Break silence to get timely justice: Activist

Women’s rights activist Bhanwari Devi on Friday said women must be prepared to break their silence on abuse and harassment cases to ensure timely justice. She was speaking ahead of a workshop on sexual harassment against women at workplace. 

Devi, who has been fighting a 21-year legal battle against five men who gangraped her in Bhateri in Rajasthan, is in Kerala as part of the state government’s celebrations to mark the International Women’s Day.

“Wherever women are working, the governments have to take responsibility of the safety of these women. I was denied justice by the police and the courts… it shouldn’t happen again,” Devi said. 

Over the past couple of decades, Bhanwari Devi has emerged as the face of women’s battles against sexual abuse and her case was also instrumental in the Supreme Court’s historic guidelines on workplace sexual harassment as part of the Vishakha judgment of 1997.

Devi, a grassroot level volunteer for a women’s development project, was raped in retaliation to her opposition against the marriage of a nine-month-old girl in the village. A sessions court had acquitted the five accused in the case. 

Renowned activist Kavita Srivastava pointed out that 21 years since the incident – Devi was raped on September 22, 1992 – the victim’s appeal was still before the Rajasthan High Court. 

An emotional Devi told the gathering that the courts and the police had failed her while agencies including the CBI also couldn’t offer her justice. Chief Minister Oommen Chandy inaugurated the workshop after obtaining special permission from the State Election Commission in the backdrop of the prevailing model code of conduct. 

The workshop discussed in detail measures in the formation of internal complaints committees (ICCs), their responsibilities and redressal mechanisms to deal with sexual harassment at the workplace.

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