The United Nations special rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo, said violence against women was systematic and continued “from womb to tomb” in a report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“According to numerous interlocutors, the physical, sexual and psychological abuse of women in the private sphere is widely tolerated by the State and the community,” Manjoo wrote.
In its response, posted on the Council’s website on Thursday, India called that allegation “baseless”. It said she had made “unsubstantiated yet sweeping generalisations”.
“We do not agree with the labelling of ‘violence against women in India as systematic’,” India said. “Such a sweeping remark smacks of a highly prejudiced state of mind.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Wednesday that respecting and protecting women should be a priority for the 1.25 billion people in India. “The government will have to act,” Modi said, breaking his silence on the crime wave.
Manjoo, a South African law professor, said India should try to raise awareness of practices such as acid attacks against women who refuse a marriage proposal, so-called honour crimes where family members murder a woman because they believe she has dishonoured them for example by opposing an arranged marriage, as well as executions of women branded as “witches”.
Her report ranged from decrying degrading tests used on rape victims to urging India to define marital rape as a criminal offence and to repeal a law that criminalised consensual same-sex behaviour.
On honour killings, the government said it gave “due consideration” to an Indian Law Commission report that had suggested a legal framework to tackle the practice.
It said “witch-hunts” were not a national phenomenon and complaints were always investigated. It said Manjoo should have informed the government if she knew of specific cases where there had been a complaint but no investigation.
India’s response to Manjoo’s report listed 16 allegations that it said were not backed up by facts.
The examples it gave included her claim that sexual violence was widespread across the country, that members of the security forces had committed mass rapes, that trafficking of women and girls to and from India was widespread, and that police and officials discriminated against people from certain castes.