The December 16 gang rape,which has come to be known in India and across the globe as ‘Delhi gangrape’,has not only left its deep mark on the city but has also created a fear psychosis in women about their safety.
On that fateful night last year,a 23-year-old paramedical student was gangraped and brutally assaulted by six men on a moving bus. She was stripped naked,gangraped,attacked with an iron rod and thrown out of the moving bus on a deserted street in the winter night. She succumbed to injuries later,triggering outrage,anger and protests across the nation.
A year later,a sense of anger blended with fear and memories of the public outcry and protests still persist with the hope that things would improve. But there are some questions that still linger: Have we learnt any lesson from the past failures? Has anything changed since that fateful night?
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“I doubt” says Sonel Ahluwalia,an IT professional. The 28-year-old is still haunted by the memories of December 16 and its aftermath and feels no drastic change has taken place so far. “Except for the fact that people have now become more vocal about crime against women,nothing has changed on the ground level it comes to the safety of women…We still feel unsafe going out alone,more vulnerable,” says Sonel,who still thinks twice before stepping out of home alone after 8 pm despite staying in Delhi NCR from past six years.
“People are unable to come out of that psyche that they can fall prey to assailants anytime of the day. It is because such incidents are being reported every day. Such is the fear that even today my cousin is coming to pick me at 9 pm so that he can accompany me till Delhi Airport,” she says.
No lessons learnt
“We are yet to learn lessons from the horrific incident,” says Jagdeep Singh,who himself was part of the protest at the India Gate last year. “In the aftermath,many promises were made by the authorities and the government for the safety of women. Fast track courts were made but hundreds of rape cases are still pending in the court,many rape victims are yet to get justice,” says Singh,who won Delhi polls from Hari Nagar constituency on Aam Aadmi Party ticket.
Echoing similar views,Ranjana Bali,a housewife and a mother of 17-year-old daughter says: “Post-December 16,we saw the patrolling vans carrying out a check on roads for some weeks but the situation is back to square one. We still fear about sending our daughters out alone after dusk. Many pledges and promises were made by the authorities but their effect remained only till the pronouncement of the verdict in the Delhi gangrape case.”
Under the attack from all corners,the then chief minister Sheila Dikshit had issued directions to install alarm system in all DTC buses so that women travelling on them can use the facility whenever in distress. Besides,the former chief minister had promised to do everything possible to address safety concerns of women. Also,the then Lt Governor Tejendra Khanna,had asked the Delhi government to take a series of steps like installing CCTV cameras and GPS devices on board all public buses at the earliest. A year later,there are many public places where installations of CCTV is yet to start. During a review meeting of the special task force by Union Home Secretary,the Transport Department was learnt to have said that GPS has not been installed in many public transport vehicles.
“181,the Delhi government’s helpline number for women in distress was among the slew of measures taken by the government post December 16. However,the crime against women continue unabated,” says Komal Bindra,working in a government bank in South Delhi.
Public transport still unsafe
Many feel public transport is still unsafe for women in the absence of effective safety measures. “It’s a daily struggle while commuting in buses. We hardly see any effective measure been taken by the government for the safety of women in public transport. We read in the newspapers that GPS would be installed in the buses,a guard would be present in every bus,drivers and conductors will be asked to be polite to passengers,but none has been implemented so far,” complains Puja Saxena,a media student who commutes by bus on a regular basis.
And travelling in buses during late evenings is a nightmare for many working women. “I have to remain in office till 7.30 pm due because of my work. Almost every day I come across harassment while commuting in buses in the form of lewd comments or touching by men,” says Mansi,a software engineer by profession.
“During peak hours,men try to take advantage of the rush and try to touch you. We can’t keep changing buses as their frequency is low,” adds Manshi,who travels by bus from South Delhi to Noida every day.
Delhi metro,so far,seems to be safe bet,according to women commuters. “Hadn’t it been for the woman’s coach in Delhi Metro,this public transport would have been equally unsafe for women,” feels Sonel,who sticks to the Metro when it comes to travelling in Delhi.
Auto-drivers add to woes
Auto-rickshaw drivers are another headache for women.
Sheelu Yadav,a civil services aspirant,narrates an incident. “I had a harrowing experience this March when me and a friend had a tough time reaching our home in the absence of adequate public transport. It was 8.30 pm when we asked the auto-wallahs outside Dilli Haat to take us to Noida and they just simply turned away saying they wouldn’t get any passenger from the other side. A few others quoted unreasonable amounts since they knew we were getting late.”
“It was only when we walked some distance that we were able to find an auto that got ready to take us to the desired destination. How can one really rely on the public transport in such situations,” she rues.
When asked about using the helpline numbers,Sheelu says,”The helpline services by the Delhi government are of no use. It takes so long to first connect to the operator and then they keep passing you to several other numbers to register your complaint. At 9 in the night you would not wait for the operator to connect you to the nearest-available PCR van just because some auto driver has refused to go,you would first look out for other options to reach home safely at the earliest.”
Notably,under attack for loopholes in regulation of public transport in the city,the Delhi Government had in June decided to introduce colour coding for vehicles based on the zones in which they operate and install an “emergency button”. The decision was made to regulate plying of auto-rickshaws and to enable passengers to report any incident of overcharging and refusal to ply.
“Hardly anything has been done in this regard,” says Pallavi Thakur,who is employed with TCS. “Despite government warnings,the errant auto-wallahs blatantly refuse to ply to our destinations. They either overcharge you or refuse to go by the meter,” she adds.
“The situation gets worse after 7 pm as they charge unreasonably high else they just flatly refuse to go. Safety being the only concern,we have to concede to their demands as we do not have any other option,” complains Pallavi,who usually takes an auto to commute between work and home.
A sign of change
But there are others like JNU student Sangram Singh who feels that post December gangrape,people and especially women have got more aware and alert about their safety issues. “It is the impact of the horrific incident that people have got more vocal about the crime against women,we see open discussions on the treatment of women,youths do not shy away from holding debates on women safety,women too have become aware of their rights and what should they be doing in such circumstances,” says the PhD scholar.
He goes on to add that despite the hollow claims of the previous governments,people,especially the youth,are hopeful of change in the city. “The recent results in the Assembly polls reflect the mindset of people. They want change,and they hope the new government will bring some reforms to address the safety issues in the city,” Sangram says.
A change of mindset
Many feel that the fear created in the minds post December 16 can be allayed with swift action against the guilty and harsher punishment.
“We need more police presence in the isolated and deserted areas of the city,” says Jagdeep,who claims AAP is considering setting up women security forces in every ward. “The presence of women security personnel will help boost the confidence of other women. Besides,a change of mindset among people is also required,” he adds.