Coordinated by National Alliance of Women (NAWO)
The 2nd and 3rd NGO Alternative Report on CEDAW -- INDIA has just been submitted to the UN CEDAW Committee and is coming up for review in January 2007 in New York. Each of the chapters in the Reports point to the widespread practices of discrimination and social exclusion of women and provide evidence in the form of statistics and media reports on the prevalence of the problem. The contributory factors to this wide-ranging discrimination are several. While immediate factors have to do with the life crises that poor and disadvantaged sections face generally, these cannot be de-linked from the historical and systemic factors that easily accommodate structural violence against women and guarantee impunity despite the existence of legal safeguards. The reason for the persistence of discrimination, we believe is because there has been no fundamental transformation in the body politic and the composition of institutions of governance – the legislature and the judiciary especially. These are the two institutions, which have ironically been most resistant to the implementation of the equality code of the constitution, especially with respect to gender equality and caste equality. [The Report has been edited by Kalpana Kannabiran, Asmita Collective, Secunderabad, India. For the full report see http://www.asmitacollective.in]
Despite the year 2001 being declared the Year for Empowerment of Women, the status of women in India causes concern, with socio-economic indicators showing a disturbing trend – a falling juvenile sex ratio, rising levels of poverty and unemployment, starvation deaths linked to the denial of right to life and livelihood and increased violence in all spheres. This trend cannot be viewed in isolation but needs to be seen in the light of globalization and rising caste and religious intolerance, which have given an impetus to increasing and varied forms of violence against women. General Recommendation No. 19 of the CEDAW Committee clearly points to the fact that cultural practices/attitudes perpetuate widespread practices involving violence or coercion and that such prejudices and practices may justify gender-based violence. Yet India has ratified the CEDAW Convention with two Declaratory statements providing that in so far as Articles 5 and 16 are concerned, it shall abide by these provisions in conformity with its policy of non-interference in the personal affairs of any community without its initiative and consent.
EQUALITY, NON DISCRIMINATION, HUMAN RIGHTS & FUNDAMENTAL FREEDOMS, SPECIAL MEASURES Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution of India guarantee equality before the law and non-discrimination on the basis of sex. The Declaration of the GOI to the CEDAW Convention violates the spirit of the Constitution in so far they provide that discriminatory laws shall not be dealt with unless the community wants them to be amended. Such a declaration is unconstitutional and needs to be withdrawn. The Constitution of India does not define ‘discrimination against women’ in the elaborate terms of Article 1 of CEDAW. No legislation reflects such a definition either. Further, the right to equality contained in fundamental guarantees does not cover discrimination by private parties. This constitutes a serious lacuna in the Indian legal system. Further, guarantees in the Constitution themselves have not been given effect to. One glaring example is the women’s reservation bill that provides for 33% reservation for women in Parliament to increase their political access and participation. Such a law has still not been enacted, despite constitutional backing. Para 20 of the II and III Report of the Government of India in response to Paras 74-75 of the Concluding Comments of the CEDAW Committee, do not address the situation of caste discrimination on the ground at all. Most worrying is the failure...