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Wednesday, 3 April 20130 comments

Santi Sharma, Ranipool Bazar

The Constitution of India, under Article 14, guarantees “equality before the law” and “equal protection of the laws”. It empowers the State to take affirmative measure for women under Article 15 (3). All gender specific laws find their genesis under this clause. Further, Article 21 guarantees the right to life to every citizen, which includes a life with dignity and without violence. And even the Directive Principles of State Policy, under Article 39 enjoin the State to provide adequate means of livelihood for men and women, equal pay for equal work for both men and women, and ensure just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief for women. But the question which arises in the mind of each and every woman residing in Sikkim is : Are we really safe in our state? Is the government able to curb and control crimes against women? Is Sikkim, a state with a not-so-high population, successful in providing confidence and trust to its women?

The news reported by Himalayan Mirror on 24th Dec, 2012 shows that there was 100% increase in the cases of rape till October, 2012. The number of cases doubled to 32 in 2012 from 16 in the preceding year. 2012 witnessed the highest number of rape cases in last 11 years. These cases were reported only from three districts of Sikkim, North district being the exception. As per the National Crime Records Bureau data, every 22 minutes, one woman gets raped in India. The crime is more likely to be committed by the people known to the victim, including relatives and family members. On top of that, most of the victims are poor, implying that poor women are least able to defend themselves and find it tougher to sustain the prolonged legal fight for justice.

More shockingly, more and more cases of rapes against minor girls are being reported in the last few years. This points towards a weakening law and order situation in the State. What further complicates the situation is that young boys are increasingly committing such type of heinous crimes. This is because of an inefficient and ignorant juvenile justice system. What is the Government doing during the assembly sessions? Is it not bothered about tackling the crimes that are happening on a very large scale leading to the vulnerable condition of every woman living here? Why is the state law and order machinery maintaining its silence and not asking for the formation of new laws that will help in speedy trials and a better justice delivery system for the victims?

Further, according to the National Family Health Survey, the prevalence of Domestic Violence in Sikkim is between 11-20%. Though this rate in itself is a matter of concern, this may just be the tip of an iceberg. Most instances of domestic violence go unreported because of reasons such as family’s privacy, fear and economic dependence of women on their husbands. Even when a woman gathers enough courage to report the matter, the policemen are usually insensitive towards such matters and do not take them seriously. This leads to weak investigation and the offender goes unpunished, confirming women’s belief that they cannot get justice in such cases. A vicious circle is thus generated, leading to further underreporting and continued violence against women.

However, the most unsettling thing happening in our society is the  growing prostitution and the rising AIDS- affected population. A local NGO working for this issue reported that “Flesh trade in Gangtok or nearby Singtam in Sikkim is still rampant. Sex workers here do not have a fixed place of business, and they meet their clients outside at varied places. These types of sex workers are called Flying Sex Workers (FSW). It is estimated that there are more than five hundred FSWs in Sikkim and they work in different places in a discreet fashion. Most of these women are school-drop outs and do not possess ample knowledge about STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections). Moreover, there are very few prominent organizations in Gangtok which equip them with proper Sex Education and provide them with Regular Medical Checkups (RMC).It is generally the boyfriends who introduce them to the trade.”

The growing sex workers are also increasing the number of HIV patients in the State which has reached 199 in 2010, 15 years after tests for the disease began in the state. There were only two HIV patients in 1995 when the tests were introduced in Sikkim, categorised by the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) as one of the lowest prevalence states in India. V. Singhi, the project director of the Sikkim State AIDS Control Society, said 28 persons had died of AIDS after 1995.

Crime against women and the way women are getting involved in prostitution, willingly or forcibly, is leading to a very unhealthy and critical situation and is in itself a failure of the Government machinery. It is a clear example of maladministration which further magnifies the number of areas where developmental policies need to be reformed and strict actions need to be taken. For the security of the women, Government can take some measures, like  conducting  Self-Defence Programmes for women, distributing or subsidising pepper sprays to them, placing Mobile Police Vans in every area for filing the complaints, checking the preventable crimes and arrest the culprits as soon as possible because it is said that Justice delayed is Justice denied. In the above mentioned suggestions, the first thing that the Government should do is to ensure that strict action is taken against the offender and women’s dignity is maintained at any cost.

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