New Delhi: Debates over the safety of women have kicked up a dust, but done little to ensure their security, students and professionals say, stressing nothing has changed in the national capital after the 2012 brutal gangrape that briefly sparked some soul-searching and led to a new law.
Delhi reported 15,319 cases of crimes against women in 2014, 17,222 in 2015 and 15,310 in 2016, data collected by the National Crime Records Bureau stated.
It won the dubious sobriquet of the “national capital of rape” when the city registered the maximum number of 1,996 rape cases in the country in 2016, up from 1,893 in 2015.
But women stressed that little had changed since people came out to the streets in protest against the rape and death of a paramedical intern in 2012.
“Ask any girl, and she would tell you what happens with us daily in public spaces. People stare at our body, they wrongly brush past us, we are subjected to abuse and we get intimidated,” said a 23-year-old MA student who did not wish to be identified.
These violations occurred in places that ranged from Metro trains and DTC buses to shopping malls and colleges, she said.
And they regularly took place on social media sites.
“I was even threatened on Facebook for not reciprocating to somebody’s sexual advances,” she said. “What business do people have in asking if I am a virgin or if my ‘seal’ is intact?”
Her parents worried about her safety every time she went out of the house, she said. adding that venturing out after 8 pm for her was a strict “no”.
“But every other day we keep hearing news of rape or molestation that happens not only to young women but to children, too,” she said.
After the gangrape of the paramedical student on board a bus in Delhi on December 16, 2012, the Supreme Court had upheld death for the four accused in the case it described as the “most brutal and diabolical”.
In its wake, the government amended the criminal law in April 2013, bringing stricter punishment for crimes including rape, sexual harassment, voyeurism, stalking and acid attacks.
“Even after the amendments, the ground level enforcement is really bad,” said Anahita Bakshi, a public relations professional based out of South Delhi.
The 25-year-old professional said most women would say they felt unsafe if asked about the way the city treated them.
Sharper laws have been brought in, but few believed they had made a difference.
“Nothing has changed even six years after the Delhi gangrape case with respect to women’s safety and the psychological fear that we have to deal with. The only change, perhaps, is that the situation has worsened,” said the postgraduate student, advocating death penalty for rapists.
After the nation-wide public outrage over the Kathua and Unnao cases, the Union Cabinet yesterday gave its approval to the promulgation of an Ordinance with the death penalty for those who raped children up to 12 years of age.
President Ram Nath Kovind today promulgated the Ordinance.
Delhi Commission for Women chairperson Swati Maliwal too was on a hunger-strike for 10 days, demanding death for rapists.
However, victims and experts believed the death penalty could not be a deterrent to rape and crime against women unless the political leadership showed a commitment.
“The decision (by the Union Cabinet) is a mere ‘lollipop’ given to the people ahead of the general elections,” said the father of the 2012 gangrape victim.
Talking to PTI, he said it had been four years since the lower court and the high court awarded the death sentence to the rapists and murderers of his daughter, orders upheld by the Supreme Court.
“When the government has not been able to hand down punishment to the culprits in this case what do we expect for others,” he said, claiming that the government was not going to punish them.
He also stressed the death penalty would not deter people against such crimes, and added that the Union Cabinet’s latest move was insensitive towards children above 12 years.
“And what if the accused of a rape turns out to be a juvenile? Will he face the gallows,” he asked.
Supreme Court lawyer and rights activist Vrinda Grover also asserted that nothing had changed since 2012 in the levels of violence, mindsets of people, the legal system or in the political class.
“And the reason it hasn’t changed is that the law requires a certain orientation for people to change the way they look at the law, look at women,” she said.
One of the problems, she held, was that the political leadership was not committed to creating circumstances where women were equal citizens and could enjoy the freedom of liberty.
Referring to the Kathua and Unnao cases, Grover said the response from the political leadership came only after society had expressed extreme anguish and anger. An eight-year-old girl was raped and killed in Kathua in Jammu, while a teenager in Unnao in Uttar Pradesh said she had been gang-raped.
“Unless there is a commitment by political leadership there won’t be any changes in the system,” Grover added.
The lawyer, who is opposed to the death penalty, said the country had “very low levels” of conviction because of the shortcomings in the legal system.
“The investigation and prosecution is not the way it should be. And the problem is that it (the death penalty) is the only answer that the political class has — whether it is the Delhi Commission for Women or the Prime Minister…,” she said.
“Death sentences are going to bring no change in our lives. These are gimmicks and we are fed up… they are playing politics over the bodies of women,” she said.