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May 08, 2011

Page: 20/36

Home > 2011 Issues > May 08, 2011

World of Women
Unsafe both at home and outside
Women safety should get high priority

By Sunita Vakil

IT is absurd to wax eloquent on the need for making women independent when they are wary of even stepping out on the streets.

India is progressing economically by leaps and bounds but still women in India find themselves vulnerable to violence and atrocities. We may have become a liberated society over the years and talk about providing education to the girl child, increasing the marital age of girls, prohibiting dowry or making women more independent and so on. But ironically women are subjected to physical, sexual, physiological and economic abuse in their daily lives. Rapes, murders and molestation are the crimes repeatedly committed against women in India. Given the appalling incidents of crime in Delhi, the most recent being the murder of a 20 year old college girl in broad daylight and the brutal beating and rape of a 77 year old women, it could well be asked: can women ever walk freely on the streets?

The national capital remains among the highly unsafe cities in India where women safety has become a great cause of concern. The gruesome murder of young Radhika Tanwar, a student of Ram Lal Anand College in Delhi, is yet another reminder of how vulnerable women are in the capital city. Score of women get molested, eve teased, raped, gangraped and murdered on the insecure streets. Around 40 rape cases were reported in the capital this year so far. The city has witnessed a sharp increase in rape and molestation cases since 2007. For instance, in 2010, there were 489 rape cases as against 459 in 2009. These figures paint a grim picture of Delhi streets. It is quite upsetting that despite so many cases, the city has failed to protect its women efficiently. Evidently, we have learnt very little from incidents like the sensational Mangolpuri gangrape of an 18 year old married women or the abduction and gang rape of a 30 year old BPO employee in Dhaula Kuan area. Incidentally, street crime in Delhi is not just about rape and murder, looting, burglaries, chain snatching and molestation and many other kinds of crime have been keeping people virtually terrorised.

In a city which witnesses at least one rape every 29 minutes—489 cases have occurred so far till 2010—the report of the murder of Radhika Tanwar comes as no surprise. Indeed, New Delhi is becoming more dangerous especially for young women despite having an adequate police strength. The national capital is fast becoming a hotbed of crime and violence. Undoubtedly it is a nasty war out there for women who go to work, shop or catch a movie with a constant fear in mind—what if I am the next victim? They are worried at the thought of stepping out late at night as someone may be lurking in shadows to harm them using public conveyance post 8 pm is quite unthinkable. Most will vouch for the fact that while waiting at bus stops or flagging down public transport, they have been accosted by strangers with questionable intensions. What is most unfortunate is that such gruesome incidents have become so common that people have stopped reacting to them. Frustrated by the government’s inaction over the years, people of Delhi also have become apathetic. The reticence shown by them when a woman is being harassed or attacked also makes women more vulnerable. This is why there were no witnesses to the murder, despite the fact that it was committed in broad daylight and in a crowded place. The victim’s life could have been saved had people helped her.

It is tragic that murders like Radhika’s should occur in a country when people worship goddesses with much devotion. We must recall the words of QW Curtis who said “the test of civilisation is the estimation of women.” India as a nation doesn’t know how to treat women as human beings who have a right to safety and dignity. We kill the girl child, burn brides and sexually abuse women without any qualms. We may take pride in our democratic institutions and civilisational ethos but the abuse and atrocities against women show the hollowness of our society. Though India can boost of having women in all top positions who have left their imprint in all walks of life yet they have to contend with discrimination and sexual harassment all their life. There is no denying that our country is on the fast-track to development but is yet to shed its feudal and orthodox mindset about women who constitute nearly half of the population. Millions of women have no control over their destiny as foeticide, honour killing and crimes against women still continue to plague society. Cases of harassment and deaths due to dowry demands are on the rise. Atrocities like wife beating, martial rape and other forms of cruelty are still in vogue.

To make matters worse, the law has failed to check the rising crime graph. The increase in the number of crimes such as rape and murder can be attributed to the passive role of the police. The staggering number of cases is itself proof of the police’s inadequacy. These days the police have become a metaphor for corruption. Besides they spend too much time and energy on the security of VVIP’s than to maintain law and order. No doubt, our criminal justice system is also to blame. Almost all judicial cases in India drag on for years. People who are rich or have a political clout are almost never brought to justice. A low conviction rate, societal indifference, apathetic attitude of the people, these are all culprits. There is also need for a better communication between the police and the citizens. But for that, police have to win the trust of the people.

Media reports have said that Radhika was stalked by the murderer. It needs no reiteration that in the absence of any specific anti-stalking laws in India, it becomes difficult to check such harassment. It is time the government takes stock of the problem and enacts anti-stalking legislation to act as a deterrent like they have in the US and Canada. Young boys and men should also be sensitised to reduce the woes of women.

There is an urgent need to go beyond the law and sensitise people towards women. Only when cities and nations become safer for women, will our society be truly liberated. How many Radhikas do we need to wake us up from our deep slumber and stop gender based violence?

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