Dakan! Fighting violence against women

By Kavita Srivastava

, by Himal Southasian

Important draft legislation was recently unveiled in Rajasthan that would impose serious punishment for ‘witch-hunting’. Getting legislators to sign off on the bill, however, will prove difficult.

Over the years, the women’s movement in Rajasthan has had some success in making violence against women into an important political issue. Activists have forced political parties and governments to demonstrate that they are addressing this constituency, which the media has dubbed ‘Mahila Sangathan’. Important landmarks include the campaign against sati following the Roop Kanwar incident in Deorala in 1987, in which Roop Kanwar had been pushed into the funeral pyre. That campaign finally forced the Rajasthan government to pass a law against the issue of glorification of sati, in turn replaced by a new central law, the Commission of Sati Prevention Act, in 1987. Another significant issue was the movement for justice for Bhanwari Devi, a sathin (a worker in the government’s Women Development Programme) who was gang-raped in 1992 by upper-caste men for attempting to stop a child marriage. This gradually grew, by 1996, into a full-fledged movement to counter violence against women, which resulted in women’s groups establishing themselves as a political constituency.

Over the past two decades, state governments in Rajasthan have been forced to address significant issues in relation to violence against women. The latest move is the announcement of the Rajasthan Women (Prevention and Protection from Atrocities) Bill, 2011. The proposed law is an overarching legislation, bringing together several different and distinct atrocities under the purview of one umbrella legislation. One of the most discussed measures has been the provisions against witch-hunting, so much so that the law has been dubbed an anti-witch-hunting law.

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