The promise of what she could have been, her struggle against all odds, her resolve to live life on her own terms — these brought a normally indifferent nation to its feet when ‘Nirbhaya’ met a brutal end at the hands of a bunch of savages on a bus. Such was the anger and revulsion that the government of the day was forced to ensure that justice was done to her and the mood was `never again’. But five years down the line, the viciousness with which young women are facing sexual violence does not seem to inculcate that same passion anymore as society seems unable or unwilling to muster the raw anger of those days when the Capital was brought to a standstill by protestors.
Only 40 % of the Rs 3,000 crore Nirbhaya fund has been used though god knows the number of rapes has been going up exponentially. The Jisha case in Kerala where an up and coming law student was raped and murdered did not raise too many ripples even in a state with claims to being the second-most literate in India. Clearly, respect for women and civility do not go hand-in-hand with education. Among those who knew the victim, the very few who spoke out were her male — please note not female — classmates.
The government of the day and the Opposition picked up the issue as a political weapon to beat each other with. To date, we don’t know who perpetrated this barbaric crime. Similarly, a mentally challenged girl was raped in Delhi when she went to the only pump within a two-mile radius of her home to fetch water. A 15-year-old girl was raped and set on fire by her stalker in Delhi, in Mumbai a four-year-old baby was raped and killed and in Uttar Pradesh a six-year-old was raped and is battling for survival. In Delhi, an eight-year-old girl’s abduction and rape created a fear psychosis in the area.
When the current prime minister assumed office, he spoke of his connection with small details, small issues. One was that of toilets. In many cases today, women are assaulted for the lack of toilets, the assailants lying in wait near the secluded spots they are forced to use. In a heart-rending segment on television, I recently saw many families in a north Indian village talk of how they did not give their children food after sunset for fear that they may have to use the fields at night which makes them vulnerable to predators. Swachh Bharat may be happening, just not fast enough. The prime minister is right in that toilets will bring with them better hygiene. It will also bring safety to women.
The laws are all there and they are quite adequate but the devil as always lies in the detail. The filing of an FIR, the gathering of forensic evidence in time, these are all factors that militate against women trying to secure justice in cases of sexual violence. Late last year, we learnt again from the media that a little girl who had been raped was kept waiting in an all-women police station for a whole day before the law-enforcers deigned to attend to her mother’s complaint.
One of the latest is a horrific rape in Kolkata where an earlier victim was dismissed as a woman of dubious reputation by no less than the ruling party’s leaders. In the recent case, the victim after being raped in a moving car was dumped, bruised and bloodied, when she raised an alarm.
If the number of rapes recorded in 2011 was 24,206, it rose to 37,000 in 2014. There are many cases where fear or family honour ensures that the case never comes to light. It enrages me to see taxis in the Capital bearing the slogan `this taxi respects women’. Where in any civilised country would a public transport vehicle have to proclaim that women are safe to travel in it?
We keep talking about changes in mindset, well, if it did not happen after the Delhi gangrape, I would not hold my breath on it happening now. The only way women will be safer is if the law does not let up on offenders. For this, the political and civil establishment has to keep up a perennial clamour, just reacting after a crime won’t do.
But sadly, the onus of keeping themselves out of harm’s way today is still on the woman. The government can help by ensuring that she does not come into the line of fire by having to fetch water from faraway, from having to use open toilets, and from not having her word questioned by the police. These are small details, something the prime minister might like to revisit at the beginning of his third year in power.