How do we ensure a safer India for women?

The need of the hour is to adopt a systematic and comprehensive approach for ending all forms of violence against women.

 |  5-minute read |   01-10-2020
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After a 15-day struggle for life, the Hathras gangrape survivor who had been dragged, beaten, strangulated and mutilated, succumbed to her injuries, an incident inhuman enough to make every Indian hang their head in shame. As though the crime itself was not enough, she was cremated in the dark of the night, allegedly without the consent of her family. Remember the advertisement that recreated images of goddesses with black eyes and bruised faces a few years ago? The advertising agency had intended to capture the attention of the masses towards a bitter truth - ‘not a world for women’.

main_goddess-injured_100120031836.jpgNot a world for women. (Photo: Taproot)

Unfortunately, the situation has not become much better since then. In fact, instances of crimes against women in India have been increasing steadily, with the number of registered cases rising from 3,22,929 in 2016 to 3,78,277 in 2018 and 4,05,861 in 2019. According to the latest statistics released by the National Crime Record Bureau, 87 cases of rape are recorded on average in India every day. And this is the status when a significant, or better put, majority of offences against women perhaps go unreported.

As per the National Family Health Survey 2015-16, every third woman between the age of 15 and 49 years experiences some form of physical or sexual violence during her lifetime. What is even more alarming is the acceptance and normalisation of violence, with the Survey estimating that 52 per cent of women and 42 per cent of men believe that a husband is justified in beating his wife.

Unequal power relations are the root cause of gender inequality, often manifesting as violence. A patriarchal mindset combined with the lack of safe spaces for women; male dominance over social and economic decision-making as well as women’s implicit agreement with sexist attitudes are collectively responsible for these appalling statistics.

The need of the hour is to adopt a systematic and comprehensive approach for ending all forms of violence against women.

First, we need better data. Statistics pertaining to the nature of violence and the location of the crime need to be made available on a regular basis for informing policymaking. Additionally, timely statistics will help us to definitively put an end to the debate around whether or not the increase in cases of violence against women can be attributed primarily to higher reporting. 

Second, we need to carry out widespread sensitisation efforts in society, with a special focus on children and the youth as their behaviours are easier to influence and change for the better. After all, a large number of crimes against women take place in their own homes and are committed by people known to them. It is imperative that the prevailing toxic attitudes towards women are changed and this can only happen through the active involvement of every citizen. Community-based structures such as self-help groups should also be leveraged extensively for disseminating information about gender-based violence and women’s rights.

Third, we need better infrastructure including a strong public transport system, streetlighting to eliminate dark spots, enhanced CCTV coverage, increased bus services during off-peak hours as well as transport services on less-travelled routes. Technology also has an increasingly important role to play. Moreover, businesses too have an obligation to ensure that female employees can safely travel to and from their workplaces. Any steps they take in this regard should not be perceived as a wasteful investment because there is ample evidence to substantiate that companies with a strong track record of gender diversity are more likely to have higher earnings than their peers.

Fourth, certain legislations need to be amended to keep pace with changing times. For instance, laws such as the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986 and the Information Technology Act, 2000, should be modified to make them cyber-sensitive as well as gender-sensitive.

Fifth, the criminal justice system needs a complete overhaul. Conviction rates are abysmal in cases of violence against women and it often takes years before justice is actually delivered. The Delhi Nirbhaya case was supposed to be a landmark moment. However, it took us 7 years after the crime took place to deliver the final sentence as justice continued to be “deferred until further orders”.

Legislative provisions making it mandatory to conduct proceedings on a daily basis and the need for establishing fast-track courts are often not adhered to in letter and spirit. Another challenge is the use of delaying tactics by lawyers in consonance with the culprit. It is certainty and speed of justice which will instil confidence in citizens vis-à-vis the judiciary, more than the quantum of punishment meted out.

Sixth, efforts such as the One-Stop Centers established by the government to provide comprehensive support to women who have endured violence as well as the Mahila Police Volunteers who serve as a link between the police and the community, also need to be strengthened and implemented across the country. Further, we need to significantly increase the number of women in the police and judiciary. It is essential that States make this a priority.

Last but most certainly not the least, sensitisation of the civil administration, police and judiciary is key. A woman who has already been wronged should not have to suffer again at the hands of the system as appears to have happened in the case of the Hathras braveheart. On the day she passed away, news came in from another part of the country of a baby girl being stabbed multiple times with a screwdriver. Her fault? Simply her gender.

For a country that aspires to be a superpower, the dream is unachievable if we continue to mete out inhuman treatment to half the population. Be it civil servants, police, judiciary, politicians or indeed each one of us, we must vow to end all forms of violence and discrimination against women. Let us not wait to act until this horror reaches our own doorsteps. It will be too late by then.

(Co-authors: Vedeika Shekhar, Associate, NITI Aayog and Yashasvi Singh, Independent Legal Consultant)

Also read: From Hathras to Balrampur: Why rape and death are fine but injury details aren’t


Urvashi Prasad Urvashi Prasad @urvashi01

The writer is a development sector professional and public health specialist at NITI Aayog.

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