Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape in most cases, although marital rape is not illegal when the woman is over the age of 15. Official statistics pointed to rape as the country’s fastest growing crime, prompted at least in part by the increasing willingness of victims to report rapes, although observers believed the number of rapes still remained vastly underreported.
Law enforcement and legal recourse for rape victims were 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 on sexual history, despite the Supreme Court’s holding that the test violated 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.
Women in conflict areas, such as in the state of 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.
Domestic violence continued to be a problem. Acid attacks against women caused death and permanent disfigurement. During the year Chhattisgarh became the first state to establish one-stop crisis centers for women in distress, called “Sakhi centers,” in all its 27 districts, supported with federal funds from the Ministry of Women and Child Development. These centers provide medical, legal, counseling, and shelter services for women facing various types of violence, but primarily domestic violence related to dowry disputes and sexual violence.
The NCRB estimated the conviction rate for crimes against women to be 18.9 percent.
In 2015 the Supreme Court directed all private hospitals to provide medical assistance to victims of acid attacks. Implementation of the policy began in Chennai in 2016. In April the government announced that acid attack victims were to be included in the provisions of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016.
In July 2016 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.
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, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Delhi, practiced FGM/C.
On June 26, the Supreme Court sought responses from the national government and the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Delhi following a public interest litigation (PIL) petition seeking a ban on FGM/C. In May national Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi said FGM/C should be a criminal offense.
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. 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 ($1,300 to $1,600), which is normally 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 being killed. The majority of sumangali-bonded laborers came from the Scheduled Castes (SC) and, of those, employers subjected Dalits, the lowest-ranking Arunthathiyars, and migrants from the northern part of the country, 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 2016 the Madras High Court ordered the Tamil Nadu government to evaluate the legality of sumangali schemes. It is unclear whether the state has complied with the court order.
Most states employed dowry prohibition officers. 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. On August 21, the Supreme Court sought suggestions from NGO Shakti Vahini and khap panchayats on ways to prevent harassment and killings of young couples in the name of family honor. 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.
In a case of suspected honor killing in Telangana, police found a lower-caste Dalit man M. Madhukar dead from injuries on March 13. Dalit rights organizations rejected the police contention that it was a case of suicide and asserted the family members of an upper-caste girl were involved in his death. On April 6, the Hyderabad High Court ordered another autopsy on the body following protests and allegations that a local member of parliament was involved in a cover-up operation. There were no updates to the case at year’s end.
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 may use other legal provisions 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. Most reports stated villagers and local councils usually banned those accused of witchcraft from the village.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment remains a serious problem. 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.”
Coercion in Population Control: There were reports of coerced and involuntary sterilization.
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 2016 the Supreme Court ordered the closure of all sterilization camps within three years.
The country continued to have 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. According to NGO Lawyers Collective, such policies often induced families to carry out sex-selection for the second birth to assure they have at least one son, without sacrificing future eligibility for political office.
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 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.
The government has promoted female sterilization as a form of family planning for decades and, as a result, female sterilization made up 86 percent of all contraceptive use in the country. Despite recent efforts to expand the range of contraceptive choices, the government sometimes promoted permanent female sterilization to the exclusion of alternate forms of contraception.
Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/.
Discrimination: The law prohibits discrimination in the workplace and requires equal pay for equal work, but employers often 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.
In January 2016 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. The law prohibits prenatal sex selection, but authorities rarely enforced it.