11 years after the horrific Nirbhaya rape-and-murder case:
Women remain victims of the worst kind of violence and discrimination

The 16th of December this year marks 11 years of the day that a young working woman, ‘Nirbhaya’, was gang raped and fatally assaulted on a bus in Delhi. The horrific incident led to widespread protests in Delhi and all over India. People demanded punishment of the guilty. They demanded accountability of the state and its police, that have failed to ensure the security women. They demanded mechanisms for ensuring the safety of women and major reforms in the criminal justice system.

Nirbhaya_protestThe central government responded by constituting a committee on 23rd December, 2012, led by a retired Supreme Court Chief Justice, J.S. Verma. That committee was asked to recommend amendments to criminal laws, in order to “provide for quicker trial and enhanced punishment for criminals accused of committing sexual assault against women”.

In its report submitted to the government on 23rd January, 2013, the commission made 10 recommendations, which included a broader definition of rape, other offences against women such as stalking, voyeurism, sexual harassment, acid attack, etc. It recommended police reforms, amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure and reforms in the judicial handling of cases, in the specific context of crimes against women. It proposed institutional mechanisms to deal with crimes against women, such as compulsory registration of FIR by the police, the institution of Internal Complaints Committees and grievance cells, etc.

Nothing has changed

Eleven years later, the condition of women victims of sexual and other forms of violence remains much the same.


A majority of women in our society who suffer sexual assault, rape, or other forms of violence, fear to go to the police station to register a complaint and file an FIR. She is usually shunted from one police station to another. Even if she manages to reach the appropriate police station, the police may refuse to register her complaint and file an FIR, on a variety of pretexts. She is asked intrusive questions that are an affront to her dignity. She is asked who was accompanying her, what was she wearing, what was she doing at that place at that time, why was she out at a late hour, etc. The aim of all this is to portray the victim herself as responsible for the crime committed on her.

From investigation to prosecution (in case it happens), the victim suffers insult and indignity at every stage. Even minor girl victims are not spared this torture, despite the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, which stipulates special procedures for investigation of child rape and sexual offences against minors. The rights of the victim as stated in the laws, including the right to have her identity not disclosed, are routinely flouted.

Thus, crimes against women continue and are on the rise, from year to year. The recently published “Crime in India 2022” report by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reflects this fact. The incidents of violence against women registered during the calendar year 2022 rose to 4,45,256 cases, showing an increase of four percent over 2021 (4,28,278 cases). The crime rate registered per lakh women population was 66.4 in 2022 in comparison with 64.5 in 2021. The cases of crimes against women registered in a year is equivalent to nearly 51 FIRs (first information report) every hour.

It is to be noted that only complaints registered with the police are reflected in the report. The rate of crimes against women is much higher than the published data, given the grave challenges that women continue to face in registering such complaints.

Recent examples

A few very recent examples once again reveal the utterly anti-women attitude of the state machinery, including the judiciary, and the challenges before women in getting justice.

Renowned women wrestlers, including Olympic medalists and Commonwealth champions, protested at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar for more than a month in April-May 2023. They accused Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief and BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, of sexual harassment of the women wrestlers. They provided ample proof of the WFI chief’s crimes. They demanded that the WFI chief should be arrested, removed from his post and strict action should be taken against him. It took four days of sustained protest and the intervention of the Supreme Court, before an FIR was registered. The protesting wrestlers faced all kinds of threats, intimidation and harassment by the police and the authorities, while on dharna. People in Delhi and in many parts of the country and abroad rallied in large numbers in support of the protesting wrestlers and demanded punishment of the WFI chief. Several sportspersons and their associations gave wholehearted support to the struggle. Eventually, on 28th  June, the protesting wrestlers were beaten and forcibly removed from the protest site and taken into police custody. The offender, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, continues to remain scot-free.

On 15th August, 2022, the 75th anniversary of Indian independence, 11 people convicted of gang-rape and murders during the Gujarat genocide of 2002 were set free. They had been sentenced in 2008 with life imprisonment for the heinous crime of gang-raping a pregnant woman Bilkis Bano, and killing 14 members of her extended family.  They had also raped other members of her family and killed her three-year old child by smashing her head with a rock. Bilkis Bano and her husband had to wage a long and difficult struggle to have the criminals apprehended. In October 2023, the Supreme Court reserved its judgement on her plea, together with those of many other human rights and women rights organisations, challenging the court’s decision to grant remission to the criminals.

More recently, in the second week of December 2023, a woman judge in Banda district of Uttar Pradesh sought permission from the Chief Justice of India to end her life, as a result of abuse and sexual harassment she has faced from other members of the judiciary. In her letter, the judge refers to the Protection of Women from Sexual Harassment, Act (2013) as “a big wholesome lie”. “No one listens, no one bothers. If you complain, you will be tortured. Be submissive. And, when I mean no one listens, that includes the Supreme Court. You will get eight seconds of hearing, an insult and a threat to impose costs. You will be pushed to commit suicide….. If any of the women think that you will fight against the system, let me tell you, I couldn’t,” the letter reads.

The struggle continues

Over the decades women’s organisations and other progressive organisations have fought to bring about legislation that will be a deterrent to acts of violence against women. As a result of these struggles, various legislations have been passed, such as the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956, Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986, Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987, Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 and the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. However, the life experience of masses of women shows that it is nearly impossible to get justice and punishment of the guilty, even after an arduous legal battle in which the victim faces harassment and indignity repeatedly.

The root cause of continuing discrimination and oppression of women lies in the nature of the prevailing economic system and the existing state.

The capitalist economic system is oriented to maximize private profits in the hands of a wealthy minority, through maximum exploitation of the toiling majority. Capitalism in India has developed by perpetuating feudal, caste and gender-based discrimination and oppression. The subordinate position of women in society helps in maximising capitalist profits through their super-exploitation.

The existing state defends and maintains the capitalist system and the rule of the bourgeoisie. The political parties of the bourgeoisie and all institutions of the state, including the executive, the legislative and the judiciary, perpetuate the oppression and discrimination of women.

What women and the masses of working people need is political power in their hands so that they can set the agenda and make the crucial decisions that affect their lives. With political power in their hands, the working people can reorient the economic system to ensure the fulfilment of the needs of the people rather than the greed of the capitalists. They can advance the struggle for the complete emancipation of women, ensuring prompt and severe punishment for those who violate any of the rights of women.

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