It has been exactly two years after the incident —when a 23-year-old physiotherapy student was brutally gangraped on a moving bus in south Delhi — that shook the city and the entire nation, but women in the Capital say that nothing has changed even today.
“Life in Delhi is full of fear. My parents guard me all the time. I get frustrated but even I know that I can’t and won’t risk going out alone after dark, and all this is because some lunatic has not been brought up with any values and will be lurking around to target women like me. Nothing has changed even after that night of December 16,” said Naina Mehta, 22-year-old software engineer, while admitting that her parents are extra paranoid but then the city is also equally intimidating.
A woman still fears to step out alone after sundown. She is whistled at, even felt up as she travels on city buses or even while simply standing at a roadside. She loves to try new clothes, but she now has to think a million times before wearing ‘certain kind’ of dresses. Carrying a fork or a bottle of pepper spray has become more common than grabbing a blush-on in her bag as most often she has to fight it out alone.
Even after two years of deep introspection and naming corrective measures, women still live in fear.
Nothing seems to have changed in the capital after what happened on December 16. As many as 91% of women said in a survey conducted by HT and C fore that Delhi has not become safer despite tall promises made by the government and police.
Of the 2,557 women surveyed, 97% said they have personally experienced harassment or assault. Sixty-eight percent respondents had, in fact, faced harassment two to five times in the past year and an equal number of them experienced it after dark. Only 11% were lucky to have been spared any harassment during the same period, according to the survey.
At least 91% women surveyed shared they usually hear comments or whistling when they move around in the city while 70% have also gone through physical harassment. That’s not all. Of all the women surveyed, who aged between 13 and 55 years, over 50 women revealed they were sexually assaulted or raped. Buses and subways were reported as the most unsafe places by women who ranked them at 7.6 and 7.4 respectively.
The women feel more helpless in such a situation as most of them do not trust a person or an authority to go seek action. Surprisingly, as many as 62% women said they did nothing to contact the police when harassed. About 45% didn’t even talk to their family about such incidents fearing they would get worried. Another 36% were concerned the family would restrict their mobility. The fear was not unfounded as 19% of the women who talked to their families about such incidents had in fact had their movement restricted. More than 50% families, however, discussed the situation with the women while 12% simply ignored the incident. “It’s awkward to talk to parents about such things. You never know how they would react. We have never discussed such issues at home ever,” said Sandhya Parashar, a fresh History graduate.
Just 6% of those harassed called the police.
“We have become so used to getting stared at or hearing comments that we often simply ignore or shout back at the most,” said Arshiya Anand, a post-graduation student at Jawaharlal Nehru University. “Police are there to target couples who are spending time together but are slightly cosy in public places. But they do nothing to catch potential criminals who often wander around freely on Delhi roads. Just go to Connaught Place to see the number of drug addicts and beggars,” she added.
Reporting an incident to the police is an option very few women resort to. Call it the lack of confidence or a traditional mindset, but 16% women surveyed said they were afraid to approach the police. While 35% respondents felt the police would only record the incident without any further action, 18% were convinced they will simply not do anything.
Despite engineering a gradual change in the attitude of its officers after December 16, Delhi Police hasn’t been able to show itself as dependable. About 10% women said they feel the police would blame them for the incident while 22% thought the cops would trivialize the matter if they ever approached them with a complaint.
According to Delhi Police, it has taken multiple steps to make the city and the police, women-friendly and will continue to do so. “Several initiatives have been taken to ensure that women feel safe in Delhi. We have identified bus stops and markets frequently visited by women. Police personnel have been deployed on 300 bus stops across the city during peak morning and evening hours,” said Deepak Mishra, Special Commissioner of Police (law and order).
According to the police, registering FIRs has been made easy and they allow investigation of rape cases only by women officers. Chargesheets in such cases are filed within 20 days.
But that’s clearly not enough. Most women want strict action against perpetrators of sexual crimes so that others back down. As many as 95% women said stricter laws against molestation and rape will be a deterrent.
(With inputs from Karn Pratap Singh)