Inadequate measures

Words and deeds

Print edition : April 03, 2015

Activists of the Communist Party of India burn an effigy representing the culprits in the December 2012 gang rape, in Hyderabad on March 6. Photo: NOAH SEELAM/AFP

Special Investigation Team officials inspect the spot where a Nepali woman was gang-raped, at Bahu Akbarpur village in Rohtak district, Haryana, on February 12. The woman was dead by the time the crime was discovered. Photo: PTI

A procession in Kolkata on June 21, 2013, protesting against the rise in crimes against women and incidents of rape in West Bengal. The banner says such crimes had brought shame on the State. Photo: Sushanta Patronobish

The furore about the documentary film on the Delhi gang-rape draws attention to how inadequate the government’s measures are in dealing with crimes against women.

November 2014: A Delhi University student becomes the victim of a suspected case of honour killing.

December 2014: Two sisters in Rohtak, Haryana, fob off their molesters in a public transport. Later they are branded as liars and seekers of cheap publicity. The “bravery” award given to them is taken back by the district administration.

February 2015: A mentally challenged migrant of Nepalese origin is gang-raped and murdered in Rohtak, Haryana. The cause of her death was similar to that of the December 2012 gang-rape victim of Delhi. The doctor who conducted the post-mortem told the media he had never witnessed such a horrific case in his 30-year career.

March 8, 2015: Women and Child Department Minister expresses a wish to have more rape crisis centres and hopes that the government willincrease the budget.

March 2015: The public telecast of a documentary on the December 16, 2012, incident is banned on the grounds that it might prejudice the ongoing case and appeals and that it glorified the convicts and showed India in a poor light.

The furore over the public release and screening of the documentary India’s Daughters drew attention to the general state of women in the country. The government’s knee-jerk reaction of proscribing the film ended up affording publicity about women’s lack of safety in India. Delhi alone has the dubious record of an average of 40 cases of crime against women, including rape, molestation and sexual harassment, registered every day.

Nearly 300 cases of rape were reported in the first two months of 2015 while more than 500 instances of molestation and harassment were registered. In 2014, Delhi registered 2,069 cases of rape against 1,571 in 2013. Overall, there was an 18.3 per cent rise in crimes against women in the national capital alone, which was the epicentre of the agitation against the heinous Nirbhaya gang rape.

The December 2012 incident enabled the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) to capitalise on the issue of women’s safety. It could not but help prioritise women’s safety in its manifesto. As the ruling party, it now criticises the documentary, citing reasons ranging from an alleged violation of the terms and conditions by the filmmakers to a deliberate attempt to malign India’s image.

There was furore in Parliament over how and why the film had been allowed to be made. The convict had allegedly shown no remorse for what he and the other accused had done. Some MPs from the Opposition benches in the Rajya Sabha raged over why the convicts were still alive. Some others focussed more on the permission granted to the filmmaker and the alleged flouting of procedures. A few pointed out that members were heard speaking in derogatory terms about women. One Union Minister opined that the film had created a sense of fear among women in society.

A BJP MP, writing in a prominent publication, said that the film had no “social purpose” and that rape and other forms of violence against women were a deep-seated problem ranging from Bogota to Washington. India had, she wrote, a better conviction rate than most progressive countries. Yet, some other columnists waxed eloquent on why the BBC did not make documentaries on some of the more sensational sexual exploitation scandals in the United Kingdom, beginning with the infamous expose of television host Jimmy Savile or the ongoing Rotherham case of sexual exploitation of children. Another BJP MP, an actress, said in the Lok Sabha that there was little point in schemes like that of “Beti Bachao” if mindsets did not change.

A leading television channel took upon itself to condemn the documentary (co-produced as it was by a journalist working with a television channel), claiming it had “insulted” the rape victim. Interestingly, apart from expressing a lynch-mob attitude to the convicts yet once again, most educated responses failed to question what the new government had done to address crimes against women. Responses to the film were mostly subjective. The film itself, with its limited vision, had sought to, “with exclusive and unprecedented access, examine the values and mindsets of rapists”, according to an initial press release by the film-maker. Do mindsets alone lead to the rising crimes against women? It is certainly the easiest factor to identify, presupposing as it does an individual psychological disposition towards crime and misogyny. Delhi Police Commissioner B.S. Bassi, who has been recommending self-defence as a part of the curriculum for girls, also talked about changing mindsets. This thrust often leaves out the role of the external environment and unequal social and economic relations that determine mindsets.

According to the Central Statistical Organisation’s report on “Women and Men in India, 2014”, cruelty by husbands and relatives constituted the highest share of crimes against women, followed by assault, kidnapping, and abduction and rape. The rates of conviction have been very low. In 2013, it was 4.4 per cent for rape and dowry-related cases, 2.5 per cent for kidnapping, 3.1 per cent for assault with intent to outrage modesty, 2.2 per cent in dowry prohibition cases and 5.2 per cent for immoral trafficking. The findings on cruelty by husband and relatives in fact corroborate a study done by the Indian School of Women’s Studies and Development and the National Commission for Women which showed that both physical and mental cruelty began immediately after marriage and that the victims had very little knowledge about laws meant to protect women.

The government’s commitment to address women’s issues has been perfunctory. Not only has the allocation for women and child development remained stagnant at 0.01 per cent of the Union Budget, but the meagre allocations for new schemes like the “Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao” and technocratic solutions such as surveillance cameras or mobile apps to deal with crimes against women have exposed the hollowness of the its commitment.

The issue of women’s safety has received cosmetic treatment in the Railway Budget as well, where the stress is on CCTVs and surveillance rather than on increasing the number of women’s compartments and toilets at railway stations, better lighting, posting of more policewomen, and provisioning of special helplines to report distress. There has been silence on the Bill guaranteeing reservation of one third of the seats in Parliament and State legislatures for women.

On March 8, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the setting up of one-stop centres and a helpline for those facing violence, abuse or harassment. These promises had been made when the government took charge. Strong financial commitments and institutional support for such steps were missing. He also declared the setting up of a Sukanya Samruddhi Yojana, which would provide support for the marriage and education of young women, and a Micro Units Development Refinance Agency to help women achieve financial independence.

The issue over the screening of the documentary divided women’s groups. While one section felt that the rapist was being glorified, some others felt that it would affect the appeals process. Yet another section felt that the film had sought to do nothing of that kind but exposed the predominant way in which women continued to be viewed, not only by the uneducated and unsophisticated convict but also by educated persons, including public functionaries. A section of the media went overboard in condemning the documentary.

In fact, the statements of the defence lawyers were far more revolting that the observations of one of the convicts. Organisations like the All India Democratic Women’s Association, which did not support the ban on the film, called for the registration of first information reports (FIRs) against the lawyers for their misogynist and regressive statements on women.

What is perhaps more to the point is the fact that the government has failed to utilise even one paisa from the Nirbhaya Fund of Rs.1,000 crore since the new regime came to power. Interestingly, the Women and Child Development Ministry, which was at pains to point out that there had been no cuts in the Budget but only “re-allocations” to the States, had prepared a complete and comprehensive concept note on the crisis centres in June last year, citing the best international practices for emulation. It had proposed the setting up of 660 such centres in districts as well as some government hospitals in Delhi where holistic treatment, including psychological counselling, would be given to rape survivors. This year’s Union Budget allocated Rs.1,000 crore to the Nirbhaya Fund and cut down the number of centres from 660 to 36.

Interestingly, in view of the shoddy investigation procedures and low conviction rates in crimes against women (less than 5 per cent in all cognisable offences such as rape, molestation, dowry deaths, cruelty), the government has proposed to set up through the Ministry of Home Affairs Investigative Units on Crimes against Women (IUCAW) in 20 per cent of the districts of each State on a 50:50 cost-sharing basis. Whether the States will be able to afford this is another question. Women’s groups have been demanding more decentralised rape crisis centres and shelter homes for working women and for couples persecuted by their communities for marrying outside caste or religion. The government’s proposal at best addresses in a piecemeal form the issues concerning violence against women. Instead of allocating Budget provisions for fast-track courts, the government has advised States to set up such courts.

According to an official release, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh has written to the Chief Ministers that elements of the criminal justice system, such as investigation, prosecution and trials, must be strengthened to deal with the rising crimes against women. The proposal is to set up 150 IUCAWs on a pilot basis in the most crime-prone districts of each State, each manned by 15 personnel, preferably including five women. The States will have full flexibility on whether to create new posts or to designate from the existing strength. Each IUCAW will be headed by an officer of the rank of Additional Superintendent of Police assisted by two DSPs. This will involve a total expenditure of Rs.84 crore annually. The Centre will provide Rs.42 crore.

These units will investigate cases referred to them and augment the investigative machinery of the States in handling crimes against women, “especially rape, dowry death, acid attack and human trafficking, instil confidence and encourage women to come forward and lodge their complaint and improve the gender ratio in the State Police forces which is adversely impacting effective implementation of the legislations relating to women”. Besides, “these units will have the additional functionality of proactive policing, intelligence gathering, tackling organised crime, monitoring proper implementation of the legislative provisions, helping awareness generation and promotion of social participation in checking crimes against women”. They will also look at organised crime, according to the official release, which seems to suggest that these will not be dedicated exclusively to check crimes against women.

The Home Minister has also advised the States to set up separate fast-track courts to deal with cases of crimes against women. and promised “all possible assistance to the States”.

Crimes against women remain an extremely serious problem. However, it seems far-fetched to suggest that India’s Daughter has the potential to encourage regressive mindsets. Reactions to the documentary from the government and the statistics on ground are evidence enough that there is something fundamentally wrong about the way women’s issues are viewed by the government and elected representatives.

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