Gang-raped and left without a voice: Living with disability in India

When she was 13, "Razia" (not her real name), who has an intellectual disability and difficulties in speaking, was raped by her brother's tutor.

Story highlights

  • India saw legal reforms after a 2012 gang rape that shocked the country
  • Few police or courts are trained to help people with disabilities report a crime

New Delhi (CNN)In 2014, a 23-year-old woman with cerebral palsy was allegedly gang-raped and thrown from the rooftop in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal.

"The suspects, who are from an upper-class family, have not only managed to evade prosecution, but they continue to threaten the survivor's family," said Nidhi Goyal, a disability rights activist and consultant to the disability rights division at Human Rights Watch, a global nonprofit human rights organization.
"The first community response to this case was, 'why should we support this unproductive woman and ruin the life of this productive man?' " she said.
    In a Human Rights Watch report published Monday, the 2014 gang rape is cited as just one example highlighting the additional challenges women and girls with disabilities face in India. If they survive sexual violence, they face barriers when trying to pursue justice, according to the report.
    "She's mental. Why should I pay attention to her?" This was the response Susmita, 26, also from West Bengal, got from the police when she wanted to report her sedation and rape by four male neighbors in February 2014. Susmita, whose name was changed for the report, has a form of schizophrenia, according to Human Rights Watch.
    After the 2012 gang rape of Jyoti Singh Pandey in the capital, New Delhi, reforms were introduced in India to strengthen laws on sexual violence. These included increasing the length of prison sentences, the introduction of the death penalty for some sex crimes and setting up a dedicated fund for safety initiatives.
    Amendments made to criminal law in 2013 also included provisions to safeguard the rights of women and girls with disabilities and facilitate their participation in proceedings.
    But the latest report finds that gaps in the implementation of these reforms are exacerbated for women with disabilities who face multiple issues, such as a lack of mobility or an inability to communicate.

    An 'invisible' group

    Women with disabilities are made invisible by society, activists like Amba Salelkar believe, preventing larger reforms on sexual violence from reaching this community. Salelkar is the director of programs at