The Rediff Special/ Onkar Singh
Delhi: 'Lacking a culture that respects women'
Between January and July 2002, the Crime Against Women Cell of the Delhi police registered 75 cases of dowry death, 229 cases of rape, 243 cases of molestation, 306 cases of eve teasing, and 570 cases of kidnapping of women. The figures raise the question: is Delhi safe for women?
The answer depends on whom you listen to. Women activists, for one, believe the city is not safe. "How can you feel safe in the capital when a senior Delhi police officer is locked up on charges of rape in Dehradun?" asked agitated filmmaker Savita Oberoi.
Supreme Court senior advocate Kamini Jaiswal questions the attitude of men towards women. "When did Delhi ever have a culture that respects women? Who is safe in Delhi as far as women are concerned? Whether they are on the roads or within the four walls of their homes or offices, men look at women as if they have never seen them before. When girls and women travel in public transport vehicles, hoodlums harass them, while at home, relatives and friends make their lives miserable," she said.
Lawyer Rani Jethmalani points to the violence against women at home and in the offices. "It takes a rape to draw the attention of the media and the public about the safety of women in the capital. But have we ever wondered about women who are harassed by their male colleagues, of men who use vulgar language and make obscene gestures at their female colleagues in a bid to entice them?" she asks.
On July 31, a law student was gang raped by a group of miscreants in a car on the Delhi University campus. The incident triggered a public outrage and the university students took to the streets to register their protest.
A week later, a 23-year-old student of the Lady Harding Medical College was raped by her friend at his home in south Delhi.
A senior Delhi police officer agreed that the recent events had shaken the confidence of women in the city. "We have deployed policewomen in plain clothes at Delhi University to catch the culprits who indulge in eve teasing and offer lift to women with dangerous intentions. Scores of eve teasers are now in custody after they were caught," he said.
However, not all agree that Delhi is an unsafe city for women. The Delhi police, for one, blame the media for creating the impression amongst the people that the city roads are dangerous for women. "The media has a tendency to blow things out of proportion. Why are you getting this impression that women are unsafe on Delhi roads?" asked Delhi Police Commissioner R S Gupta.
He is not alone in his views.
"I am not prepared to accept that women are unsafe in the capital. Haven't you seen women step out of their houses and go about their work as usual?" asked Vimla Verma, the joint police commissioner in charge of the Crime Against Women cell.
She said Delhi is the only metropolitan city in India with a police cell exclusively devoted to women's complaints. "We take prompt action as and when we get a complaint from a victim. We are doing our best to curb eve teasing, particularly at the university. There is always a scope for improvement in any sphere of life and the same rule is applicable here as well," she argued.
Nevertheless, concerned at the rise in crime against women in the metropolitan cities, the National Commission for Women has summoned a meeting in New Delhi on September 20 to discuss what needs to done so that a sense of security can be restored on the roads of India's major cities. Senior police officers and prominent non-governmental organizations have been invited to take part in the meeting.
Brinda Karat, general secretary of the All-India Democratic Women Association, the Marxist organisation, who is extremely worried about the abuse of minor girls, feels that in the final analysis, a solution has to come from society.
"You cannot turn Delhi into a police city. A city where two-thirds of the rape cases are of minor girls is a society that is hostile to women. The answer has to be a more responsible and more sensitive citizenry," she said.
Fear in the Cities
Bangalore: At risk at home
Chennai: No longer a safe city
Mumbai: Citizen's indifference is the problem
Kolkata: Safe streets, unsafe offices