Some time ago, news about a 37- year old Indonesian schoolteacher, Baiq Nuril, a victim of sexual harassment, being jailed and fined drew media attention. Nuril was found guilty for ‘violating decency’ under the country’s electronic information and transactions law for recording a telephonic call from her head-teacher as evidence against unwanted sexual advances.
Shocking? Yes, indeed! It compelled an outraged Indonesian women’s rights activist to blurt out that it is “a great disincentive for Indonesian women to come forward… share their stories of harassment… there is no adequate law to protect them, instead they are blamed…” The latest report of Indonesia’s National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan or KP), revealed that gender-based violence took an upward turn by 25 per cent in 2017.
A life experience survey of Indonesian women in 2016 also brought to light that one in three or 33.4 per cent of them (between 15 and 64 years) during their lifetime experienced physical and/or sexual violence. Many women’s rights activists felt that the the existing criminal code (KUHP) is deficient in covering all the fifteen types of sexual violence outlined by the Komnas Perempuan( KP). The 2018 KP report criticised the code for its “outdated definition of rape and the prosecution process”.
In Indonesia, most of the victimised women desist from approaching law-enforcement agencies, and tend to believe that “the police often doubt their complaints… ask unsympathetic questions…” In 2017, a police chief surmised that “in the rape interrogation, the most important question is whether the victim felt comfortable during the experience”. Not surprising that a recent survey revealed that 93 per cent of rape victims chose not to file a report with the police, of those who did, only 1 per cent saw the case end in a conviction.
An independent journalist covering Indonesia, Sonia Sarkar commented that in Indonesia’s deeply embedded patriarchal culture “women’s place is believed to be in ‘dapur, sumur, kasur’ – the kitchen, the well, and the bed…but now men even expect them to earn”. In 2019, the Statistics Indonesia (BPS) reported that women’s work force participation rate has reached 55.4 per cent.
But there is hardly any measure to check workplace sexual harassment and many ground reports divulged how “young, inexperienced and rural migrants are sexually abused by their male supervisors in garment industries, and in service and hospitality sectors, which mostly hire young, good looking girls and force them to follow uncomfortable dresscodes… instances of sexual exploitation are common.”
In 2011, the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration, issued a recommendatory circular to check the menace, but it lacked any legal binding. Unfortunately, Indonesia’s sexual violence bill, introduced in 2014 has been facing rough weather. The conservative Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) considered it as “being too liberal in the definition of sexual violence….. which will lead to free and deviant sexual behaviours…” Ratna Batara Munti, a lawyer and a civil activist, pushing for the bill, rubbished such an allegation as “deliberate duping and misinformation …..and detrimental to the passage of the bill.”
Indonesia does have an act for elimination of domestic violence since 2004, but according to Indonesia’s Centre for Women and Children’s Empowerment, people’s mindset is yet to change as many think it is a private issue, which deters victims from reporting. However, a silver lining looms on the horizon, as an Indonesian version of #MeToo or #SayaJuga is gaining traction to give voice to the victimised women. Back home, sadly, today’s India is hardly known as a champion of women’s safety. In 2018, Thomson Reuters Foundation Survey, labelled India as the “world’s most dangerous country for women due to high risk of sexual violence”.
The capital city of Delhi also earned the dubious title of ‘rape capital’ in the wake of the incident of gang rape in December 2012. National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB), Ministry of Home Affairs, which chronicles crime rates in India, found a rising trend in the number of rape cases, which was 5,409 in 1981 and almost doubled in 1991 with 10,410 reported cases. However, between 2005 and 2015, it showed a decline of 84 per cent, while the rate of conviction ranged between 24 and 27 per cent.
Crimes against women under the head of cruelty by husband and other relatives showed a rise from 58,319 cases in 2005 to 1,13,403 in 2015 – a 94 per cent rise. Rashmi Anand, herself a victim of marital violence, who now runs a trust in Delhi, which gives free legal aid to poor women and child victims, said that “the existing 2005 act on elimination of domestic violence being a civil law, sometimes fails to give immediate relief …but it is heartening that a law has been put in place, which was not so twenty years back” (when she was fighting against her lawyer husband).
In India, there is also a fullfledged act to prevent sexual harassment at workplaces or POSH act since 2014, which replaced the Supreme Court’s 1997 landmark ‘Vishakha’ guidelines. The act, however, has come under criticism for its threemonth time limit for filing a complaint, which many feel deprives a harassed woman to get over her posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and also for reducing the employer’s liability to merely forming an internal complaint committee (ICC) unlike other countries like the US “which mandates an employer to exercise reasonable care for ensuring a safe working environment for women employees”.
While commenting on the functioning of the ICC, a lawyer handling such cases opined that, “most of the time, there is a lack of coordination between the complaints committee and the personnel or disciplinary authority, which results in lesser punishment or even acquittal of the offender.” A noted journalist, who was a part of a government-appointed committee, probing the charges of sexual harassment against a highranking government official lodged by a contractual employee working with him, said that “it is very difficult to prove such charges in the absence of substantial evidence, as very few come forward to support a contractual employee with no job guarantee, thus such female employees remain vulnerable to unwanted sexual advances.”
Like Indonesia, various factors like stigmatisation, apathetic attitude of the law enforcement authorities, and the slow justice delivery system, often put woman off approaching redressal mechanism. NFHS-4 data indicated that “around 76 per cent of the victims of physical or sexual violence, never sought any help or informed anybody about it which reflected in the declining trend in the number of recorded cases from 24 per cent in 2005-06 to 14 per cent in 2015-16.”
#MeToo created ripples in urban India and many untold stories of sexual abuse tumbled out from the world of cinema, sports and media, with the fallout of a few court cases. However, Rashmi Anand, a legal counsellor, sounded optimistic and said that now women are opening up more on technology platforms like Facebook and twitter, unlike 17 years ago when she as a victim approached the Delhi’s crime against women cell.
(The writer is a retired Indian Information Service Officer, and a media educator)