| Nita Bhalla |
NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The alleged rape of a woman by a taxi driver in India’s capital, just days before the city marks the second anniversary of a notorious gang rape on a Delhi bus, has sparked debate over whether security for Indian women has improved.
A 27-year-old financial executive accused a taxi driver licensed by Uber, a popular US online cab service, of raping her late on Friday as she travelled home from a party.
The alleged attack was a chilling reminder of the fatal gang rape of a woman by six assailants aboard a moving bus on Dec 16, 2012. The crime sparked outrage around the world and calls for greater protections for women moving around India’s cities.
“I think it is time for some introspection over what has changed in the last two years,” said Kamala Bhasin, a prominent feminist who founded the women’s rights charity Jagori.
“Laws have become better, there is greater public consciousness but we need to do much more in terms of addressing the question of why men are doing this and what can be done to stop them behaving like this.”
The accused driver, Shiv Kumar Yadav, was taken to court on Monday, a black cloth bag over his head. Police say he was arrested for raping a woman in 2011, but later acquitted.
Public outrage over the Delhi gang rape forced authorities to stiffen penalties against sex crime offenders and criminalise activities such as stalking. What is lacking is a strategy aimed at tackling patriarchal attitudes towards women, said activists.
India was ranked as the fourth most dangerous place for a woman to take public transport in a poll published in October by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. It polled second-worst on safety at night and for verbal harassment.
On average 40 cases of crimes against women are registered daily by Delhi Police, including at least four cases of rape, according to government officials.
Over the last two years there has been voracious reporting on the issue and campaigns by the media and NGOs which have emboldened more victims to come forward to report crimes such as rape, molestation and sexual harassment.
The city’s police force has established a women’s help desk in most of the city’s 160 police stations and conducts gender sensitisation classes for officers and constables. A toll-free women’s helpline receives more than 250 calls daily.
Under a law introduced after the Delhi gang rape, police face up to three years in jail if they fail to register sexual offences – forcing them to take a “zero tolerance” approach to reports of gender crimes which often used to be dismissed.
Delhi Transport Corporation also conducts gender classes for its bus drivers and has begun fitting buses with GPS systems so that they are easy to monitor and locate.
Fast-track courts have been set up to deal with sex crimes and ‘one-stop’ rape centres have opened where victims can report the crime and access medical and psychological support.
“The registration of rape, molestation and other crimes against women has increased as an outcome of increased awareness of general public … women are now feeling encouraged to come forward,” Haribhai Parthibhai Chaudhary, State Minister for Home Affairs, told parliament last week in a written reply.
There had been a 15 per cent increase in the number of reports of crimes against women, with 13,230 reports registered in Delhi to Nov 15 this year, against 11,479 cases during the corresponding period in 2013, added Chaudhary.
But activists say authorities can do much more.
“There is still a lot which needs to be done when it comes to safe mobility for women in the city,” said Kalpana Viswanath, co-founder of Safetipin, an app which helps users by providing safety-related information.
“Delhi isn’t an easy city to move around in … We need better street lighting across the city and better last-mile connectivity services from metro stations.”
More police deployed around metro stations, GPS in auto-rickshaws, extended hours for underground trains and more buses on the roads would also help, said activists.
Awareness campaigns, school classes on gender issues and training for those working in public transport were also needed.
“Banning tinted windows on buses, more police on the streets and better checks and monitoring on drivers are good outside measures,” said Monica Kumar, head of Manas Foundation which has run gender classes for thousands of Delhi’s rickshaw drivers.