India's capital remains unsafe for women

India's capital remains unsafe for women
In-depth: Shocking headlines from Delhi have failed to stop the dangers faced by women every day, writes Mohammad Inzamam
5 min read
27 March, 2018
Delhi is one of the most unsafe places for women in India [Getty]

On a cold December evening last year, Akanksha got out from the cab a few hundred metres from her rented apartment in south west Delhi's Dwarka neighbourhood. It was a two or three minute walk to her home, a walk she took whenever she returned from her office.

But that evening was different. As she made her way home, she heard a heavy-built man lumbering behind. She pretended to ignore him, but when he continued to shuffle along, Akanksha quickened her pace until she arrived home.

With her door locked, she felt safe. A few moments later, when she had forgotten about the man who followed her outside, someone knocked. As soon as she opened it, the burly man pushed her inside and entered her apartment. He locked the door.

He tied her to a bed, stuffed her mouth with a scarf, dragged a chair for himself and made Akanksha face him. 
He unbuttoned his trousers and masturbated. When he was done, he left. 
Akanksha, 25, did not report the attack to the police. She feared it might invite more trouble. But most of all, she was afraid to speak to her family who live in the neighbouring Uttarakhand state. 

"I knew if I would tell about my family about it, they would ask me to come back home," she told The New Arab.

When I talked about whatever happened to my friends I got to know that this hadn't happened for the first time

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), a government agency that collects and analyses crime data across India, Delhi is one of the least safe places for women in the country. 

The Indian capital accounted for four percent of all crimes against women in India in 2016, with 13,803 cases - slightly higher than the 13,260 cases reported in 2014. 
Delhi also reported 1,996 rape cases in 2016, up from 1,893 in 2015. 

According to this most recent official data, Delhi had the highest numbers of attempted rapes, sexual harassment, stalking and forceful attempts to disrobe women. 

It is a custom in India on the eve of Holi to throw balloons filled with water or coloured powder at others as part of the celebration. However, there have been a surge of strangers throwing colours and water at women, sparking a furious debate on the safety and privacy. 

A few days before Holi, in late February, 18-year-old Priya, a student at the University of Delhi, was returning to her home in the south of the city. When she climbed down from a rickshaw, some boys threw balloons at her. Later, her clothes drenched, she realized the balloons also had semen inside them. 

"When I talked about whatever happened to my friends I got to know that this hadn't happened for the first time," said Priya. "Semen-filled balloons is a new thing, but the point isn't whether it's semen or water. My history teacher back from school said that it happened with her too, in 1995."

She took to Instagram to speak out.

Contrary to her expectations, her outrage was met with hate comments and online abuse.

"I got mixed reactions. Most of them were positive but some of them were too negative. People said stuff like 'f*ck off, you are illiterate', 'you don't know anything', 'publicity stunt'," she added.

The incident scared Priya to such an extent that she fears to walk alone. "I remember how helpless and weak I felt when this happened. I've a fear which can't be explained."

As many 38 crimes against women are reported in Delhi every day

After the gangrape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapy intern known as Nirbhaya ["fearless"] in South Delhi generated headlines around the world in December 2012, people across all sections of society spoke vociferously against the prevalent sexual harassment of women in public and in domestic spaces. It forced central government to reinforce stringent laws against crimes against women. 

However, five years later, the latest official data shows that Delhi contributed to one in every three cases of crime against women in 2016. Across the nation, there were 55.2 crimes against women per 100,000 female population, up from 41.7 in 2012. Delhi reported the highest rate - 160.4 against the national average of 55.2. 

According to a report by IndiaSpend, a public-interest journalism website, as many 38 crimes against women are reported in Delhi every day.

Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) launched its "rape rook [Stop Rape]" campaign in early February, after an eight-year-old girl was raped by her 27-year-old cousin in New Delhi on January 31. Swati Maliwal, who is leading the campaign, said in a public statement that the campaign would continue until the central government passed a strong law to ensure the death penalty to rapists of children within six months.

The Commission also urged the government to set up additional fast-track courts to ensure that cases of rapes of children and women are tried on a daily basis.

"The state should strengthen the functioning of the Forensic Science laboratory and prosecution department and the Centre should use the Nirbhaya fund immediately for the welfare of women and girls," Maliwal said.

Central government officials told the Supreme Court of India on February 1 that they were not in favour of amending laws to provide the death penalty to those found guilty of sexual assaults on infants and children.

P S Narasimha, India's Solicitor-General, said the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act provided graded stringent punishment for sexual assault of children - a minimum 10-year term and maximum life imprisonment for raping a child, while the punishment for a minor's gang rape ranged between a 20-year term and life imprisonment.

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