As Delhi is heading for a three-cornered contest among the ruling Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Aam Aadmi Party in the December 4 polls, the parties are likely to have a tough time wooing around 51 lakh women voters who feel security for them is a major issue.
Though the government has claimed it has kept the issue of women's security on its priority list, experts and activists feel not much success has been achieved on this front despite some institutional measures being announced following the December 16 gang-rape incident that had triggered massive protests.
The activists believe the parties will have tough time wooing women voters like never before. "Though infrastructural issues, policing efficiency, electricity and water are burning topics, women's security issue will be high on agenda in the elections this time, and unlike earlier parties can't afford to ignore women voters," says Kalpana Vishwanathan, director of NGO Jagori.
While Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit has exuded confidence of a fourth straight victory in the upcoming assembly elections, Ranjana Kumari, Director at Centre for Social Research believes the ruling party will have to bear the brunt of women's anger because of rising cases of violence against them.
"The women voters have all the reasons to feel cheated by the government. The safety issues are every girl's concern but what about the women reservation bill. When there is no representation for women in democracy, why should they vote," she asks.
In an effort to woo women voters, Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party has already started an initiative called the 'women security force' in every college and assembly constituency.
"Women in Delhi do not feel safe anymore. Whenever a rape happens in Delhi, the blame is shifted to the Delhi police saying it is not under control. The Delhi people do not need a government which is so helpless," an AAP leader said.
The BJP is also likely to announce a series of measures in its manifesto to enhance security of women. The party plans to raise the issue forcefully during its campaign. Enlisting the issues, which will influence women voters in the coming elections, Kumari says, "Growing unemployment in educated women also needs to be addressed. The women security issue is an issue with multiple folds."
"The issue of single girls finding it difficult to have accommodation in the city is of concern to a large section of women. They are often not treated properly by the neighbourhood men. It again raises the same women's safety issue," Kumari says.
Many first time voters say women's security will be on top of their mind while casting votes. "It is a very serious issue. The present government made a lot of promises after the gang rape incident last year but not much has changed," says Ritika, a Delhi University student.
According to Delhi Election Commission, a total of 1.15 crore voters are enrolled with it out of which 63,81,003 are men and 51,29,490 are women.
During the last assembly elections in 2008, the total number of voters were 1.07 crore including 59,75,917 men and 47,62,499 women. "Giving death penalty would not satisfy those lakhs of women voters who deal with these issues in their day to day life and find no answers when they want to know what the government is doing about them," says Kavita Krishnan, Secretary of the All India Progressive Women's Association
"Women are completely aware what has been done since the December gang-rape case to implement the recommendations of Verma committee.
"What are the sexual harassment committees doing? What about the poor class working women, where should they leave their kids while they go for work. All these questions need to be answered before women are expected to caste their votes for any particular party," she says.
Political parties are aware of the situation and are trying to play safe by highlighting women's issues on their agendas for upcoming polls.
Former Delhi BJP chief Vijender Gupta, who will contest against Dikshit, says the Delhi government has done nothing to improve security of women in the city. "Considering the kind of law and order we have had during the Congress rule where our chief minister herself accepted that Delhi isn't safe for women and her daughters also don't feel safe here, it's time we should wake up and take the issues seriously," he says.
Gupta believes that just highlighting the security part will not be enough when it comes to women's issues. "There are so many issues concerning women including that of mortality rate, health issues, accommodation and counselling of women facing domestic abuse. If we are voted to power, we will ensure that Delhi is free of these issues and a better place for women," he says.
The city government had announced a number of measures including installation of GPS devices in autos and buses and deploying of armed guards in DTC buses but none of these have been implemented effectively.
The activists say though a fast track court pronounced its judgment in the gangrape case in eight months, a large number of such cases remain practically unattended. Minister of Women and Child Development Kiran Walia believes that substantial initiatives have been taken for women and their impact will be evident in the elections. "Though women's issues are paramount today but the Congress has done remarkable work in dealing with them. The gender sensitisation centres, awaaz uthao units, rape crisis centres, working women's hostels are evident examples of the concern of the government for women," she says.
Asked about the criticism against the government on the issue, she asserts, "It takes years to break the mindset of the people. You have to deal with everything from no response to slow response. Women's issues have always been on our agenda, we have always been taking initiatives for it and when voted to power again, we will continue doing so."
Image: Demonstrators hold candles during a prayer meeting for Delhi gang rape victim
Photographs: Mukesh Gupta/Reuters