Women’s safety in Karnataka, will it be a reality?

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As political parties in poll bound Karnataka are fighting for supremacy with caste and community polarization, they have ignored women’s safety as an issue. It is also relevant to observe that only a measly 21 women have been given a ticket to contest in the 224 member Karnataka Assembly Elections. The candidates seem to be touching all aspects in their political blitzkrieg without a single comment on women’s safety.

“I was on a bus home from work and a man decided to rub himself against me”, “I was walking on Brigade road and was catcalled by 3 men in a period of five minutes”, “I was waiting for my friend outside college when I saw a man holding his penis outside his pants all while staring at me”. These are just three incidents, the likes of which happen to hundreds of women every day. As compared to 3100 and 3109 cases of crimes against women in 2014 and 2015 respectively, there was a jump by over 300 cases in 2016. There were 4,412 cases filed with total number of victims of these crimes being 3,531. This information can be found on the data released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in December, 2017. Bangalore stood third in comparison to 18 other metropolitan cities in the country for the number of crimes against women. While an increase in the number of cases being reported can be attributed to increased awareness about women’s safety and the Criminal Law Amendment of 2013, the issue of crimes against women still stands to be one of the most pressing issues faced by society today.

A voters’ perception survey conducted by DAKSH and ADR ahead of Karnataka Legislative Assembly Elections 2018 showed that Women’s Safety ranked low in voters’ priorities of issues, only ahead of job trainings and MLA access. While issue significance scored 6.46, MLA’s performance average stood at 6.55. Parking facilities and zone regulations were of higher importance to Bangalore urban voters than women’s safety. This leads us to ask why as a society, us Bangaloreans do not prioritize women’s safety even when there is such a high incidence of crimes against women every day.

ADR’s report on Analysis of Criminal Background, Financial, Gender and Other Details of Candidates shows that out of the 2560 candidates analysed, 391 (15%) of them have declared criminal cases against themselves. Out of the 391, 23 candidates have declared cases related to crimes against women, of which one candidate is from Bangalore. With candidates themselves having charges of crimes against women, it leads us to question if the issue is given the importance it deserves. The manifestos of political parties throw light on the importance given by them for the issue of women’s safety.

Despite Bangalore’s abysmal record, it is disappointing that of the manifestos released by the four leading political parties ahead of the elections, only one deals with women’s safety issues.

The BJP manifesto lays down in detail  states that it will create “Kittur Rani Chennamma Flying Squads” to attend the distress calls of women in Bengaluru quickly and to provide security to women. It also calls for establishment of a Mahila Police Station established in every Taluk in Karnataka. They assure formulation of special investigation cell under a woman police officer employing 1000 women to investigate all pending cases of crime against women, creation of 100 fast-track courts to clear the pendency of cases involving crimes against the women. It also states that CCTV cameras will be installed around the state to enhance safety of citizens, especially women, children and senior citizens. It promises establishment of additional fast track courts in Bangalore, Mysore, Mangalore, Dharwad and Gulbarga to hear cases of crime related to women and children. Additionally, it states that they will introduce women only GPS enabled bus services available from 10 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. for the working women of Bengaluru. Lastly, it talks of establishment of “Subhadra Centres” in every administrative zone of Bengaluru to help women in distress by providing them with legal, security, psychological and medical facilities.

The Janta Dal Secular (JD-S) manifesto only addresses the problem of domestic violence against women and promises opening of hostels in every taluka for women suffering from domestic violence which they can utilize for a period of one month till the problem is addressed. They also assure enactment of suitable legislation to address domestic violence. This point however is moot as The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act already exists.

The Congress in its manifesto does not deal with women’s safety. It only mentions a Safe Bengaluru initiative through crime free neighbourhood watch programme. The AAP manifesto makes no mention of women’s safety at all.

The data collected indicates that political parties are least interested in making women’s safety a priority. Karnataka elections are a representation of the apathy of the political class towards women’s safety issues. Measures are needed at both the policy and implementation level to address to issue the concerns of women’s safety. With the lack of attention given to this issue, it is only once the new government is elected that we will see if anything at all is done to increase women’s safety and reduce the incidence of crimes against women.

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Vibha is a human rights lawyer with an interest in gender, sexuality, and access to justice. She has an undergraduate degree (B.A. LL.B) from Christ University and a postgraduate degree (LLM in International Human Rights Law) from the University of Liverpool where she was a Commonwealth Scholar. She currently works as a Research Associate at DAKSH, a public policy organization working in judiciary and political reforms. At the Dialogue, Vibha is a consultant on gender and policy issues.