No end to rapes as women’s safety is still a hard battle

The chilling gang rape and charring to death of a young government veterinary doctor on her way out from duty after day’s hard work along the national highway in Telangana has shamed the nation. The gory and horrifying incident shows yet again that women’s safety is still a hard fought battle. We have failed to provide a safe environment to the women to lead a normal, respectable life. The outpouring of grief, outrage and protests led our Defence Minister, Rajnath Singh to announce in the Parliament that government was “ready to make more stringent provisions in law.” 

In Parliament, there was a strong demand from members for death penalty as the “only punishment” for the offence of rape. Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao has also ordered immediate constitution of a fast track court to try the accused.

It is unfortunate that we talk about stringent laws only after an incident shakes our collective conscience. The victim (26) must have been a teenager when the December 16, 2012 Delhi gang rape and murder pricked our conscience.  But still we failed to make life safer for women.  We still lack an efficient system of law enforcement and the police are still caught napping as rapes and murders continue occurring all over the country. The law enforcement agencies are culpable of the crime as they are unable to ensure safety of women. 

As in countless rape cases, police failed to act swiftly on the family’s complaint citing jurisdictional reasons rather than rushing to locate and rescue her. Her motives in calling her sister and not the police were also questioned. Is this not laxity of police? Are the police not responsible for such a grave crime? Last year’s report of Thomson Reuters Foundation Survey of 548 experts on women’s issue that found India as the world’s most dangerous country for women due to the high risk of sexual violence should have led to change of mindsets and woken authorities from their slumber. But we failed again. Police in the country registered 33,658 cases of rape in 2017, according to the most recent available official data – an average of 92 a day – but the real figure is believed to be far higher as many women in India do not go to the police out of fear.

Tens of thousands of cases remain stuck in courts, often hindering victims and their families as they navigate the slow and cumbersome legal system. Figures for 2017 point out that courts opened 18,300 cases related to rape but more than 127,800 more remained pending at the end of the year.

The inability of state and society to provide women safety reduces them to second-class citizens whose fundamental rights have been infringed. We need to improve policing with zero tolerance for apathy like jurisdictional reasons. If we care for women, we have to make police more skillful and responsible. We can’t allow India to continue to be dangerous for women. What happened with Hyderabad veterinarian can happen to any one of us. Will the outrage last long or there will be new agendas and dirty politics? We can give up only at our own peril!