Expressing serious concern over incidents of sexual violence against women, the National Human Rights Commission on Monday issued notices to the Centre and all states and UTs seeking reports on the standard operating procedures to deal with such cases and use of the Nirbhaya Fund.
The Commission observed that the largest democracy in the world, which has adopted the longest written constitution and has a rich cultural heritage of gender equality, is today being criticised for having the "most unsafe environment for women".
Taking suo motu cognisance of media reports on "rising" cases of sexual assault, the rights panel issued notices to the chief secretaries of all states and Union Territories seeking reports within six weeks about the status of Nirbhaya Fund in their states including details about availability of the fund and the money spent during the last three years.
The Commission has also issued notices to the DGPs of all states and UTs calling for their response within six weeks about the SOPs and the best practices adopted by them to deal with matters relating to sexual abuse and atrocities against women, including details of the action taken against the police officers or officials found insensitive and guilty of negligence towards issues related to women.
"The Commission has also considered it necessary to call for a detailed report from the Secretary, Union Ministry of Women and Child Development, giving details about the schemes or guidelines initiated by the union government and status of their implementation, including Nirbhaya Fund, by the states and UTs. The response is expected within six weeks," the NHRC said.
It said that through media reports it has come to know that the amount made available under the Nirbhaya Fund has been "reduced and also not being appropriately utilised by the state governments".
The rights panel observed that there seems to be "lack of standard operating procedure (SOP)" to deal with incidents of sexual violence against women and emergency situations concerning the same.
It said that when anyone goes to a police station seeking help after disappearance of a major or minor female, it is often alleged that the police's answer generally remains that she might have eloped with someone.
"This humiliating and stereotype mindset is needed to be changed. There is need to effectively address the core issue as this serious challenge has not only created an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty in our society but has also badly tarnishing the image of our country," NHRC observed.
It added that many incidents of sexual violence have reportedly occurred due to gross negligence by the administration and the law enforcing public agencies.
The Commission said that while it is aware that the subject is being looked into by various fora, there is dire need for all the stakeholders to come together to work jointly to end sexual violence against women.
"The incidents of rape, molestation, gender-based discrimination and other such atrocities against women have, unfortunately, become routine media headlines," the NHRC lamented.
There have been constitutional and statutory provisions to ensure that women are not subjected to any kind of discrimination and harassment, but there is an "alarming trend" indicating that things are "getting worse" amounting to violation of right to life, liberty, dignity and equality of women across the country, it observed.
The Commission has said that these incidents indeed involve violation of human rights of the victims.
"It (NHRC) is well awake to the seriousness of the issue. Being the apex body for the protection and promotion of human rights at national level, it considers its intervention into the matter necessary to understand as to where the state agencies and other stakeholders are lacking on their part and what can immediately be done," the rights panel observed.
Recently, a number of cases have been reported by the media wherein women have been subjected to "sexual abuse, utmost cruelty and inhuman treatment by the perpetrators showing grave disrespect towards law", the statement said.
In Telangana, a 26-year-old veterinarian was brutally gang raped and killed by four accused persons in Hyderabad. The culprits not only outraged the dignity of the victim but also killed her and burnt her body, the rights panel pointed out.
"Though the accused have been arrested, had timely action been taken by the police the gruesome incident could, perhaps, be stopped. In another incident, a 25-year-old law student was also reportedly gang raped by a group of armed men, in Ranchi, Jharkhand," it said.
Mere announcements of schemes, making of laws and formation of funds are not going to serve the purpose unless these are properly implemented, it said.
"There have been a number of such cases that have occurred across the country during the recent past. All these incidents indicate that making stringent laws and funds for the victims alone cannot change the scenario unless the police officers are specially trained and their attitude towards women's issues also changes," the statement said.