Women Safety in India: An Epitome or Epitaph?

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The thinking man in me was galvanized by this pragmatic yet thought provoking recent TV Commercial of Sonata ACT watch with a SOS call option designed to aid a woman in distress. Whilst the marketer in me marveled at the ingenuous innovation with the concerting intersection of the society & business ,the conscientious human in me was appalled; for yet another non-state actor had intervened (albeit with a affordable solution) to ameliorate our reproachable track record on women safety. This advertisement sadly was a grim rejoinder of the failure of the state’s institutional frameworks to guarantee a basic need of its citizens i.e. “Safety”.

Four Years have passed since our collective conscience was jolted by the gruesome & tragic “Nirbhaya” incident. The mass outrage forced our political leadership & policy makers hitherto cocooned in Lutyen’s ambiance to pursue supposedly “robust” legislations. Prima facie, though the reactive action was intended to avoid being lampooned by the media & subdue the angst of the usually apathetic bourgeois class. However, this was a welcome departure from the routine sham of rhetoric driven critiques of the “ghastly” crime and punishing the “perpetrators”. The consequent legal amendments included modifications to The Criminal Law Ordinance, The Indian Evidence Act, the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act. Six fast track courts were also set up exclusively to deal with rapes. The most significant ramification of the “Nirbhaya” incident was the amendment to the Juvenile law wherein 16-18 year old sexual offenders shall now be prosecuted as adults. Notwithstanding the deeper malaise within the legal structures of the country, it was indeed a watershed moment in the annals of Indian history. The mass nature of the awakening also ensured a series of insipid quasi-administrative steps like 24 Hour Helpline, Pink Taxis, enhanced PCR Patrolling, Phone Security Apps etc.

However, The National Crime record Bureau’s statistics on crimes against women is a sad reminder of the despicable state of affairs in the country. It is only apt to perhaps extol Jean Baptiste Karr’s quote “The more things change, the more they stay the same”. Epitomizing the travesty of the judicial machinery, Delhi has the highest rate of crimes against women overall. With 17,104 cases, the capital recorded a crime rate of 184.3 per 1 lac female population.

Nature of Crime against women 2014 2015 Increase %
Rape 36735 34651 -5.7%
Other Sexual Offences 82235 84222 2.4%
Kidnapping & abduction 57311 59277 3.4%

Source – National Crime Record Bureau Statistics

The failure of the institutional machinery to curb this menace is predominantly due to three major factors – Firstly, the excessive reliance on the overburdened judicial machinery saddled with archaic laws wherein both delay of justice & public shaming of the traumatized victim are inevitable. This sadly also leads to “brokering” of justice in form of honor marriages or non-reporting of cases. Secondly, the punitive mechanism for convicts lacks the spine to limit possibilities of recurrence of crime. Lastly, despite the advancement in IT usage across spheres of governance, there is no national database of offenders or serial offenders. So, in hindsight there is a distinct possibility of a rapist (out on bail) meandering freely in our neighborhood posing grievous risk to the vulnerable ones and we being unaware of same.

On a concluding note, I would also like to point to the deeper malaise and the systemic rot, wherein a highly patriarchal political leadership retorts to chauvinistic commentary on public conduct of women and advisory bordering on lines of moral policing and control. We as liberal citizens ought to reject this line of thinking and jettison such breed of leaders. This small step can herald a new dawn and make India a safer place for women in years to come.