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As the world celebrates International Women’s Day on Sunday, March 8, many women in Tripura say they haven’t heard of the occasion at all and those who have, feel token celebrations won’t ensure their safety and freedom in the society.
Tripura was dubbed as the capital of crimes against women in 2010 with 46.5 per cent of all crimes registered against women, then highest in the country as per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reports. Seven years later, the figures came down significantly with the state ranking 14 in crimes against women in 2017. NCRB report for the year came after a delay of two years in October last year; current reports are yet to come. Follow International Women’s Day 2020 LIVE Updates
While the statistics suggest a fall in crime rate against women, many working women and students say being ‘safe’ is something they are meant to agree, not feel.
“I don’t think we are safe. Whether in Tripura or the rest of India or anywhere in the world, we aren’t safe. I am a student. I have come from my home to the hostel today. My mother is repeatedly telling me to return home before dark. She remains anxious who I go out with, if they are male or female. Parents keep asking us not to go anywhere alone,” Indira Kar, a B.Tech student at a private university in Tripura, told indianexpress.com.
Asked why she feels unsafe, Kar said, “I am wearing my jeans and a shirt; I feel these are perfectly alright. But there is always some lecherous eye checking you out. Sexual harassment doesn’t always mean physical abuse. There are so many ways one can be harassed. Many of these are ignorantly legitimised. How can these be ignored?”
Pointing to the delay in execution of the death penalty to convicts in the 2012 Delhi gangrape case, Kar said this casts aspersions on the “will to act on such crimes”. “This shows the inaction in executing death penalty for criminals who have already been convicted. This casts aspersions on the will to act on such crimes. Others get enthusiastic about such crimes as well,” she said.
Nibedita Saha, a government employee based in Agartala, also said the delay in execution of death penalty sets a wrong precedent for the society. “How long should we want for an example that can make the soul of criminals tremble? It is ridiculous that death penalty of four individuals convicted in the court keeps getting deferred. How can you expert petty criminals in our localities to let us free?” she asked.
Pamela Dasgupta, a research scholar at Assam University in Silchar, said symbolic recognition for women on International Women’s Day doesn’t mean much for women’s safety.
“There are so many things to feel unsafe about. We often speak about women’s Day. I believe in equality. So, I am happy Women’s Day is being observed with the slogan of ‘Each for Equal’. I believe what matters is the kind of person one is, instead of his or her gender,” she said. She further said that crimes against women occur since the survivors in many of these cases fail to protest in time.
Dasgupta said ritualising recognition for women’s rights on any day of the year wouldn’t do any good.
The International Women’s Day, meanwhile, is an unheard phenomenon for women from more humble backgrounds. While they couldn’t care less about the existence of any such day, some of them do feel women’s safety is a matter of concern.
Rashmita Das, who runs a small roadside stationery shop near Astabal Grounds in Agartala city, says she has never heard about Women’s Day but feels women need to be provided more safety. “I don’t know about others but I don’t feel safe. I feel afraid when I go alone,” she said.
Unlike Das, many women are too burdened by their responsibilities to know about Women’s Day. “I bring vegetables every day to sell. There is no work. My husband is ill and I have a school-going child. I don’t know about Women’s Day. I shall spend the day selling vegetables,” said Sumita Debbarma, a local vegetable vendor who sets up her makeshift shop on a piece of tarpaulin at Lake Chowmuhani market in Agartala.
Of course, there are many women with opposite perceptions about women’s safety as well. Rekha Das, who sells tea in front of Ujjayanta Palace in Agartala, said she feels safe and doesn’t face any problem in returning home late after wrapping up her business. “I have heard about International Women’s Day. It is about recognition of women’s rights and freedom, about equality to men and women. I feel Women’s Day has empowered me as well. I often return home in the night after finishing vending tea. I have a family of three and my husband keeps unwell. I never faced any problem personally,” she said.
A policewoman, who wished to stay anonymous, said women have been empowered by the government’s will to act on developing women. She also said women are increasingly extended greater protection and empowerment and there should be no reason for any woman to feel unsafe.
In September 2019, Tripura Chief Minister Deb claimed that dowry torture cases came down by 12 per cent in 2018, when his government took charge, compared to 2017 when the Left Front was in power.
However, his comments were in contrast to his party’s claim prior to 2018 state elections that atrocities against women were rising steadily. The 2017 state-wise NCRB data showed Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, and Tripura as moderately safe for women compared to other states of the country.
On the issue, Tripura Police Additional Director General Rajiv Singh said, “We take crimes against women very seriously. We get onto any such incident immediately when they come to our notice and take action.” He admitted there were some sensational rape cases and other crimes against women in Tripura recently but the police have arrested ‘nearly all the people’ in these cases.
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