A month before Delhi went to polls in November 2008, the Capital witnessed the ghastly murder of journalist Soumya Viswanathan, who was found shot dead in her car in Vasant Kunj. Two days after the murder, Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, who was serving her second term then, came under attack from politicos and women activists for her comments that “one should not be adventurous”.
The Congress party, that year, fought and won the election on a manifesto that did not make a mention of women’s safety — it chose instead to urge people to choose a government that “takes you to a major global event like the Commonwealth Games”.
Four years into its third term, the Sheila Dikshit-led Congress government was left grappling with the brutal gang rape of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in a private bus. As a knee-jerk reaction to the public outcry, the Delhi Government put in place a ‘181’ helpline for women in distress and sanctioned 100 home guards for DTC night service buses. Within a month, a 25-year-old female home guard was molested inside a moving low-floor DTC bus in Madhu Vihar.
With a spate of such incidents having been on the rise during the election year, women’s safety has slowly started to climb up the ladder of poll issues, forcing not only the Congress, but also other political parties to take note.
“The public outrage following the December 16 gang rape put the issue of security of women in the forefront as far as this election goes,” observed Communist Party of India (Marxist) politburo member Brinda Karat, adding that the politics that was played out, the blame game and the attitude of the police, all led to women’s safety becoming a poll issue.
In an internal survey conducted by the Delhi unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party as recently as the beginning of October, voters rated the issue of women’s safety among the top five issues following power, water, corruption and inflation.
The new entrant, the Aam Aadmi Party, is also quick to realise how the issue strikes a chord with the masses as it gears up to include it in its central manifesto. Party leader Arvind Kejriwal has, many a time, highlighted the incidents of rape and the “helpless” attitude of Ms. Dikshit in his 'jan sabhas.'
Yet, the priority on women’s safety should not just be a poll issue, said Ms. Karat. “It should be looked at as a constitutional and democratic right in any city.”