No freedom from fear yet

The youngest convict in the December 16, 2012 gang-rape of a physiotherapy student is all set to walk free on Sunday – the Delhi High Court has ruled that his three-year detention at an observation home would not be extended. The Juvenile Justice Board has interacted with the boy, his parents and officials of Delhi government’s Women and Child Development Department about his post-release rehabilitation.

Despite the amendments in the anti-rape law and other measures taken by the government after the brutal rape, women say they continue to feel unsafe in the capital.
“The government discusses the issue of women security extensively, promises concrete steps to make the city safe for women, but the ground reality is that even three years after the incident, women avoid public transport and avoid walking alone on the streets after sunset,” says Akanksha Chaturvedi, a resident of south Delhi’s Dwarka.

Among the measures assured by the governments were setting up of fast-track courts, installation of GPS devices on public transport vehicles, along with increasing the number of police control room vans and women police officers.

Ankisha Kaushik, a 29-year-old, acknowledges that things may have changed on paper. But women are still not comfortable because of the city’s tag of being the rape capital.
“If someone tries to harass you and you protest, people do come forward to help. But all this happens only during the day, I do not have the confidence of venturing out alone once it is dark. Such rapes and gang-rapes would continue if strong punishments are not pronounced by the courts,” Ankisha adds.

The convict in the case, who is 21 now, had escaped Tihar Jail as he was 17 years and nine months old at the time he was apprehended . He and five others had attacked the 23-year-old woman in a moving bus in south Delhi on December 16, 2012. She died after 13 days at a hospital in Singapore. While one of the accused died in jail, the other four have been sentenced to death. Currently, their appeals are pending with the Supreme Court.

The juvenile was sentenced to three years in the observation home, which he will complete on Sunday. Calling the juvenile an 'animal', Bharatiya Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy had filed a petition seeking a stay on his release. He argued that his release would pose a danger to the society. Last month, the Delhi Police also had contemplated invoking the National Security Act to prevent the juvenile from being released on claims that he may have been radicalised by a fellow inmate. It is believed that the authorities want to stop the convict from leaving Delhi or going to his native place in Jammu and Kashmir.

Despite the court order, officials with Delhi government’s Women and Child Development Department had said he was likely to be sent to an ‘after-care facility’ so that he can be kept under watch for his own safety. The Juvenile Justice Board will take the final decision. The convict was lodged at a government-run special home for boys, Place of Safety, in north Delhi’s Majnu Ka Tila. “If the Juvenile Justice Board thinks that the juvenile is in need for care and protection, it can transfer him to an after-care programme under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000,” says an official requesting anonymity.

“It would not be the violation of the JJ Act. The Act, however, says that after the completion of the term no juvenile or adult (after he attains 18 years of age) can be kept without his own consent. But the juvenile will be kept under watch for his own good and everything will be done as per the law,” the official told Deccan Herald. 

Officials, however, are not clear which after-care facility he will be sent to. “There is one government-run after care home for boys in Alipur and there are some facilities run by NGOs for juveniles,” said the official. “Juveniles as well adults are given formal education in such facilities. They are taught some skills so that they can earn their livelihood,”
he added. There are 17 boys at the after-care home for boys in Alipur.

But the NGOs working with such juveniles say the government-run after-care programme has been defunct for some time now. So there is a possibility that the juvenile might be handed over to an NGO-run after-care facility.

The victim’s parents, who have been fighting for justice with strict punishment for the convict, say they are shattered by the court order. Her mother says a ‘heinous’ convict will be released despite all their efforts and protests held across the world.

“The court abandoned us. We did not get justice,” she says. The victim’s father adds, “We are upset, but what can we do? The court is bigger than us. It is a reason why people are getting away even after raping minor girls.”

According to Institute of Human Development (IHD), only 14.6 per cent of women feel ‘safe’ in the capital, while 62.8 per cent feel ‘unsafe’. Around 19.4 per cent felt ‘unsafe at times’. At night, only six per cent of women feel 'safe' and 84.2 per cent felt ‘unsafe’.
South Delhi, where the incident occurred, continues to be the most unsafe area for women. In 2014, the highest number of cases of rape and molestation were reported there, reveals another study done by NGOs Commonwealth Human Rights
Initiative (CHRI) and Praja Foundation.

Of 1,818 cases of rape in Delhi, 241 were filed in south Delhi. It was closely followed by outer Delhi, where 232 rapes were reported.  “Most of these cases were reported from neighbourhoods with settlement colonies where the incidence of crime is usually high,” says CHRI’s Executive Director Maja Daruwala. In south Delhi, Vasant Vihar police station reported the maximum 31 cases of rape, followed by Govindpuri with 30 cases.

In all, 414 cases under section 354 of the Indian Penal Code (outraging the modesty of a woman) were also reported in south Delhi. Police filed 68 such cases in Saket, followed by 63 in Malviya Nagar.

“Delhi Police has a total working strength of 77,083 personnel, of which only 5,620 are sub-inspectors and 6,543 assistant sub-inspectors who handle the bulk of heinous crime cases. Additionally, they are also deployed to provide security,” adds Nitai Mehta,
Managing Trustee of Praja Foundation.

hey also highlight the shortage of women police personnel and say it will take at least three years for the strength of women personnel to reach optimum levels.

Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung says that efforts are being made to take the number of women in Delhi Police to one-third of the total force. He feels there is also a need for changing the attitude of the police force and stepping up of their competence.

“Efforts were being made to address the issues of security, especially safety of women. In this regard, the number of women in the police force was being enhanced considerably to make it easier for females to approach a police station,” Jung said while addressing a session at FICCI’s 88th Annual General Meeting.

Speaking on the amendment of the Juvenile Act, Jung said the Act was being revisited and deliberations were on for bringing down the age of a juvenile.

Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi has also been raising the matter for years and says that law should treat children aged 16-18 accused of heinous crimes as adults. She says it is shameful that the Rajya Sabha has not passed the Bill to amend the JJ Act for ‘political reasons’.

She has also approached the Union Law Minister for a law to allow police to track movements of all perpetrators of sexual crimes once they are released.

In the last three years, police have also identified 2,177 ‘dark spots’ which are roads without functioning street lights and unlit stretches. The list is regularly sent to the PWD and the civic agencies concerned. However, most of the streetlights remain either non-functional or unlit due to lack of coordination among police, civic agencies and the government.

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