‘Long queues witnessed as women voters come out in large numbers’, ‘Using boat, women come out to vote,’ ‘Dewar bites Bhabhi for voting for Nitish’ — all of these were news items at the time of the Bihar Assembly elections of 2010. These elections were seen by many as a watershed, with a huge increase of over 10 per cent in the number of women who came out to exercise their franchise. In the myriad identity politics that dominated Bihar’s political landscape, people argued that Nitish Kumar had actually managed to carve out a separate constituency of his own, of women voters, transcending caste and class. Women talked about getting employment, dignity and security in his regime, something they could not even dream of earlier. And Nitish took credit for the same.
Fast forward to 2012, and the wheel, however, seems to have turned full circle. Looking at newspaper and other media reports over the last couple of months, one cannot but wonder if Nitish’s bubble is bursting. Not a day goes by without a report of some kind of atrocity or another being committed against women. Rape, molestation, eve-teasing, dowry deaths have become common stories in the daily newspapers. Gaya, Nalanda, Aurangabad, and not even the capital city of Patna, have been spared.
The Patna gangrape case is fresh in the minds of everyone. A schoolgirl was gangraped and CDs and MMS of the incident circulated to blackmail the victim, something unheard of till date in Bihar. Moreover, the slipshod investigation, suggesting attempts at a cover-up by the State government, which had so far held itself up as a beacon to women, is a far cry from the situation that was projected in 2010. Analysing the crime figures of Bihar of the last few years, one notices a consistent increase in rapes, along with other crimes against women.
So is it now perhaps the time for a reality check? Looking at the figures released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) recently for Bihar for 2011, one realises that the State has actually become an increasingly unsafe place for women. The crime rates against them have increased from 6,186 cases in 2008 to 10,231 cases in 2011, a 65 percentage point increase in just the last three years. Fifty-six per cent of the women between ages 15 and 49 are subject to physical and sexual violence. Nitish may have given bicycles to girls to go to school, but he has clearly failed in making the roads to the school safe for these girls, many of whom complain of eve-teasing and lewd comments.
Even abduction of young girls is on the rise, with a massive 71% of all kidnapping cases in the State reported against women and children. Some 3,050 cases of kidnapping and abduction of women were reported in 2011, a 104 percentage point increase over 2008! In fact, Bihar ranks second in the country in kidnapping cases, with a total of 4,268 cases registered in 2011. The recent uterus scam from Samastipur has shown that crime and corruption continue to prevail, with teenagers, pregnant women and even men being on the list of those whose organs were removed!
The sex ratio has seen a decline over the last decade. And not just women, Bihar today ranks among the top three States in murder (3,198), attempt to commit murder (3,327) and culpable homicide not amounting to murder (348), dacoities (556), riots (9,768) and arson (705). Some 26,003 violent crimes were committed in 2011, a 10% share of all India crimes, the second highest after Uttar Pradesh.
During his first term, Nitish tried to ensure political empowerment of women, reserving 50% of all posts at the panchayat levels for them. However, this is clearly not in sync with overall social sensitisation, empowerment and uplift of society as a whole, resulting in Bihar today ranking second, behind U.P., in dowry deaths and dowry-related crimes against women.
Even as the Chief Minister keeps talking of Bihar ka Samman, Bihar ka Gaurav and Bihar ka izzat, it is apparent that the samman, gaurav and izzat of the women are under attack. If Nitish takes credit for the 13% economic growth that Bihar has achieved during his tenure, he should also accept the blame for crime figures and take immediate steps to address the issue.
Clearly, there is a lot more that needs to be done for the overall empowerment of women and societal transformation, along with immediate improvement in the law and order machinery. The first crucial step could be to empower, staff and provide infrastructure to the Mahila police stations, and allow for fast-track disposal of cases against women to ensure justice. Perhaps then, Bihar will be able to improve its current record of having nearly 36% of cases from the previous year still pending investigation.
Awareness and sensitisation programmes for society, conducted jointly by civil and political society — through workshops, seminars, public awareness campaigns, gender studies courses etc., — are an urgent need. It is essential to encourage women to perform in all spheres of life, without any threat to their safety and security. Perhaps, then, one can dream of producing its own Saina Nehwals and Mary Koms, who will bring laurels to the country in the national and international arenas.
(The writer has a Ph.D. from Jawaharlal Nehru University, and is a former National General Secretary, Indian Youth Congress. firstname.lastname@example.org)