The New Year has not brought any cheer when it comes to the security of women in India. On Tuesday night, a 51-year-old Danish woman was allegedly gang-raped in the heart of the capital city after she lost her way and asked a group of men for directions. They also robbed her of her valuables. While she filed an FIR at the police station, she did not undergo any medical test and has since left the country. The incident comes a day after a German woman lodged an FIR alleging molestation in the Chennai-bound Mangalore Express. Earlier in January, a Polish woman was allegedly drugged and raped by a taxi driver in Mathura. And don’t forget the women who were raped during the Muzaffarnagar riots. Four months on, they are yet to get justice and the perpetrators are roaming scot-free. Such incidents show that despite tough laws in place after the December 16, 2013, rape, attacks on women have not gone down and there does not seem to be much fear of the law. This is not surprising, since laws can instil fear only to an extent; as long as there is social apathy towards such crimes against women, incidents like the ones mentioned above will continue.
Rapid urbanisation and migration have also been blamed for the increase in crimes. The economic stagnation of rural India has meant that more people are migrating to cities in hope of a better future. But without any particular skill set and education, they find their future as dark as ever. And, these young men, who have no hope for a comfortable future, often indulge in violence, especially against women. Social change and stricter laws alone cannot make our cities safe. There has to be a more holistic approach towards tackling the problem: it needs a combination of education, skill development and employment for as many as possible. Unless these young men feel that they have something to look forward to and it’s worthwhile to stay away from a life of crime, there will be no natural deterrence against their participation in anti-social activities.
Women often experience major rights violations as a consequence of such urban insecurity. A primary finding of a 2012 ActionAid research showed that women’s fear and insecurity sharply reduces their mobility. Women adjust their travel based on their own experiences and those of other women, avoiding certain modes, times and routes of transportation. Such violence even limits their full participation in public life; it also affects their psychological and psychosocial health and well-being. Women’s safety should be made a part of urban planning and policy agenda. But we must also remember that the dangers a woman experiences in private and public spaces are closely linked. Male control in the domestic arena can restrict women’s mobility in public spaces. So the change should start at home.