For a city dubbed the “rape capital”, Delhi has reacted rather unusually since a 23-year-old suffered the unimaginable on December 16. The anger vented by thousands from all walks of life at India Gate and subsequently at Jantar Mantar has not died down even though their physical presence at these protests may have thinned.
It is the first time Delhi took the issue of women safety outside seminar halls and TV studios to the streets where harassment in some form or the other is a daily occurrence. It varies in degree from obscene calls to groping, stalking or molestation to more dangerous attacks that happen not necessarily because a woman walked into a dark alley but even at busy market places and inside packed public vehicles.
A few of these cases get reported, most not being "serious" enough for cops to spend their precious time and resources into investigating those. Many women who know the system just avoid lodging an FIR to avoid character assassination at the hands of police or emboldening the perpetrator when cops don't act. But if our cops are to be blamed for insensitivity, Delhi as a society must also look inward.
How many times have you seen a woman getting support from fellow passengers when she told a man not to lean on her in a DTC bus? Or people being spectators when a girl dared to confront a man who passed a lewd comment or touched her? Why is the onus of fighting such crimes always on the victim alone? Worse, she often faces her first round of humiliation not at the police station, but right at the crime scene.
If even half the witnesses turn up in support of the victim when a sexual offence is committed at a public place, cops will be forced to register a case and act. The same strength of numbers can overcome the common fear of harassment by cops that keep most of us from helping a victim. Why those few who stand by victims or get them medical help when needed or willingly testify as witnesses be exceptions in a city of 16 million?
In an interview to the New York Times (India Ink), psychologist Rajat Mitra, who had spoken to a number of rape accused and convicts lodged in Tihar jail, talked how aspects of privacy and control were common to all cases. "The recent case, where the rape happened in a bus, the group of men was in a surrounding that was familiar to them, and hence had a sense of security," he said.
Our don't-see-don't-act approach further emboldens such perpetrators with a sense of impunity. When any one of us is a potential victim, reporting a crime or ensuring that criminals are booked cannot remain only the victim's problem. If we want a safer Delhi, we have to be part of the change we wish to see.
We must react to a situation when we see one. If we are not bold enough to intervene physically, we can be one of those 25 callers who reported immediately to cops when a girl was forced into a car outside an east Delhi mall last week. As RWA members, we can keep our colonies safe by
identifying secluded or dark stretches, demanding vigil from the cops and ensuring that no ruffian gets away with a lewd comment.
Every small step of resistance will help create a culture of zero-tolerance towards sexual offences, irrespective of the notoriety, clout or status of the offenders. It will deny the perpetrators the comfort of confidence. It will also send a clear message to the cops.