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Delhi – the rape Capital?

Posted on: December 23, 2012

Neha Taneja does not want to step out of her house. For almost a week, the 21-year-old Delhi student has stayed home, not willing to go to a pub or a movie. “I fear that if I go out, it will be my turn to get raped,” she says.

 Taneja’s concerns are real. Last Sunday’s incident of a brutal rape and assault have instilled a sense of fear in the minds of Delhi women. Six men raped a 23-year-old woman in a moving bus, beat her and her male friend with iron rods, and then threw them off the bus.

Spread over 1,482 square kilometres, Delhi — famous for its historical monuments, broad roads and butter chicken — is now being seen as a city that has no place for women. Not surprisingly, the media have started calling it the rape capital of India.

Statistics corroborate the fact that Delhi is unsafe for women. This year so far, 661 rape cases were reported in the city, according to National Crime Records Bureau figures. Last year, there were 572 reported rape cases — far higher than such incidents in Mumbai (221), Bangalore (97), Chennai (76) and Calcutta (46). According to government data, rapes per lakh population are higher in Delhi than in any of the metros. Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh has the highest rate (7.3) in the country, but experts say because the city is a small town with a smaller population than Delhi’s, the number of rapes in Delhi far exceeds those in the MP town.

“There has been a 20 per cent rise in the number of complaints related to sexual assault that we have received over the past two years,” says Nilanju Dutta, manager, violence intervention team, Jagori, a Delhi-based women’s organisation.

What makes Delhi so unsafe?

A combination of factors, say experts — the ever-expanding city has low police vigil and an ever growing migrant population. “The city is being stretched from every corner. It is not possible to set up police stations near every new colony,” says a senior Delhi police official.

The porous borders that the city shares with states such as Haryana and Uttar Pradesh also make it unsafe. “Many crimes are committed by migrant drivers coming from neighbouring states who get drunk and harass women,” says the police official.

But the blame cannot be blindly put on migrant workers because the city’s rich have a criminal record too. “A group of neo-rich has come up in the city. They have money but little education. Often, being intimidated by the English-speaking crowd, they pick up fights in pubs and nightclubs and vent their frustration by sexually assaulting women,” says the officer. And there are enough cases of rapes being committed by the powerful and affluent.

The city — with its vast fleet of vehicles (7.2 million, exceeding the combined vehicle population of Chennai, Calcutta, Lucknow and Mumbai) — is difficult to manage. Rapes are often conducted in moving vehicles.  In 2005, a student from Mizoram was gang-raped in a moving car in Dhaula Kuan and also in 2010, a 30-year old BPO employee from the north-east.was also gang-raped in a moving car. “But it is not always possible to keep a check on every vehicle,” says Dharmendra Kumar, commissioner, Special Commissioner of Police (Law and Order).

 Home to over 1.67 crore people, the city has also come up over the years as the workplace of diverse communities. In that sense, it’s unlike other cities which invoke a sense of regional pride. “There are many cities living together in Delhi without integrating with one another,” says social commentator Santosh Desai. “There is no sense of belonging. It is a users’ city where people come only for work opportunities with a strong sense of detachment,” feels Desai.

This detachment is often reflected on the streets, says criminal psychiatrist Rajat Mitra. “Women fight a lonely battle against harassment because Delhiites are mostly mute spectators,” he says.

The city has long stretches of lonely roads where the security cover is not adequate. One policeman is in charge of the security of 400 citizens and one public call response (PCR) van handles law and order over a 10-kilometre stretch.

“Further, the body language of policemen doesn’t generate confidence in women. The police also often refuse to lodge complaints of sexual assault,” says National Commission for Women chairperson Mamata Sharma.

There are others who believe the issue goes beyond the police. They say, the problem lies with the people of the city.

“The problem is with the patriarchal mindset of the people of north India. Also, traditionally, they lack sense of civility. They need to change their attitude towards women,” feels former additional commissioner of police Gautam Kaul.

Even though Kaul says that he is not stereotyping men of north India but he adds, “North Indian men don’t want women to be on par with them.Also, they cannot take rejection from women.”

In fact, in the recent rape case too, the accused driver Ram Singh raped the girl to teach her a lesson because she protested when Singh taunted her for being out so late with her male friend.

“Some men think that women are their property. They think they are entitled to sex and thereby control female sexuality at their will,” adds Supreme Court advocate Aarthi Rajan.

Some say that north Indian men are habituated to see docile women at home and therefore they expect similar behaviour from women on roads. “Women in north Indian households traditionally don’t protest. So men get aggressive and revengeful when a woman protests,” thinks Calcutta-based psychiatrist Dr Jai Ranjan Ram. He adds, “This is not a situation in a city like Calcutta or Mumbai.”

But the cops also say that these incidents get media coverage because they are occurring in the country’s capital. “Incidents like these happen in every city,” says the senior police official.

Kumar adds that Delhi’s track record is better than that of other cities. “The incidence of rape per lakh population is 52.8 in London and 10.6 in New York whereas it is 4.07 in Delhi.” Others, however, point out that rape has a wider definition in the West, where cases are also reported more often and taken more seriously.

But Kaul stresses that such incidents can be curbed if the law and order is improved. “Our past experience says that those who go scot free by doing petty crimes often get involved in ghastly acts like rape. The accused in this case too had a criminal background,” says Kaul.

Delhi is a city where people from across the country converge. But with increasing lack of security, not many would repeat the words made memorable by the 19th century poet Zauq: “Who could bear to leave behind the alleys of Delhi.” Who, a 21st century poet would write, would want to walk down dark alleys?

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