The hidden history of violence against Indian women may no longer be under wraps but the terms in which it is described need to change. Much more than the issue of 'women's safety', what needs to be looked at is the collapse of trust on which society stands. The Aarushi case and the Tarun Tejpal issue, both of which had a woman's security at its core, have shown the utter absence of an ethical code that has put the life, liberties and freedom of women at risk inside and outside the home.
The HT-GfK survey shows this deep sense of distrust in society and systems among women. Forty-six per cent of the women surveyed said they should be allowed to carry weapons; 64% who witnessed incidents of sexual harassment said they didn't help as they were unsure of support from other people - and the police.
Ronjini, 34, who works in advertising in Kolkata and has also worked in Delhi, said while she may feel more secure in Kolkata because of its public culture, both cities are "equally unsafe now". What she chooses to highlight in Kolkata's Park Street rape case of 2012 is illuminating: "As a woman, I was more scared because of the way it was handled, even denied. The victim was blamed. Many of the city's women now manufacture their own pepper-sprays and carry firearms."
The survey shows how women (51% said they helped reduce crime) are more ready to trust impersonal security apparatus like CCTVs than the police. Of those who are harassed, only 4% said they had complained to the police.
According to the survey, Delhi is the most unsafe city with 58% saying so. Ahmedabad at 88% and Hyderabad at 85% were considered safest. Ninety-two percent of Delhi women said they felt safe alone only till 9 pm, 27% said bus stops were where they felt most uncomfortable.
"Delhi's crisis," said Anand Kumar, professor of sociology, JNU, "has to do with the low intensity of social inter-dependence, nearly invisible systems of communitarian concerns and politicised system of policing and punishment." Sociologist Radhika Chopra said the city's gender insensitivity stemmed from the withering of her cultural core, "the older walled city which was marginalised and deliberately impoverished through successive government policies of deliberate neglect. As a city of rule it has always been composed of people who have left their own homes. There is little to create a feeling of belonging other than a share in the power structure. Anyone who isn't part of that…is an outsider, part of the margins or just plain dispossessed."
Sudeshna Chatterjee, 43, a Delhi architect and a child rights activist, makes an interesting connection between women's safety and the question of her marginalisation. "A woman's body is not the only site of attack. Promotion, class-based discrimination, pay inequality versus male colleagues are things that are difficult to prove but they equally continue the assault on women," she said. "Sexual assault is a crime of the first degree but so are these."
Read more: Why our big cities needn't be bad for women too