While the clock ticks on the execution of the death row convicts in the Nirbhaya gang rape and murder case, the big question is whether India is still drooling in the past when it comes to the state of its women. Has the mindset changed?
It is 2020, but India is still taking baby steps towards gender equality and women’s safety. While the clock ticks on the execution of the death row convicts in the Nirbhaya gang rape and murder case, the big question is whether India is still drooling in the past when it comes to the state of its women. Has the mindset changed?
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It took nearly seven years after the Nirbhaya incident for a death warrant to be issued against the four convicts. They would be hanged till death at Tihar jail in Delhi on February 1.
In 2013, soon after that crime, which shocked the nation’s conscience, was committed, the government formed the Justice Verma Committee to come up with solutions. The panel recommended a slew of amendments to the criminal law to provide for quicker trial and harsher punishment in cases of crimes against women.
How many of these recommendations have been implemented? More importantly, are Indian women safe now? Truth is violence against women continues unabated. Not a day passes by without sordid tales of women harassed, assaulted, raped or killed in many parts of India.
Social activists point out that crimes such as rape, sexual assault, eve-teasing and stalking are yet to be seen as a matter of grave concern by the Indian society. Gruesome crimes like that of Dhananjoy rape case and Mathura rape cases underscore this callousness.
A change in the attitude of people is imperative, says Senior Supreme Court lawyer HP Ranina. “It is a part of education because you find that in spite of all these punishments including death penalties, women here face several atrocities. The people who commit such crimes are uneducated and are from small towns and villages,” he said.
Ranina is not optimistic; he thinks it will take a whole generation for things to change. "People coming from remote villages and small towns to the cities are completely unaware of ethical values or what the law is like. Even in a country like the United States, all kinds of crimes are committed on a daily basis. It is unfortunate but yes, it is indeed the change of attitude that matters,” he said.
Official figures attest to this grim picture. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report of 2018, crimes against women in India have been rising sharply since 2011. The number of cases registered in 2011 was 24,206 and soared to 38,947 in 2016.
Aditya Sondhi, former additional advocate general of Karnataka, told CNBC-TV18 that the Justice Verma Committee's recommendations resulted in important changes to the law, including a new calibration of 'consent' and a recognition of other types of violations against women such voyeurism and stalking. "However, marital rape still remains decriminalised. While the reform in the law post Nirbhaya has certainly created a new awareness and etiquette, as manifested in the #MeToo reactions, the general brutality against women remains unabated.”
Though the legislative responses of the State have been fairly positive, it is equally important that messaging by those in power is compatible with societal expectations, according to Sondhi. "For instance, misogynistic statements and actions by political leaders ought to be dealt with an iron hand,” he said.
The NCRB report said lack of good governance has led to the present insecure and unsafe environment. It suggested improving the quality of police force, installation of CCTVs inside buses in metro cities and tamper-proof GPS system, among other ideas to make India a safer place for women. Problem is that these suggestions have largely remained on paper.
The NCRB annual report of 2017 revealed that crimes against women in India stood at 359,849, of which 32,559 cases of rape were reported. Cyberabad Police Commissioner VC Sajjanar, who was hailed by many as a hero for the killing of four accused in the gang rape and murder of a Hyderabad veterinarian, said it is not impossible to eradicate such crimes against women. “Through speedy trials in courts through coordination between the prosecution and judiciary and pronouncing severe punishment and also by giving publicity to the judgments it is possible to curb such crimes,” he said.
UN Women, the United Nations entity for gender equality and women's empowerment, also believes that all the violence that we see in the society against women is strictly based on gender-based discrimination which closely signifies how people’s thoughts are not really developing or changing towards the womenfolk.
A work in progress
Shree Anusuya, DCP Admin, Women and Children Safety Wing, Cyberabad, underscored the need to make people aware of the laws. “After the JS Verma Committee came out, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act was passed in the year 2013. Section 364 of IPC was sub-divided into section 364 – A, B, C, and D and it covered crimes like stalking, voyeurism, harassment at workplace. In the year 2018, there was an approach made again in regards to the juvenile who was accused of Nirbhaya rape. The point is that people are to be made aware of the laws and the punishments,” she said.
DIG Home Guard in Bihar, Pankaj Sinha, pointed to the many positive changes in regulations. “Acts like the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012 has been passed. People are to be educated to avoid the system of dowry. In Bihar, CCTV cameras have been put up in many public spots in the city including police stations. Even in rural areas CCTVs have been installed,” he said.
Despite all these measures, there have been many harassment cases even at workplaces. “In the current scenario, the safety of womenfolk differs from city to city and state to state. For instance, I feel safer here than in Bihar. Being liberal is what matters,” Priyam Bhandari, a law student at Symbiosis Law School in Pune told CNBC-TV18.
Women’s empowerment is a work in progress in all societies. “Steps such as increasing the number of women cops will definitely go a long way in addressing this issue. Moreover, awareness campaigns should be conducted among students at schools and colleges across the country. Respecting women cannot be a rule, but definitely it can be a responsibility,” a gender rights campaigner pointed out.