Has anything really changed since a young woman, who died after being gang-raped and brutally beaten last December, was adopted as the symbol of an enraged India that was determined to force a change?
Yes, we have a stringent anti-rape law now. And yes, talking about sexual harassment is no longer taboo as is evident from the recent case of a young lawyer who dared reveal that she was harassed by a Supreme Court judge with unimpeachable credentials last year and that of a young journalist who has accused a hot-shot editor of sexual assault.
But what about our cities? Is Delhi any safer than it was last year?
Over the next month, Hindustan Times will find out. We will assess the situation in the national capital regarding the safety and security of women. We will focus on issues such as the need to have more policemen to patrol streets instead of guarding VIPs, an increase in the number of female cops, greater sensitivity towards women reporting crimes at police stations, well-lit streets, installation of closed-circuit TV cameras, last-mile connectivity, more public conveniences for women and better implementation of laws.
The month-long series will explore several other areas, including poor urban planning that leads to insecurity among residents — it is well documented that poorly-planned urban and public spaces are prone to crime. Such areas include secluded areas and poorly-lit stretches.
A “perception survey”, the Delhi Human Development Report 2013, released earlier this year, confirmed that women’s safety is still a priority. The survey said pressing issues such as price rise, corruption or unemployment don’t bother women as much as safety, which was their top-most concern. Among men, it was third among concerns.
The results of an Avaaz/MDRA/HT opinion poll published on December 2 confirms the findings of the “perception survey.” It reveals that the vast majority of voters in Delhi want the new government to prioritise policy on violence against women, and are more likely to vote for candidates who commit to strong action on this issue. With a representative sample of 3,061 people across Delhi, the poll found that 93 per cent see violence against women as a priority in the upcoming Delhi elections.
It’s clear that some initiatives introduced after last year’s incident have helped thousands of women. For example, the Delhi government’s helpline for women in distress — set up following last year’s protests — has received nearly 5.52 lakh calls since it was established. On an average, the helpline, available by dialing 181, gets calls from 1,500 women daily.
What is evident is that there’s much left to do to ensure the safety of women and the battle to ensure it happens is certainly not ending anytime soon.