with more than two children remained in place in seven states, but some authorities did not enforce them. Certain states maintained government reservations for government jobs and subsidies for adults with no more than two children and reduced subsidies and access to health care for those who have more than two.
Rajasthan, one of 11 states to adopt a two-child limit for elected officials at the local level, was the first to adopt the law in 1992. Despite efforts at the state level to reverse or amend the law, it remained unchanged during the year. Originally seen as a targeted way to reduce family size, a 2015 study by Ideas for India indicated the law resulted in reduced birthrates but had a negative impact on the male to female sex ratio.
Government efforts to reduce the fertility rate were occasionally coercive during the year. Authorities in some areas paid health workers and facilities in some areas a fixed amount for each sterilization procedure and reviewed them against quotas for female sterilizations. In some states authorities threatened health workers with pay cuts or dismissal for failing to meet quotas. Some reports described a “sterilization season,” in which health-care workers pressed to reach quotas for sterilizations before the end of the fiscal year on March 31. Some doctors reportedly withheld health services unless a woman agreed to sterilization.
Women reportedly were more likely to be sterilized after they had given birth to at least one son.
Although national health officials noted the central government did not have the authority to regulate state decisions on population issues, the central government creates guidelines and funds state level reproductive health programs. A 2005 Supreme Court decision deemed the national government responsible for providing quality care for sterilization services at the state level. Almost all states also introduced “girl child promotion” schemes, intended to counter sex selection, some of which required a certificate of sterilization for the parents to collect benefits. Administrative hurdles and high demands for documentation reportedly made these schemes inaccessible to many marginalized families.
According to a 2013 National Health Survey, health workers had sterilized more than one in three women between the ages of 15 and 45. One in two women over the age of 35 was sterilized. Most sterilizations were performed on women when they were between the ages of 20 and 35, but one out of every hundred teenage girls was also sterilized. According to the same survey, on average three women died every week from botched sterilizations. The government has aggressively promoted female sterilization as a form of family planning for decades and, as a result, female sterilization comprised 63 percent of all contraceptive use in the country. The HRLN filed more than a dozen complaints regarding the government’s failure to provide counseling and information on the Family Planning Indemnity Scheme on behalf of women who received failed sterilizations or died in the government health camps.
There were no formal restrictions on the right to access contraceptives, but the government sometimes promoted permanent female sterilization to the exclusion of alternate forms of contraception. Repeated studies by the government and NGOs suggested most women had little familiarity with nonpermanent forms of contraceptives offered through the public health system, such as birth control pills, intrauterine devices, and condoms. The highest unmet need for contraceptives reportedly was among women with one child who wanted to delay a second pregnancy. Reports from NGOs claimed pharmacists across the country, especially in Maharashtra, limited women’s access to legal over-the-counter emergency contraceptive pills and to legal medical termination prescription drugs.
Discrimination: The law prohibits discrimination in the workplace and requires equal pay for equal work, but employers sometimes paid women less than men for the same job, discriminated against women in employment and credit applications, and promoted women less frequently than men.
Many tribal land systems, including in Bihar, deny tribal women the right to own land. Muslim personal law traditionally governs land inheritance for Muslim women, allotting them less than allotted to men. Other laws relating to the ownership of assets and land accord women little control over land use, retention, or sale. Several exceptions existed, such as in Kerala, Ladakh District, Meghalaya, and Himachal Pradesh, where women control family property and have inheritance rights.
In January the Bihar government approved a 35 percent quota for women in state government jobs at all levels.
Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to the latest census (2011), the national average male-female sex ratio at birth was 1,000 to 943. In 2011 the national child sex ratio, covering children between ages zero and six, was 1,000 boys to 918 girls. The state of Kerala had the lowest male-female sex ratio at birth at 1,000 to 1,084, and the state of Haryana had the highest ratio, at 1,000 to 877. A 2002 law prohibits prenatal sex selection, but authorities rarely enforced it. When state governments obtained convictions, doctors did not always lose their professional license, although the Medical Council in 2015 canceled the license to practice medicine of six doctors from Maharashtra convicted under the law.
In October 2015 the Delhi government issued “show-cause” notices to 89 hospitals and diagnostic centers with sex ratios at birth significantly lower than the state average. The average sex ratio in Delhi is 896 females for every 1,000 males. Based on the results of a survey conducted by the Delhi Health Ministry, these 89 institutions exposed sex ratios ranged from 285 to 788 live female births for every 1,000 male births.
Numerous NGOs throughout the country and some states attempted to increase awareness of the problem of prenatal sex selection, promote female births, and prevent female infanticide and abandonment.