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Women Safety Still a Mirage in India

Less than a year since Delhi's young paramedic's rape case shook the nation, the capital of West Bengal was besieged by another horrific gang rape case of a 16-year-old girl, her death, and police cover-up all suggesting that women safety is still a mirage in India.

In fact, the numerous incidents of rape have put a big question mark on the effectiveness of the new Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill put in place after the after the Delhi gang rape incident of December 16, 2012.

That horrifying incident left an indelible mark in the minds of the people and sparked a debate about the safety of women in the country. A year after that there is no let up in rape cases in the country and such incident is being regularly reported in the media.

All this has raised the question whether there any meaningful changes in the attitude of society towards women in the country? Is women's safety, really a priority with those who govern India?

The answer is as depressing as before. While various State Governments had announced a slew of measures, such as setting up of help lines and women help desks at police stations, these appear to have had little impact. If we look at the statistics provided by the Delhi Police and National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB), we find that all talks of women safety and meaningful change in the society's attitude towards them remain a mirage and the hope of women being safe still a pipe dream.

There has been a 125% jump in the number of rape cases in Delhi since December 16, 2012. Molestation cases are up a massive 417%. The Delhi Police till November 2013 has registered 1,493 cases of rape against 661 in the corresponding period last year, 3,237 cases of molestation against 625, 852 cases of harassment against 165.

As per the data of National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB), a total of 706 rape cases were registered in 2012, while the numbers of registered rape cases were 572 in 2011 as against 507 rape cases reported in 2010. The figure stood at 469 in 2009. In 2008, the figure was 466, while in 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001 the figures were 598, 623, 658, 551, 490, 403 and 381 respectively. But it must be noted that these are only reported cases, and perhaps only the tip of the iceberg.

However, the Delhi Police says the figures of the growing crime against women are not disturbing news because the rise in such cases and molestation in the nation's capital is due to more cases being reported and registered now. Can we believe this argument?

Nevertheless, the police claim that it has put in place measures to make the city safe. These include, an all-women police mobile team round-the-clock, orders to ensure immediate registration of FIRs in cases of crime against women and that efforts are made to file charge sheet against the accused within three months, patrolling has been increased, especially at night and on routes taken by BPO vehicles ferrying women and 24-hour police cover has been ensured around entertainment hubs like malls and cinema halls with heightened vigil from 8 PM to 1 AM.

Further, a 'Parivartan' (change) scheme has been launched to create awareness in schools, localities and police stations, etc. It would do one better, to get a regular feedback on whether these efforts have made any difference at all.

At the national level, the Centre passed Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill-2013. It also amended various sections of the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Indian Evidence Act and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.

The new law stated that an offender can be sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than 20 years, but which may extend to life, meaning imprisonment for the remainder of the convict's natural life and with a fine. It also has provisions for handing out death sentence to offenders, who may have been convicted earlier for such crimes.

The law, for the first time, defines stalking and voyeurism as non-bailable offences if repeated for a second time. Perpetrators of acid attack will get a 10-year jail term. However, with the increasing number of cases coming to limelight, it is widely felt that the systemic changes have failed to produce any results. The harsh reality is the uncivilized mindset against the fair sex still nurtures amidst the so-called modern India of the 21st century.

Undoubtedly, while key amendments have been made to update the criminal laws dealing with heinous crimes against women, a lot more needs to be done. It is important to bear in mind that, the fear of law for those indulging in crimes such as rape will only be there if these are strictly enforced. However, the implementation part still remains a major cause of worry.

Another worry is that all the legislations made still remain on paper. There is no change whatsoever on ground realities. The society still has not learnt how to treat rape victims who are subjected to all sorts of harassment. If the nation is seriously looking at addressing this issue, then something more needs to be done than merely passing laws.

There is an urgent need to set up 'one-stop centers' to end the agony of victims who manage to reach a hospital after being subjected to sexual assault of any kind. It must be mandatory for all hospitals to have such a centre with all encompassing protocol for the provision of medical, legal, and rehabilitative services for the victims. The PCR vans too have to be directed to take victims to the nearest hospital with such a centre to save their life and dignity.

Importantly, women police officers, lady doctors, woman counsellors, trained nurses, forensic experts and a designated judicial magistrate are all required to attend to the victims.

Besides, the Rs 100-crore Nirbhaya Fund should be utilized at the earliest to put in place the infrastructure for better safety of women. The Women and Child Development Ministry had proposed a new programme to be funded from it, called Shubh, which would map vulnerable areas and categories of women who need protection. This must be executed at the earliest.

Other important areas, like inclusion of gender sensitization in schools syllabi and awareness campaigns in society to treat women as equals and respect must be pursued more vigorously.

Given the yawning gap between what is being preached and practiced, the issue of the safety of women in India, sadly still has a long way to go. A year's time is too little to see the changes taking place, but if we persistently try to eliminate such ills, there is hope for results in future. The chill wind has started blowing, if that's the sign of winter, spring is not far away.

-- Syed Ali Mujtaba.

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