NCRB data 2017: Absence of specificity about atrocities against disabled women further invisibilises them

The absence of concrete and categorised data of crimes against women with disabilities in the latest NCRB report puts inclusion efforts one step back. This at a time when stigma associated with disability and sexuality and the lack of legal literacy makes the chances of a crime being reported even bleaker

Anchal Bhatheja October 26, 2019 09:26:32 IST
NCRB data 2017: Absence of specificity about atrocities against disabled women further invisibilises them
  • The absence of concrete and categorised data of crimes against women with disabilities in the latest NCRB report puts inclusion efforts one step back

  • Stigma associated with disability and sexuality and the lack of legal literacy makes the chances of a crime being reported even bleaker

Following the release of the Crimes in India Report 2017 by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) this year, the increasing number of atrocities committed against women came into focus – and rightfully so. The figure in question has skyrocketed to 3, 59,849.

In the context of sexual violence, women with disabilities are among the most vulnerable. A woman with a locomotive disorder might not be able to escape violence due to her limited mobility; a woman with a hearing or speech impairment might not be able to call for help at the right time; a woman with an intellectual disability may not even know that she is being exploited. The NCRB report, however, does not have specific data about this sub-set of women, thereby invisibilising them and their sufferings, when this is an aspect that deserves public cognisance and mindfulness.

This was also a criticism of India’s #MeToo movement. Despite the movement’s strengths and appeal, it did not include the agendas of women with disabilities.

These women then face a two-fold conundrum, due to an ablest women’s movement and a disability rights movement that is not inclusionary. They’re labelled by society as being asexual, and by religion as sinners. They’re rendered invisible by the political discourse and seen as incompetent by the law. The question that needs to be asked here is, what is the way to push these women from the periphery to the centre of the legal, social and political discourse?

NCRB data 2017 Absence of specificity about atrocities against disabled women further invisibilises them

Representational image. Reuters

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The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2013 and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) 2012 have recognised the heterogeneity of women as a community. These legislations certainly manifest some commitment to make the legal processes more inclusive for women with disabilities, but the ground reality is far different from laws on paper.

The stigma associated with disability and sexuality and the lack of legal literacy makes the chances of a crime being reported even bleaker. Even if a woman finally decides to report a crime, barriers to justice await her in the form of indifferent police personnel who neither have the right means to record her statements, nor the requisite sensitivity to trust her credibility.

This is generally followed by an extremely alienating experience in the courtroom where she encounters some able-bodied, patriarchal men on the bench, who fail to understand her plight – experiences that are long-lasting and stressful.

In 2007, India signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Article 38 of this convention obligates the states to ensure access to justice to their disabled community. But the reports and data released by Human Rights Watch and other organisations affiliated to the United Nations suggest that India has been failing to provide equitable access in this regard.

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Any sort of inclusion of a previously excluded section of society begins by the subtle and fundamental act of visiblising them in the mainstream; such individuals bear the simultaneous burden of both invisibility and their identity. The absence of concrete and categorised data of crimes against women with disabilities thus puts inclusion efforts one step back. This was also recently pointed out by the United Nation's Committee of Independent Experts on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, wherein they raised concerns over the absence of such data and called upon the government to look into the matter.

Undoubtedly, women with disabilities will be truly liberated only when society, politics, culture, and law renounces its inherent ableism and patriarchy.

Anchal Bhatheja is a second-year student at the National Law School of India University, Bangalore, where she founded the NLS Diversable Alliance which works towards promoting the interests of students with disabilities. She has conducted research on disability rights and advocacy and conducts workshops on the subject

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