“Till the time you do not have contacts they [police] are not willing to listen to you,” says 20-year-old Sana Taneja who walked into a police station earlier this year to lodge a complaint against a man who was performing an obscene act near her college in Delhi University’s North Campus. Luckily for Sana, she had friends, who knew “top officials in the police force” and the constable at the station finally allowed her to register a case.
“Nobody was even willing to acknowledge that a man flashing you is considered sexual harassment,” says this resident of West Delhi. Sana is not allowed to live on campus because her parents’ think it is unsafe and she commutes every day from her home in Inderpuri to the Kirori Mal College. She has two helpline numbers saved on her phone – the ‘181’ women in distress helpline and the auto-rickshaw helpline – both were put in place following the December 16 gang rape incident last year.
“Following the incident last December, there was a rule that after 7 p.m. no auto driver can refuse to take you to your destination. But this is seldom followed. Only if there is a traffic policeman around do the auto drivers follow the rule,” she says.
While several women The Hindu spoke to feel that the “situation in the city is a little better” especially in light of enhanced policing, prominent lawyer and women’s activist Vrinda Grover says: “It is not the city that has changed but the women in the city have changed.” She points to a “new confidence and assertion” among women where they have made it clear that they will not stand for any violation of their bodies.
Ms. Grover says that the last year has been the beginning to make even the police understand what constitutes sexual harassment. “I am going to lay the responsibility on the desk of the police commissioner. Can he tell the women of the city how many of his junior officers have been prosecuted this year for not registering a case?” she says. “We should first put the fear of the law in policemen and clear protocols should be put in place on how they should do their work.”
While conversations have been taking place over the last year on violence against women, country-director of NGO Breakthrough Sonali Khan, wonders whether perceptions have changed accordingly. “Much more work needs to be done. It is still questionable if women can truly access public spaces and move freely on streets at any hour,” she says.
One year after the incident, the “sense of security” may still be absent but awareness has definitely increased, notes a woman journalist with a leading TV channel in the city. “The incident last December put the fear of God in all of us. We realised how fragile it was to be on the streets,” she says. “Since the Delhi Police received a lot of flak they have started to take cases pertaining to women a lot more seriously.”