Are we there yet?

Ambika Shaligram
Monday, 1 October 2018

At a discussion on human rights at PILF ’18, the panelists shed light on the state of our society and what we must be doing to ensure that no community’s rights are ignored

A five-year-old girl was playing outside her home when her neighbour called her and took her inside his house. Five years later as a 10-year-old, she stood before Justice Roshan Dalvi, who was hearing the case on sexual abuse. Dalvi decided to hear the case in her chamber, instead of the court room. The girl sat before the judge, the lawyers (prosecution and defence) on the either side, and the girl’s mother in one corner. Unknown to the girl, the ‘uncle’ who abused her, stood behind her.

In response to the judge’s question, the girl said, ‘Uncle called me inside his home and he pained me’.

Narrating this incident, the former judge of the Bombay High Court, said the girl’s statement was correct. But she had to identify the accused. “Normally,  there is secondary victimisation, in such cases. After the offence is committed, the child or a woman victim has to go to the police station again and again, the police officers are not sensitised, she is then sent to the hospital where she narrates her story again for the medical report, then in the court, the prosecution asks for her story, so she is traumatised all over again. So in this case, I heard it only in my chamber. I made the accused stand behind her quietly and kept looking at him straight in the eye, so that he wouldn’t intimidate the girl. After the girl spoke, I asked her, ‘Where is the uncle?’ Who is he?’ She replied, ‘Aunty, woh yahan nahi hai’. I told her, ‘Dekho idhar udhar, shayad yahi hoga’. She turned around him and saw him. I knew from expression that she had identified him — which is very necessary. She took one full minute to look at him and then she turned around to say, ‘Aunty, yehi hai woh uncle’. I sent the man to jail for 10 years,” said Dalvi, who was one of the panelists on human rights — ‘Are we there yet?’ at the recently concluded Pune International Literary Festival. The session was moderated by Vineeta Deshmukh.

In her Power Point presentation to the audience, Dalvi listed important human rights violations and how victims should be treated. She began by saying, “Human rights have been violated through all the ages and it’s futile to think that there are certain countries or certain pockets in the world only which have aberrations of human rights.”

Two most important offences are sex and labour trafficking. “Trafficking is one of the worst human rights violations. Children and women are taken as sex workers from one place to another. Children and men are taken as labourers from one country to another. It has been reported that there are about 15 rapes a night for victims of sexual offence when she is trafficked. Migrant smuggling is another aspect of human rights. People want to be smuggled from one country to another. There is an initial consent, and they want to go, but then they are not taken into those countries for the purpose they wanted to go. For years, they suffer. Their passports are impounded,” Dalvi said. 

When these kids and girls are rescued, they are often labelled as ‘accused’. That’s incorrect, said Dalvi, adding that just as accused person’s rights are important, so are the victim’s. Said she, “In the criminal justice system, the accused is at the centre stage. But nobody thinks of the victims. In USA, there is an act called, ‘Victims of Crime Act’. The basis of that act is the right of the victim to speak and the responsibility of the nation to listen. 
Human rights of women and children are ignored, they are not heard, because they don’t have the lobbying power. The judges know about them only when the case comes to the court. For every one matter that comes to the court, there are thousands of matters that don’t come to the courts.” 

Dalvi also outlined the importance of FEDEF — Freedom, Equality, Dignity, Equity and Fairness. “If you have got these five things, then it’s a clean, clear society. Let me know if there is any society which has all these five things at all times, for all of the people. The action plan would be to brainstorm, to realise these are the aberrations. We should organise against these crimes, and should have court plan of action. Therefore the need of the hour is synergy of people who come together to practise FEDEF and become stakeholders,” she concluded.

Panelist-speak

‘Make human rights violations visible’

Benjamin Glahn

Vice President, Development and Operations at Salzburg Global Seminar

This is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and 20th anniversary of Declaration of Human Rights Defenders. In this year, if we take a global survey and look at the political climate, we will come to the conclusion that human rights are back sliding in many places as a result of the authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. You don’t have to look very far from where we are sitting now to find a similar situation in Turkey, Eastern Europe, Latin America. There are ongoing conflicts in Yemen, where seven and half million people are starving and a million people are suffering from cholera; Frankly, there is very little that is being done.

The context around protection of human rights is really less. I think I should say couple of things about that. Firstly, we will never truly be there. It’s the job of every citizen to ensure human rights for the minorities, for marginalised community. It’s important for us and the overall health and well-being of the society. Secondly, supporting those who are at the frontline, defending the human rights is critically important. A lot of work that we do involved working with human right defenders, their allies including politicians and journalists, writers, to make human rights violations visible.” 

‘Activists I knew have taken refuge in other countries’

Fadi Zaghmout

Jordanian, Blogger, writer, gender rights activist 

When the internet first came to the Arab world, we found this a new platform to express ourselves. Till then the totalitarian regime controlled every medium. I started blogging on gender rights, equality. I connected with others, who were blogging on similar issues. The Arab spring first came to Egypt and then it spread to other countries. The outcome was different in each country, in how it acted. A lot of these people, activists, I knew are now jailed, have escaped from the country of their origin and taken refuge in other countries.”

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