Delhi Women Unsafe; Government Playing It Safe?

Incidents of rape and molestation seem to be cropping-up every other day, akin to news of uproar in the parliament houses. However, the former is a far serious matter of concern. We all realize this and we’re all deeply troubled, concerned and alarmed. But I bet there are a few people out there who would be telling themselves that such atrocities will never happen to them or their loved ones. Well, think again. Do you think the victims of such heinous acts of crime, even in their wildest imaginations, would’ve ever thought that their fates would be written this way? I don’t think so.

There are numerous propositions that have come forth from various quarters, on measures to curb/eradicate instances of sexual assault. I’ve heard a few of these suggestions on the news and I agree with most of the ideas that are being put forward. However, to me it seems like most of these suggestions are post-incident measures. Trauma centers and counseling for rape victims, constant patrolling by the cops, prompt and stricter punishment for the perpetrators, fast-track courts, self-defense classes and tweaks in the law against sexual offenders etc. are all well and good. But to my mind, these are all irrelevant. Because when I put myself in the shoes of the victims and their families, I can imagine how they must feel. I’d feel the same way if something of this sort were to happen to my loved ones. I’d feel crushed and exasperated. I’d curse my misfortune. I’d feel helpless. But for the victim, life may never be the same; in fact it won’t be. Society will make sure that the victims are forced to relive the horrific tragedy from their past, every day, for the rest of their lives.

There’s a faction of people who believe that sexual offenders must be given capital punishment and there’s another ‘school of thinkers’ who suggest that these criminals must be paraded naked on donkey backs through the streets.  Now let me ask you this. Though their crimes are despicable and deep down we all wish they were given the death penalty, does that really solve the problem at hand? Does it make us any better if we stoop to their level and resort to such shameful acts of vengeance? What will international observers have to say about the human rights situation in our country? It’s easy to have heated debates on TV, it’s easy to outrage on blogs (like the I’m doing now) and social media, it’s easy to dictate what women should and shouldn’t be wearing, it’s easy to host SlutWalks, it’s easy for people to takeout protests and candle light marches and it’s even easier for all of us to keep demanding that the government takes action to prevent sexual assault against women. But what purpose is it serving? How are we contributing to the cause? No, I don’t have the answer either. I guess what I’m trying to say is that there’s no point in impugning nor in retrospection. What we need is pro-active measures. Yes, we need to punish offenders if the crime has already been committed but its way more important to make sure that we don’t allow such incidents to even happen. We need to ‘avert’ incidents sexual harassment/assault.

Image Courtesy: Vanessa Beecroft

Image Courtesy: Vanessa Beecroft

It’s unfair to say that Delhi is the rape capital and that it’s due to the incompetence of the Delhi government that such crimes are prevalent in the national capital. For starters, there are similar cases being reported in almost every state of India. Some catch the media’s fancy and some don’t. Some cases we choose to outrage over and some we ignore. But have you ever stopped to wonder what is it that states with low crime rates against women, are doing differently? I have. And I might be wrong, but I don’t think they’re doing anything differently. Probably, they could be doing far less. The most logical reason I could think of is that the crime rates itself in those states/cities are low. Then the next question could be; why is it that so many incidents of sexual assault against women are reported in a city like Delhi and a state like Kerala (predominantly North Kerala)? Again, I could be wrong, but my theory is that it has a lot to do with the up-bringing and the ‘quality’ of education available to the people from backward and lower middle class societies residing in these regions and nearby areas. Humans are genetically programmed to want what they can’t have. Men have traditionally been known to take what they want. If you add all that up, what do you get? Men from backward classes, with a fragile upbringing and inadequate education, who don’t have much going for them in life, with a wrong perception of masculinity, taking what they can’t have using force. My point is that these people could be from anywhere and unfortunately you’ll find a lot more of them in Delhi and surrounding areas. It’s not the government’s fault. Having said that, knowing that sex crimes are rampant in Delhi, Sheila Dixit and the Congress should have taken swift action and implemented policies to keep these crimes in check. So far they have done a poor job of it.

I have a few recommendations for the Delhi government. I know everything’s easier said than done and I also know that implementing policies isn’t child’s play. But, I think the time to sit on your bottoms is now over and it’s time you stood up, took notice and cracked the whip. I understand that addition of resources and infrastructural capabilities will require capital investment. You may ask, “Where will the money come from?” I say, why not build a few less flyovers, pay less aide to our neighbors, buy a few less jets, build a few less rockets and cut back a little on frivolous expenses. Heck, you can even go ahead and raise the taxes, repair a few less roads or even reduce the government subsidies, we don’t mind! Because we realize our priorities, and we’re willing to contribute in whichever way we can, to make our cities and our roads safer for our women.

Getting back to the recommendations that I was talking about, I have just a few of them, a couple of long-term ones and a couple of short-term ones (in terms of implementation timelines).

Long-Term Recommendations:

  1. Addition of ‘Moral Science’ as a mandatory subject in schools, from 3rd grade to 12th grade. And the pass percentage for this subject should be exceptionally high.
  2. Introduction of a training program on common etiquettes and morals for every Indian citizen above the age of 18. This should be a onetime compulsory certification for everybody, and to make sure that it’s implemented, it could be linked to the issue/renewal of passports, ration cards, Aadhar related amenities, electricity/phone/gas connection etc. The program should have balanced course content – on topics ranging from civil rights, recourses available to women under Indian law, case studies on victims of sexual and domestic abuse, offences and consequences, moral aspects of everyday life etc.

Short-Term Recommendations:

  1. Form a task force which would work parallely with the Delhi police to patrol the streets of Delhi 24×7. Since I’m in the mood to give free suggestions, I’ll also go ahead and recommend a name – Anti Rape and Molestation Squad (ARMS).
  2. Set-up a dispatch center (basically a call center  that will dispatch the patrolling units to wherever an incident has been reported.  Again, the dispatch center should functional 24×7. Victims and witnesses should be able to call in to a helpline number to report an incident (rape, eve-teasing, groping or any other form of sexual abuse/assault) before, during or after it happens. They should also be able to report incidents by sending an SMS to the same number.
  3. Create an app and work with all the mobile phone manufacturers (selling in India), to make this app available by default on all new phones. Alternatively, this app should be available for download on app stores across mobile platforms. This app should enable the victim to send an SOS message to the dispatch center and three listed emergency contacts at the tap of a button and it should automatically pick-up the victim’s geographical location and include that information in the message as well.

Why a separate task force and why not just add more resources to the Delhi police? Issues like rape, molestation and eve-teasing are sensitive in nature and more often than not, people fear approaching the police, for a multitude of reasons.  Also, preventing crime against women is a full-time job and requires dedicated resources. The task force obviously should be a specially trained unit that is dedicated to this task alone.

I know these recommendations aren’t ground-breaking but I’m certain that this is the need of the hour and that proactive measures like these is the only way we can prevent incidents of sexual abuse, at least in the near future. On a concluding note, I’d like to request my fellow citizens to kindly stop making jokes about rape and molestation. Because, if and when it happens to you, it’ll cease to be a joke.

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