10 yrs after Nirbhaya case, Delhi still most unsafe; are policies failing?
Delhi has ranked India’s most unsafe metro city for women for the third consecutive year, according to the National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB’s) latest report, “Crime in India 2021″. The report revealed that on an average, two minors were raped every day in the national capital and overall, 1,250 rape cases were reported in 2021.
The data for crime against women comes at a crucial time for two reasons. One, it was released days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address on Independence Day, wherein he urged the citizens to respect women. Two, 2022 marks ten years of the Nirbhaya rape case.
The gruesome rape in a moving bus on the night of December 16, 2012, in Delhi and the subsequent death of the young woman who came to be called Nirbhaya (“Fearless”) had triggered massive protests across the country.
A year after the incident, India’s rape law was amended and a tougher anti-rape law – the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 – was enacted.
It provided for rigorous life imprisonment, and even death penalty, for rape convicts. It also included stringent punishments for offences such as stalking and acid attacks.
In 2013, a “Nirbhaya Fund” was also created to enhance women’s safety and security in the country. However, earlier this year, the government informed Parliament that of the Rs 6,000-odd crore allocated under the Nirbhaya Fund, only two-thirds had been disbursed to the ministries and departments concerned. According to a Business Standard analysis (https://mybs.in/2au3Pkn), less than half of the funds had been utilised.
A wide disparity was also witnessed in the utilisation of funds when a state-wise comparison was done.
So, has anything changed for women in Delhi? Or is the city just as unsafe as it was 10 years ago?
According to Colin Gonsalves, senior advocate, Supreme Court, and founder of Human Rights Law Network, “What has changed is that the police are probably recording the crimes a little bit more accurately than before. It is possible that the crimes are increasing but the contribution to this increase would be that the police are recording crimes a bit more faithfully today than before.”
Delhi has a unique situation where the police report to the central government rather than the state government. In the event of a crime that draws public attention, Delhi governments have over the years taken the plea that since the police report to the Centre, specifically the Union home ministry, there is little they can do.
The Delhi government did not respond to a request from Business Standard for an interview for this article.
Delhi Police Public Relations Officer Suman Nalwa, meanwhile, says, “The Nirbhaya case was a landmark, in the sense that it has given us very progressive laws, which protect women in India against any crime committed against them. No country in the world has such stringent laws.”
She adds, “The case has also brought to the forefront the need for women in police. So, most of the police organisations are upping that; they are in the process of having more and more women police officers in the force and the field.”
The Nirbhaya Fund was also used to install CCTV cameras, ensure the safety of women in public transport and create “One Stop Centres”. These centres aim “to facilitate women affected by violence with a range of integrated services under one roof such as police facilitation, medical aid, providing legal and psycho-social counselling and temporary shelter,” according to a press statement by the Ministry of Women and Child Development on the Nirbhaya Scheme.
But how helpful can all of this be, especially when the accused are often known to the women and children?
Says Jagdeep S Chhokar, founder member, Association for Democratic Reforms, “Delhi cannot be made safe for women by changing the laws, by putting lights all over the place or by installing CCTV cameras. That’s because a very large proportion of rape is committed inside the homes by people known to the women. This cannot be prevented by doing things in the public arena.”
He adds, “What needs to be done is to change the mindset of the people so that they start respecting women, which will happen when there is a movement to reflect women in reality, not by putting stickers on the back of the auto-rickshaws.”
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