‘I was alone in my battle against the continuous sexual violence that I had been facing, but now I think this one-stop crisis centre will become a support system for me and other women like me to access help’. This was Madhu (name changed) at the inauguration of the Bhopal chapter of the crisis centre in June. Most victims of sexual harassment will agree with her experience of “fighting alone” despite the fact that there has been an increase in social awareness in recent years.
In a situation like this, the conviction of five men for abducting and gang-raping a call centre employee in Delhi in 2010 is good news but it should not mean that all is well with the system that was promised to the women of the country after the horrendous gang rape on December 16, 2012.
Soon after the gang rape, the then UPA government promised a stringent law to tackle sexual harassment and violence against women and that came in the form of The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, which was passed in 2013. But beyond that, unfortunately, nothing has moved. The Rs 1,000 crore fund that was set up by the UPA government for empowerment, safety and security of women and girl children remains unused.
In July, the NDA government also set aside funds but nothing has moved beyond the allocation. In an interview to a national daily, activist Vrinda Grover, who was part of a task force that was set up last year to discuss the spending plan for the fund, said that she had “no idea how this fund will be used though it exists on paper”. This lack of clarity on such an initiative is baffling if you consider the record of crimes against women: As per the National Crime Records Bureau statistics, incidents of reported rape saw a 28% jump from 24,923 cases in 2012 to 31,962 cases in 2013.
The fund also had an ambitious proposal of setting up 660 rape crisis centres across the country, but still there is no clarity on this. Activists also point out that while the police want to install CCTVs in public places, there is a shortage of trained personnel who can make use of the footage that is generated by these cameras.
It is now in the hands of the finance ministry to draw up a plan to properly use the funds. Schemes must ensure the complete coverage of costs incurred by the victims by way of legal fees, medical costs, employment and so on. There has already been a delay in operationalising the fund and the government must do its best to roll it out before the start of the next financial term.