Responding to the Congress and the BJP’s offers of support the Aam Aadmi Party to form a government in Delhi, the AAP on Saturday asked the political veterans to clarify their stand on 18 key issues before the political debutant could consider taking support from either of them.
It is unlikely to become a deal clincher but providing women safety has been identified as the 16th negotiating point on the AAP list. The AAP has sought to know if the Congress and the BJP would support it in building a special protection force for women, get new courts and more judges to ensure every case of women’s exploitation was decided within three to six months.
A point-by-point response to the AAP’s checklist is awaited from the Congress and the BJP, but both have already spelt out their own agenda for women safety in their manifestos for the assembly polls held on December 4.
The BJP promised 24-hour helpline, a dedicated 'Women Security Force' under the direct supervision of the chief minister, more hostels for working women, and fast track courts for speedy trial in cases of violence against women.
The Congress vowed to recruit more women in the police force, give gender training to its entire workforce, push for police reforms and improve overall coordination between the state government and Delhi Police. This was a marked change from the Congress-led Delhi government’s first response to the December 16 gang rape – that law and order was not a state subject – last year.
But a few things have changed since a 23-year-old physiotherapist suffered the unimaginable on December 16 last year. Violence against women is no longer an academic discussion or a topic for TV debate. It is part of the mass discourse, something the political class cannot afford to ignore. Sufferers and their families are coming out in increasing numbers to lodge complaints and demand justice.
However, judicial remedies or police reforms, though absolutely necessary, are mostly curative, rather than preventive, measures. Delhi Police’s data shows that almost 50% of the crimes committed in the capital are in the “working class neighbourhoods” in the outer, northeast and southwest and southeast districts.
Police presence is patchy in these areas because a disproportionately large chunk of resources are diverted to VIP zones. While redistribution and repurposing of the existing force requires coordination with the Centre in this city-state, the BJP’s ‘women security force’ or the AAP’s quasi-armed citizen force will have little impact if these too are sourced and remain restricted to only a certain pockets of the city.
However, the bulk of necessary preventive measures that make a city safer are a matter of routine governance. Nothing stops a Delhi government from ensuring that the city is well-lit uniformly and not just in VIP patches and affluent neighbourhoods, that walking space is free of encroachments, public transport is reliable and last-mile connectivity is taken care of even during late hours.
Ensuring safety of women, like safety of any citizen, is the first duty of the state. It is about ensuring that civic infrastructure and administration are functional and dependable. Since 16 December 2012, the political class has repeatedly promised women safety. But making a city more inclusive of women’s needs does not require debates in Parliament or major policy changes. A year on, our elected leaders just need to provide effective governance.