The 2013 National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) says that there has been a 35% increase in rapes between 2012 and 2013 and that only 6% of these were rapes by strangers. However, public concern and discourse in India continues to primarily focus on ‘stranger rapes’.
The report has also thrown up some other interesting statistics: Molestation, under Indian Penal Code (IPC) Section 354, has increased by 55.2% from 2012 and sexual harassment, under IPC Section 509 ,has increased by 37.2% from 2012. Yet we focus excessively on rape and very little on other forms of sexual harassment.
Between 2010 and 2013, women’s groups conducted street surveys in many cities including Delhi, Mumbai, Guwahati, Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi and asked women about their experience of violence in these cities. An overwhelming percentage of women (Guwahati 72%; Kerala 81%; Mumbai and Delhi 90%), the survey found, reported having faced sexual violence in public places in these cities.
If sexual harassment is such a regular occurrence in public places, it is important to figure out strategies to address this in a meaningful way because many of these incidents are never reported to the police and even if they are, the rate of conviction is low, and it is not always possible to identify the perpetrators.
Therefore, it becomes crucial to prevent such harassment and develop safe spaces. The everyday nature of the violence almost normalises it and women and girls learn early how to deal with such harassment.
How do we begin to create public spaces and cities that are not so hostile to women and girls? First, we must be clear that women have the right to use public spaces without violence and fear. Second, cities must be made more accessible and inclusive for women and other vulnerable groups. Third, improve infrastructure like lighting and state of roads.
Sexual harassment often takes place in public spaces and, therefore, designing these spaces to be better serviced and accessed can lessen the opportunities for harassment, leading eventually to women and girls feeling safer to move around a city. The right to safety must be a goal that all cities must work towards.
Kalpana Viswanath, co-founder, Safetipin The views expressed by the author are personal.