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.
Birth Registration: The law establishes state government procedures for birth registration. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimated authorities registered 58 percent of national births each year. Children lacking citizenship or registration may not be able to access public services, enroll in school, or obtain identification documents later in life.
Education: The constitution provides for free education for all children from ages six to 14, but the government did not always comply with this requirement. The NGO Pratham’s 2013 Annual Survey of Education claimed only 70 percent of girls enrolled in primary school actually attended classes in 2013. The same report noted in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Manipur, West Bengal, Jharkhand, and Madhya Pradesh, attendance was less than 60 percent. Girls between ages 11 and 14 were most frequently not enrolled.
There were numerous reports of schools refusing admission to underprivileged students.
Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse, but it does not recognize physical abuse by caregivers, neglect, or psychological abuse as punishable offenses. All types of abuse remained common, including in school and institutional settings. The government often failed to educate the public adequately against child abuse or to enforce the law. Although banned, teachers often used corporal punishment.
According to the NGO Global Perspectives’ August 2015 report, the number of abused children in the country was 200,000. In a 2014 study published by the Journal of Anxiety Disorders on 702 adolescents from Jammu and Kashmir between the ages of 13 to 17 years, boys reported a higher rate of sexual abuse than dido girls (57 percent compared with 35 percent).
The government sponsored a toll-free 24-hour helpline for children in distress working with 640 partners in 402 locations. A network of NGOs staffed the “Childline 1098 Service” number, accessible by either a child or an adult to request immediate assistance, including medical care, shelter, restoration, rescue, sponsorship, and counseling.
On August 26, the Ministry of Women and Child Development launched an “e-box” for online and confidential registration of child sexual abuse complaints. The Minister of Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi stated victims generally do not report offenses since the offenders are often family members, relatives, or acquaintances. The e-box is hosted on the home page of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights.
Early and Forced Marriage: The law sets the legal age of marriage for women at 18 and men at 21, and it empowers courts to annul child marriages. It also sets penalties for persons who perform, arrange, or participate in such marriages. NGOs assess that reporting of early and forced marriage remains low. Authorities did not consistently enforce the law nor address rape of girls forced into marriage. Some religiously based personal laws allow marriages at an age earlier than the general law. The law does not characterize a marriage between a girl below age 18 and a boy below age 21 as “illegal,” but it recognizes such unions as voidable, providing grounds for challenging them in court. Only the party who was a minor at the time of marriage may seek nullification. If the party is still a minor, his or her guardian must file a petition for nullification. A party may also file upon becoming an adult but must do so within two years. According to international and local NGOs, these limitations effectively left married minors with no legal remedy in most situations.
The law establishes a full-time child-marriage prohibition officer in every state to prevent and police child marriage. These individuals have the power to intervene when a child marriage is taking place, document violations of the law, file charges against parents, remove children from dangerous situations, and deliver them to local child-protection authorities.
UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2016 report noted between 2008 and 2014, 47 percent of girls married before age 18, and 18 percent were married before the age of 15. According to the report, women married as children contributed to the country’s high infant and maternal mortality rates, and observers estimated early motherhood contributed to the deaths of 6,000 adolescent mothers each year. The most recent National Family Health Survey, conducted in 2005-2006, showed one in six girls between the ages of 15 and 19 had become pregnant at least once.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): See information in the women’s section above.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits child pornography and sets the legal age of consent at 18. It is illegal to pay for sex with a minor, to induce a minor into prostitution or any form of “illicit sexual intercourse,” or to sell or buy a minor for the purposes of prostitution. Violators are subject to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine.
NGOs reported children under age 18 forced into prostitution in red-light districts in major cities. Child trafficking for sexual exploitation frequently occurred in urban and rural areas. The Ministry of Home Affairs stated criminals subjected significant numbers of missing children to trafficking after the children ran away from home.
Special Courts to try child sexual abuse cases under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act, 2012 existed in all six Delhi courts. Civil society groups observed, however, that large caseloads severely limited judges’ abilities to take on cases in a timely manner. Hearings were regularly adjourned with long delays between hearing dates, sometimes as long as nine months.
In March NGO Gopabandhu Seva Parishad, which worked in an urban slum in Puri, Odisha, stated that child sex tourism continued to flourish in tourist areas. They claimed boys between eight and 13 years of age were more vulnerable to sexual abuse than girls. The NGO recorded 106 cases of abuse during their interaction with the local community between 2013 and 2015.
On November 5, the Maharashtra state government shut down a government-run residential school for tribal children in Buldhana District after media reported at least two girls were raped at the school. The government suspended the school’s entire teaching and administrative staff, and police arrested 15 persons including school officials, teachers, and a former village council chief.
Child Soldiers: No information was available on how many persons under age 18 were serving in the armed forces. NGO estimated there were at least 2,500 children associated with insurgent armed groups in Maoist-affected areas. There were allegations government-supported, anti-Maoist village defense forces recruited children. Armed insurgent groups, including Maoists in the northeast states and Islamist groups in Jammu and Kashmir reportedly used children (see section 1.g.).
Displaced Children: Displaced children, including refugees, IDPs, and street children, faced restrictions on access to government services (see also section 2.d.) and were often unable to obtain medical care, education, proper nutrition, or shelter. Employers often abused such children physically and sexually and forced them to work in hazardous jobs, such as rag picking (sorting garbage for recyclables).
Institutionalized Children: Lax law enforcement and a lack of safeguards encouraged an atmosphere of impunity in a number of group homes and orphanages. NGOs alleged many such homes for children operated without government oversight or approval. Only 14 states had commissions for the protection of child rights, as mandated by law. On April 15, video footage from closed circuit cameras installed in a government-run childcare center in Karimnagar, Telangana, showed two women caretakers branding three children with a hot spoon as punishment for not eating food. District authorities suspended three caretakers, and police later arrested the two main accused. The children were relocated to another home for medical treatment and care.
The Calcutta Research Group reported police separated families detained at the India-Bangladesh border in the state of West Bengal by institutionalizing children in Juvenile Justice Homes with limited and restricted access to their families.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
Jewish groups from the 4,650-member Jewish community cited no reports of anti-Semitic acts during the year. In May Minister of State for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi told members of parliament the central government did not have a timeline for declaring Jews as a minority community. In June Maharashtra became the second state in the country to grant minority status to the Jewish community, which ensures Jews are separately counted by the census.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution does not explicitly mention disability as a prohibited ground for discrimination. The Persons with Disabilities Act provides equal rights for persons with a variety of disabilities, including blindness, hearing disability, Hansen’s disease (leprosy), mobility disability, developmental disability, and mental disability. The law links implementation of programs to the “economic capacity and development” of the government. The act encourages governmental authorities to promote access, but it includes no specific enforcement provisions or sanctions for noncompliance.
According to the director of the National Center for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People, the law regards persons with disabilities as requiring social protection and medical care, rather than as possessing inherent rights as persons with disabilities.
Discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, and access to health care was more pervasive in rural areas. The Kolkata High Court passed an order in 2013 mandating the state government to provide accessibility to roads and buildings. Despite legislation that all public buildings and transport be accessible to persons with disabilities, there was limited accessibility. A Public Interest File was pending in the Supreme Court on accessibility to buildings and roads.
A Department of School Education and Literacy program provided special educators and resource centers for students with disabilities. There was no data available on whether these students remained within the education system or if the system denied any individualized supports needed for their education. The law allows mainstream schools to admit children with disabilities, but mainstream schools remained inadequately equipped with teachers trained in inclusive education, resource material, and appropriate curricula.
In April, 11 residents with disabilities, including at least seven children, died at a government-run rehabilitation institute near Jaipur, Rajasthan, allegedly after drinking contaminated water. The NHRC issued notices to the Rajasthan government for failure to maintain the facility.
The law also reserves 3 percent of all educational places for persons with disabilities, although students with disabilities comprised only an estimated 1 percent of all students, according to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.
Some schools continued to segregate children with disabilities or deny them enrollment due to lack of infrastructure, equipment, and trained staff. The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment continued to offer scholarships to persons with disabilities to pursue higher education. University enrollment of students with disabilities remained low for several reasons, including inaccessible infrastructure, limited resources, nonimplementation of the 3 percent job reservation, and harassment.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare estimated 6 to 7 percent of the population experienced a mental or psychosocial disability. Of the individuals with mental disabilities, 25 percent were homeless, and many in rural areas did not have access to modern mental health-care facilities. Disability rights activists estimated there were 40 to 90 million persons with disabilities. There were three mental-health institutions run by the federal government and 40 state-operated mental hospitals. According to the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities’ 2016 annual report and 2011 Census data, 49.5 percent of persons with disabilities were issued disability certificates until August 2015.
Patients in some mental-health institutions faced food shortages, inadequate sanitary conditions, and lack of adequate medical care. Human Rights Watch reported women and girls with disabilities occasionally were forced into mental hospitals against their will.
On August 18, the NHRC issued notice to the government of West Bengal over alleged hazardous conditions of 430 residents at the Berhampore Mental Hospital. The commission took into account an NGO’s report that men and women with mental disabilities had not bathed or shaved for months and were lying without clothing on unsanitary floors. The NHRC sought a status report on all mental hospitals run by the state from the special rapporteur and chief secretary.
Most persons with mental disabilities depended on public health-care facilities, and fewer than half who required treatment or community support services received such assistance.
Persons with disabilities reported cases of discrimination by the Central Industrial Security Forces in airports despite framed guidelines providing for no discrimination based on disability in air travel.
The law reserves 3 percent of public-sector jobs for persons with physical, hearing, or vision disabilities. On June 30, the Supreme Court decided the implementation of policies granting rights to persons with disabilities remained inadequate and overruled the central government’s prior orders restricting reservation of jobs for persons with disabilities to the higher echelons of government service. The court directed the government to extend the 3 percent reservation to all government posts. In August Personnel, Public Grievances, and Pensions Minister of State Jitendra Singh informed members of parliament that a special government recruitment drive for persons with disabilities was launched in May 2015, resulting in the recruitment of 12,377 positions for 15,831 identified vacancies. Data on representation of persons with disabilities in different departments and ministries indicated an increase from 7,368 employees across 78 departments of the central government in January 2012 to 20,520 employees in 58 departments and ministries in January 2015.
The government continued to allocate funds to programs and NGO partners to increase the number of jobs filled. Private-sector employment of persons with disabilities remained low, despite governmental incentives that private companies establish a workforce of more than 5 percent with persons with disabilities.
In February advocacy groups organized a protest in Chennai against the inclusion of the term “destitute” in Tamil Nadu’s “Destitute Differently Abled Pension Scheme” and demanded less stringent conditions for pension eligibility. According to civil society, hundreds of protesters, including many with physical disabilities, were taken into custody on February 17 and held in a stadium that lacked accessible facilities. Police released the protesters, but hundreds chose to remain. On February 22, the Tamil Nadu Social Welfare and Nutritious Meal Program Department changed the eligibility criteria and removed “destitute” from the act’s name.
The national census categorized the population by language spoken, not by racial or ethnic groups. Traditionally, large segments of society are organized into castes or clans. Caste is a complex social hierarchy system that traditionally determines ritual purity and occupation. The constitution in 1949 prohibits caste discrimination. The registration of castes and tribes continued for the purpose of affirmative action programs, as the government implemented programs to empower members of the low castes. The law gives the president authority to identify disadvantaged castes and tribes for special quotas and benefits. Discrimination based on caste remained prevalent particularly in rural areas. According to a 2014 survey by the Indian National Council of Applied Economic Research and the University of Maryland, 27 percent of Indian households practice caste-based untouchability, with the highest untouchability practices found in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh.
The term “Dalit,” derived from the Sanskrit for “oppressed” or “crushed,” refers to members of what society regarded as the lowest Hindu castes, the Scheduled Castes (SC). Many SC members continued to face impediments to the means of social advancement, including education, jobs, access to justice, freedom of movement, and access to institutions and services. According to the 2011 census, SC members constituted 17 percent (approximately 200 million persons) of the population.
Although the law protects Dalits, there were numerous reports of violence and significant discrimination in access to services, such as health care, education, temple attendance, and marriage. Many Dalits were malnourished. Most bonded laborers were Dalits. Dalits who asserted their rights were often victims of attacks, especially in rural areas. As agricultural laborers for higher-caste landowners, Dalits reportedly often worked without monetary remuneration. Reports from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination described systematic abuse of Dalits, including extrajudicial killings and sexual violence against Dalit women. Crimes committed against Dalits reportedly often went unpunished, either because authorities failed to prosecute perpetrators or because victims did not report crimes due to fear of retaliation.
NGOs reported widespread discrimination, including prohibiting Dalits from walking on public pathways, wearing footwear, accessing water from public taps in upper-caste neighborhoods, participating in some temple festivals, bathing in public pools, or using certain cremation grounds. In Gujarat, for example, Dalits were reportedly denied entry to temples and denied educational and employment opportunities. In Odisha, on June 3, a mob of upper-caste individuals allegedly burned 11 Dalit homes. A human rights NGO stated in a report that the arson occurred due to a dispute in February over the alleged caricaturing of Dalits by upper-caste villagers in a play. The NGO alleged the Dalit families faced a boycott and were denied access to shops and sources of potable water. Police lodged an FIR against 19 persons under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, but no arrests were made.
NGOs reported that Dalit students were sometimes denied admission to certain schools because of their caste or were required to present caste certification prior to admission. There were reports that school officials barred Dalit children from morning prayers, asked Dalit children to sit in the back of the class, or forced them to clean school toilets while denying them access to the same facilities. There were also reports that teachers refused to correct the homework of Dalit children, refused to provide midday meals to Dalit children, and asked Dalit children to sit separately from children of upper-caste families. In April Social Justice and Empowerment Minister of State Vijay Sampla told members of parliament the government did not have data regarding atrocities against Dalits in educational institutions.
On January 17, a University of Hyderabad doctoral Dalit student Rohith Vemula committed suicide after he and four others were suspended for allegedly beating another student. Vemula’s suicide sparked nationwide protests by students and activists calling for reforms in higher education to bar caste-based discrimination. The Human Resource Development ministry constituted a fact-finding committee, which acknowledged “the feeling of deprivation and discrimination among students from the socially and economically weaker sections” on the campus.
The federal and state governments continued to implement programs for SC members to provide better-quality housing, reserved seats in schools, government jobs, and access to subsidized foods, but critics claimed many of these programs suffered from poor implementation and/or corruption.
Manual scavenging–the removal of animal or human waste by Dalits–continued in spite of its legal prohibition. NGO activists claimed elected village councils employed a majority of manual scavengers that belonged to Other Backward Classes and Dalit populations. Media regularly published articles and pictures of persons cleaning manholes and sewers without protective gear. According to a March report from the UN special rapporteur on minority issues, local governments and municipalities continue to employ manual scavengers despite a legislative prohibition. Officials countered the special rapporteur had exceeded her mandate, which was to promote the human rights of persons belonging to “national, or ethnic, religious minorities,” and therefore inapplicable to caste groups.
Human Rights Watch reported that children of manual scavengers faced discrimination, humiliation, and segregation at village schools. Their occupation often exposed manual scavengers to infections that affected their skin, eyes, respiratory, and gastrointestinal systems. Health practitioners suggested children exposed to such bacteria were often unable to maintain a healthy body weight and suffered from stunted growth.
The law prohibits the employment of scavengers or the construction of dry (nonflush) latrines, and penalties range from imprisonment for up to one year, a fine of 2,000 rupees ($30), or both. Nonetheless, Indian Railways acknowledged that it fitted approximately 30,000 passenger coaches with open-discharge toilets, “forcing” the railways to employ manual scavengers to clean the tracks. The railways proposed to install sealed toilet systems but without a fixed timeline for implementation.
In March media reported hundreds of Dalit bonded laborers protested caste discrimination outside the Uttarakhand Assembly and State Human Rights Commission. The protesters had reportedly fled their homes after decades of alleged oppression. The protesters petitioned the commission to take punitive action against state revenue police for alleged harassment and failure to register their complaints.
There were more than 50,000 Indian citizens of African descent, or “Siddis,” mostly descendants of Bantu people from East Africa brought to India as slaves from the eighth to nineteenth centuries. Residing primarily in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, and Gujarat, Siddis were classified as “Scheduled Tribes” in 2003, but remained one of the poorest, most isolated, and economically disadvantaged groups in the country according to NGOs, which observe that Siddis continued to face widespread racial discrimination outside their communities.
Incidents of attacks against African nationals were reported during the year. On January 31, a Sudanese national allegedly drove his car over a 35-year-old Indian woman, killing her. A neighborhood mob set the car on fire as the suspect fled. The mob then pulled a Tanzanian woman from her car as she and two other students drove by the scene. She was chased, stripped, and sexually assaulted. The Tanzanian High Commission registered a complaint prompting External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Karnataka Chief Minister K. Siddaramaiah to launch an investigation. The Ministries of External Affairs and of Home Affairs launched racism sensitization programs in neighborhoods focused on neighborhoods where people of African origin reside.
The constitution provides for the social, economic, and political rights of disadvantaged groups of indigenous people. The law provides special status for indigenous people, but authorities often denied them their rights. There were more than 700 Scheduled Tribes (STs) in the country, and the 2011 census revealed the population of ST members as 84.3 million, approximately 8 percent of the total population. In 2011 a pilot survey to identify households below the poverty line found that ST and SC members constituted half the total of poor households. There were 75 particularly vulnerable tribal groups, characterized by primitive technology, stagnant or declining population, extremely low literacy, and a subsistence-level economy.
In most of the northeastern states, where indigenous groups constituted the majority of the states’ populations, laws provide for tribal rights, although some local authorities disregarded these provisions. The laws prohibit any nontribal person, including citizens from other states, from crossing a government-established inner boundary without a valid permit. No one can remove rubber, wax, ivory, or other forest products from protected areas without authorization. Tribal authorities must approve the sale of land to nontribal persons.
There were reports that tribal women employed as domestic workers often were neither properly paid nor protected from sexual exploitation. Encroachment on tribal lands continued in almost every state, despite efforts to combat the practice, since businesses and private parties continued to exert political pressure against local governments. Those displaced by the encroachments typically did not receive appropriate compensation.
Tribal movements demanded the protection of tribal land and property. Local activists claimed that authorities continued to ignore the rights of tribal and rural groups under the Forest Act. Weak enforcement of the act often circumvented the free and informed consent of tribal and rural groups prior to development.
Local villagers, many of whom are members of STs and oppose iron ore mining in insurgency-hit Kanker District in southern Chattisgarh, said there was an increased presence of paramilitary personnel from the Border Security Force. Villagers who protested the use of forest land for mining complained of arbitrary detentions, arrests, and false charges of linkages with Maoist (Naxalite) insurgents.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law criminalizes homosexual sex. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons faced physical attacks, rape, and blackmail. Some police committed crimes against LGBTI persons and used the threat of arrest to coerce victims not to report the incidents. Several states, with the aid of NGOs, offered education and sensitivity training to police.
LGBTI groups reported they faced widespread societal discrimination and violence, particularly in rural areas. Activists reported that transgender persons, who were HIV positive, continued to face difficulty obtaining medical treatment. Advocacy organizations, such as the Mission for Indian Gay and Lesbian Empowerment, documented workplace discrimination against LGBTI persons, including slurs and unjustified dismissals. In June NGO MINGLE released results of its survey of LGBTI employees from the information technology, banking, and manufacturing sectors on workplace climate, which showed that 40 percent of LGBTI persons faced some form of harassment.
In January 2015 a high court dismissed petitions challenging the 2013 Supreme Court judgment reinstating a colonial-era penal code provision criminalizing homosexual sex. The Supreme Court ruled that only parliament may change Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, the law that bans consensual same-sex sexual activity. Media, activists, prominent individuals, and some government officials strongly criticized the ruling. In June the Supreme Court refused to hear a petition challenging Section 377, and petitioners were asked to apply to the chief justice of India, who was hearing a separate case to strike down the ban.
In March 2015 Tamil Nadu Uniformed Services Recruitment Board rejected K. Prathika Yashini’s application because her name did not match her birth name, “K. Pradeep Kumar.” Yashini previously changed her name with all government agencies after undergoing gender reassignment surgery. Yashini successfully sued in Madras High Court for permission to take a written examination for the police force. Yashini received appointment orders in February. Media reported that Tamil Nadu police offered positions to 21 other transgender persons.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
The number of new HIV cases decreased by 57 percent over the past decade. Of the estimated 2.09 million citizens infected with HIV, 39 percent were women and 7 percent were children under 15 years. Despite significant progress over the past 10 years, the epidemic persisted among the most vulnerable populations: high-risk groups, which include female sex workers; men who have sex with men; transgender persons; and persons who inject drugs.
The country has punitive laws criminalizing sex work. While the government focused on high-risk groups, civil society organizations committed to HIV work raised concern when the Supreme Court failed to overturn a section of the penal code that criminalizes same-gender sex acts. Additionally, antiretroviral drug stock outages in a few states led to treatment interruption.
The National AIDS Control Program prioritized HIV prevention, care, and treatment interventions for high-risk groups and rights of People Living with HIV. The program addressed stigma and discrimination by training health workers; mainstreaming the HIV response across the government; and promoting campaigns in health, work, and community settings to inform people with HIV/AIDS and high-risk groups of their rights and available services and to engage them in planning, monitoring, and evaluating HIV programs.
HIV/AIDS infection rates for women were highest in urban communities, while care was reportedly least available in rural areas. Early marriage, limited access to information and education, and limited access to health services, continued to leave women especially vulnerable to infection. The National AIDS Control Organization worked actively with NGOs to train women’s HIV/AIDS self-help groups.
Police engaged in programs to strengthen their role in protecting communities vulnerable to human rights violations and HIV. Similarly, social protection initiatives integrated with an AIDS response showed risk reduction and improved health-seeking behavior, including uptake of and adherence to HIV treatment.
On June 24, a child rights activist complained to district officials in Kendrapara, Odisha that a central government-run residential school did not allow a 13-year-old girl suffering from HIV/AIDS to stay in the school hostel after objections from the parents of other students. The activist contended that although the school eventually permitted her to continue with her education, the principal’s action violated the student’s right to privacy and dignity.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Societal violence based on religion and caste and by religiously associated groups continued to be a concern.
According to media reports, on July 11, seven Dalit men were reportedly stripped and publicly beaten by a Hindu mob for skinning dead cows. Police arrested 35 persons for the attack and suspended four police officers for negligence. Similarly, on July 26, a video uploaded by an eyewitness purportedly showed cow protection vigilantes beating two Muslim women outside a railway station in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh, as police watched from a distance. The police reportedly later arrested the women for beef possession. Although the meat was later determined to be buffalo, a local court charged the women with unlawful possession of meat and released them on bail on June 27. Police later arrested the two men accused of assaulting the women.
Ministry of Home Affairs data showed 751 incidents of communal violence took place, which killed 97 persons and injured 2,264.
On July 30, members of a right-wing Hindu group were charged with trespassing at the St. Thomas Aided Higher Primary School near Mangaluru and disrupting an Arabic class. The individuals reportedly accused the teacher of spreading extremism and seized textbooks from the children. The school suspended Urdu and Arabic classes after threats of further protests.
On June 28, Madurai-based NGO Evidence reported that some police personnel harassed and threatened its staff after the organization agreed to support the marriage of an inter-caste couple.
Civil society activists continued to express concern concerning the Gujarat government’s failure to hold accountable those responsible for the 2002 communal violence in Gujarat that resulted in the deaths of more than 1,200 persons, the majority of whom were Muslim.
On July 27, the Gujarat High court sentenced seven individuals to life imprisonment for killing three Muslims near a railway crossing in Viramgam, during the 2002 Gujarat communal violence. Life terms were also upheld for two persons previously convicted. The trial court previously found four guilty of lesser offenses and acquitted three of the accused.
On August 4, the Gujarat High Court sentenced to life imprisonment 11 of the 27 accused of burning a father and his daughter to death in Mehsana in 2002, during the communal riots. The Mehsana Fast Track Court had previously acquitted all 27 accused in 2005. The defense lawyer for the convicted stated that four of the 11 were still missing when the court ordered them to surrender within 10 weeks.