In December 2012, as most of the country was looking forward to the holiday season, one young woman fought a battle in Delhi against a brutal sexual attack and lost her life. The brutality that she suffered was a collective wake-up call for the country – especially for those in government and police. The impact of this was felt across the country and there was a predictable short-term rush to action.
But six years on, the question remains: do women in our city feel safe? Are they safe? Recall how two years ago, on New Year’s Eve, many women, instead of experiencing the simple joys of ringing in the new year, had to face the horror of mass molestation on M G Road and other places around the city.
As a proud Bengalurean, I am deeply saddened by the crimes that seem to have captured our beautiful city and impacted the lives of my fellow Bengalureans, but most so by the fact that women in the city still do not feel safe. Last year, I had written about the apathetic attitude of the politicians and bureaucrats, whose first instinct is to rush and deflect the attention from these incidents.
The indefensible statements from those in the Karnataka government – blaming women for their dress sense for the crimes committed on them; some even tried to make the issue of safety of women an ‘outsider vs insider’ debate or, worse still, a rich vs poor issue. All sad attempts at ducking responsibility.
The latest NCRB data does not reveal a happy picture. In 2016, 2,496 cases of violence against women were registered under the Indian Penal Code to make Bengaluru the third most dangerous metro city in India where there were 321 reported rapes, 674 reported incidents of kidnapping and abduction and 820 reported cases of assault on women.
Bengaluru has the second highest incidence rate in the country under the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act, 1956 — 238 victims in 152 registered cases were women. The total number of cases under Special Acts & Local Laws in Bengaluru is 916, making it the metro city with the highest number of crimes under Special Laws.
This is just the tip of the iceberg as these are just the reported cases. It is estimated that the vast majority of cases of sexual assault go unreported.
Let’s be clear -- be it New Year’s Eve, or a simple day at work or home, regardless of whether you are from Bengaluru or from somewhere else, women should be able to enjoy their fundamental right to life, liberty and safety as enshrined in our Constitution just as much as men do, and should be able to stay safe at all places in Bengaluru.
Crimes against women need to be dealt with and not brushed under the carpet as some in our ‘system’ are prone to doing. In a society that is framed around laws and expects lawful conduct from its citizens, the only real deterrent to criminals and lawbreakers is effective, undiluted enforcement of law by those who are tasked with that job. It puts a duty therefore on the government and police to ensure that the law and order mechanism is in place.
For very long, the issue of women’s safety has been patronised by the establishment. Women are no longer prepared to treat their right to safety as something they need to beg for or ask for. Law guarantees them this right and they are now determined to be assured of that right.
Women in our city are justifiably angry. While there is increasing will to report these crimes, the results of this fearless reporting has created very little change. As per NCRB data, the percentage of cases pending investigation was 44.2% and about 90.3% of cases were pending in courts in Bengaluru. Instead of prompt and exemplary punishment, there are just delays. Delayed prosecution only encourages repeat offences and offenders.
There is no ambiguity on the fact that prompt investigation and prosecution will deter those who commit crimes against women. Low investigation and prosecution rates only points to the low priority being accorded to such crimes by the ‘system’. I see an almost identical performance in the matter of crimes against children, and hence the rising crimes against them, too.
The government, police and the judicial system need to do more for the women and children of Bengaluru and Karnataka. As we look forward to the new year, I hope we can resolve to make our city and our country safer for women and children. I hope that the government and police leadership of our state and city deliver on a safe New Year’s Eve and the year ahead for all.
(The writer is a Rajya Sabha MP from Karnataka)