Expressing concern over sexual violence against women and girls with disabilities, the Supreme Court on Tuesday issued slew of directions to make criminal justice system more disabled-friendly.
The top court said that for many disabled women and girls in India, the threat of violence is an all-too-familiar fixture of their lives, contracting their constitutionally guaranteed freedom to move freely and curtailing their ability to lead full and active lives.
“This threat of violence can translate into a nagging feeling of powerlessness and lack of control, making the realization of the promises held by the Constitution a remote possibility for women with disabilities.” it said.
A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah said changes in the law on the books mark a significant step forward, much work still needs to be done in order to ensure that their fruits are realised.
The top court asked the National Crimes Record to seriously consider the possibility of maintaining disaggregated data on gender-based violence.
“Disability must be one of the variables on the basis of which such data must be maintained so that the scale of the problem can be mapped out and tailored remedial action can be taken.”
“Police officers should be provided sensitization, on a regular basis, to deal with cases of sexual violence against women with disabilities, in an appropriate way. The training should cover the full life cycle of a case involving a disabled survivor, from enabling them to register complaints, obtain necessary accommodations, medical attention and suitable legal representation,” the bench said.
The bench said that training should emphasize the importance of interacting directly with the disabled person concerned, as opposed to their care-taker or helper, in recognition of their agency.
The top court asked the National Judicial Academy and state judicial academies to sensitise trial and appellate judges to deal with cases involving survivors of sexual abuse.
“This training should acquaint judges with the special provisions, concerning such survivors, such as those outlined above. It should also cover guidance on the legal weight to be attached to the testimony of such witnesses/survivors, consistent with our holding above,” the bench said.
The top court said that public prosecutors and standing counsel should also undergo similar training in this regard and added that the Bar Council of India can consider introducing courses in the LL.B program that cover these topics and the intersectional nature of violence more generally;
“Trained special educators and interpreters must be appointed to ensure the effective realization of the reasonable accommodations embodied in the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013.”
“All police stations should maintain a database of such educators, interpreters and legal aid providers, in order to facilitate easy access and coordination,” the bench said.
The top court also said that awareness-raising campaigns must be conducted, in accessible formats, to inform women and girls with disabilities, about their rights when they are at the receiving end of any form of sexual abuse.
“We hasten to add that these suggestions are not a reflection of the manner in which the investigation, enquiry and trial were conducted in the instant case.”
“They simply represent our considered view on the systemic reforms needed to ensure that cases such as the instant one are dealt with in the most appropriate way,” the bench said.
The top court said that experience of rape induces trauma and horror for any woman regardless of her social position in the society.
“But the experiences of assault are different in the case of a woman who belongs to a Scheduled Caste community and has a disability because the assault is a result of the interlocking of different relationships of power at play.
“When the identity of a woman intersects with, inter alia, her caste, class, religion, disability and sexual orientation, she may face violence and discrimination due to two or more grounds. Transwomen may face violence on account of their heterodox gender identity,” the bench said.
In such a situation, it becomes imperative to use an intersectional lens to evaluate how multiple sources of oppression operate cumulatively to produce a specific experience of subordination for a blind Scheduled Caste woman, the bench added.
The top court’s judgement came on an appeal against verdict of Division Bench of the High Court of Andhra Pradesh upholding the conviction of a man for offences punishable under Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 19891 and rape.
The top court upheld the conviction of the man for an offence punishable under Section 376(1) of the Penal Code and the sentence of imprisonment for life but set aside punishment under SC/ST Act.