Why one’s social class decides her safety entitlement in Delhi | columns | Hindustan Times
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Why one’s social class decides her safety entitlement in Delhi

columns Updated: Jan 13, 2013 23:49 IST
Shivani Singh

Since December 16, when Delhi was shaken by the horrific gang rape, the city looks a little different. Police, criticised to no end for never being there for the citizens, are now making their presence felt by putting up too many barricades on arterial roads.

Even if these slow down traffic, we really can't complain. We asked for physical vigil and are getting a heavy dose of it. But while busy streets and upmarket areas are being monitored, there is still little or no security in vast swathes of the city that do not have access to reliable public transport, where street lights don’t work and dug up or encroached pavements force women to walk in the middle of the road.

The Capital’s security structure believes in this top-down approach. The VIP enclaves of New Delhi constitute only 2 per cent of the city’s area and are protected by 2,385 cops and 88 PCR (police control room) vans. In comparison, 30 per cent of the city’s area falls in the outer Delhi district and is looked after by only 4,169 cops and 55 PCR vans. Between these two extremes, security standards in the remaining 68 per cent of the city depend on the relative class values of the areas.

Delhi’s in-built class bias shows in the way the city is governed. The response of police and the rest of the administration to middle-class demands may often be knee-jerk but is always prompter than to the concerns of the underclass. Cops are more active in posh colonies, which also employ private security guards and construct several gates on public roads. Delhi's worst blind spots are its slums and margins — places where abuse is not easily seen and complaints rarely heard.

Post December 16, the government has announced a host of measures to improve security. While cops put up barriers on prime roads, long, dark stretches remain unmanned. There may be more night buses, but their coverage is irregular. The government insists that employers must offer women who work after 8 pm a drop-home facility but only a handful of big organisations comply.

The majority of Delhi's working women, employed in malls, restaurants, beauty parlours, small establishments and our homes, do not even know that such a rule exists. In the absence of any support from their workplace, they risk their security every day, waiting for buses that never arrive on time or sharing a ride in an eight-seater Grameen Seva with drunkards and potential molesters, or just walking home in dark alleys since the administration never bothered to install a streetlight in their unprivileged neighbourhood.

There are also a large number of women — homeless and destitute — who do not even count. Sexual abuse is probably the highest on streets though there is no hard data as our cops and administration have never bothered to care for this invisible population. But even the available records point towards a lopsided policing system.

According to Delhi Police’s 2010 data, 26 of 155 police stations (it increased to 161 last year), accounted for about 50 per cent of the crimes committed in the Capital. These are mostly “working class neighbourhoods” in outer, north-east and south-west districts. These areas are still vulnerable because policing remains patchy. Preoccupied with their livelihood battles, the working class residents here have little time or motivation to organise protest marches demanding safety. Even if they do, chance are it will go under the radar.