Women still feel unsafe in India’s rape capital
Assurances from the police and a new anti-rape law have done little to make the streets of New Delhi safer for women, especially for those using public transport, interviews conducted by the Reuters India Insight team show.
The December incident, in which a 23-year-old trainee physiotherapist died two weeks after she was gang-raped in a moving bus, raised questions over women’s safety in India and sparked debate over how men treat women all over the country.
A teenager has been sentenced to three years in juvenile detention and a court is expected to announce its verdict on the four adults accused of the crime on Tuesday. (Update: Four men convicted and sentenced to death)
The India Insight team travelled in Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) buses and Delhi Metro trains, and spoke to nearly 50 commuters. The Delhi gang rape is still on people’s minds, with many saying things haven’t changed nine months after the incident. Insecurity has also set in, forcing some to adapt to the new environment.
“In foreign countries, even if you wear shorts, nothing happens; we have to change because we can’t change the attitude … I wear sports shoes so that (if) something happens I could run. I never wear chappals (slippers) nowadays,” said Thoudam Regina, an analyst at the department of science and technology in the central government.
(To read comments from commuters, click here)
The 30-year-old from Manipur does not feel as “free” as she used to, despite being a resident of Delhi for five years. In the days after the December gang rape, a scared Regina used to lock her door whenever she heard a sound.
She’s not the only one. Some women said they avoid wearing a dress if they are travelling at night or planning to party after work. Others said they stick to deadlines and try to reach home on time. Parents are also worried about the safety of their daughters.
Sakshi Sharma, who travels by the metro, works as an associate professor in Delhi University and fears a backlash from her male students, something that has forced her to change her teaching style.
“I don’t really feel safe. Let’s say somebody is mischievous, I can’t tell him ‘give me your I-card’ because I travel alone and what if someone follows me … you can’t be really strict with male students,” the 28-year-old said. “My parents have told me that don’t take up any job in an evening college”.
The government announced a series of measures this year, including an anti-rape law that imposes stricter punishment for sex crimes and a telephone helpline for women. The new phone numbers are prominently displayed inside DTC buses.
In an interview with India Insight in July, Delhi’s new police commissioner Bhim Sain Bassi said women’s safety is one of their primary goals and steps were being taken to improve the image of the city, saddled with the tag of being “India’s rape capital”.
Most people on the streets blame the police force, the government and widespread sexist male attitudes for the high rate of crime against women. But some say things have changed for the better, with men becoming more conscious in the aftermath of the December gang rape.
Biraj Swain, who was waiting at the same Munirka bus stop from where the December victim started her fatal journey, said she feels “quite safe” travelling around Delhi.
“There’s a lot more offering of the seat now. There are a lot more proactive steps from the conductor to get the ladies’ seat vacated,” said the 37-year-old economist.
Not many agree with Swain. Most say there is no immediate solution.
Many in largely conservative India, including politicians, have blamed women dressing inappropriately for an increase in cases of sexual harassment and rape.
Some women agree with this assessment. Seema Singh is worried about the future of her five-year-old daughter in a city like Delhi.
“Clothes also make an impact. Girls are also at fault, they don’t wear proper clothes … we ourselves feel ashamed,” said the 26-year-old, who escorts her daughter to school every day in a bus as she doesn’t feel comfortable sending her in a school van.
(Disclaimer: This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced in any form without permission; Anuja Jaiman also contributed to this post. You can follow Aditya on Twitter at @adityayk and Anuja @AnujaJaiman)