Delhi after that deadly night

July 27, 2014 02:11 am | Updated 02:11 am IST

It was late afternoon on December 21, 2012, five days after five men and a juvenile gang-raped and fatally assaulted a 23-year-old paramedic student in a moving bus in Delhi. The stream of people walking towards Raisina Hill kept growing. Every few minutes, a loud sound followed by smoke billowing from tear gas shells fired from the towering red sandstone government buildings would send the protesters running. In a few minutes, they would turn back and march towards the government buildings again.

Among the most significant changes after the widespread protests was that the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013, came into place. In Delhi, the number of police control vans was increased from 544 to 800, and women constables were posted in 100 of them and stationed at police stations round the clock. Six fast-track courts were created to hear cases. Lawyers and women's rights activists tracking the court, however, say these changes may still not be enough to deliver justice.

“Fast-track courts are becoming the site for fast-track acquittals because of shoddy investigation by the police such that the case does not stand. The investigation must be supervised by senior officials who must be held accountable for the quality of investigation,” said Ravi Kant, a lawyer who has represented several women in cases of sexual assault and rape while they were working as domestic workers in Delhi homes.

Among the changes was a new Section 166A of the Indian Penal Code that says a public servant knowingly not carrying out the investigation properly shall face a fine or imprisonment up to a year. “Where has this provision been applied yet? Not in Bawana, not in Badaun. The routine response to erring officials is transfers, or a few months' suspension,” pointed out senior lawyer Vrinda Grover.

Nirbhaya Fund

Months after the protests, the then Finance Minister, P. Chidambaram, announced a Rs. 1,000-crore Nirbhaya Fund “for security of women and the girl child”. As no proposals were finalised, the fund remained unused the first year. This February, another Rs. 1,000 crore was sanctioned in the interim Budget, making it a Rs. 2,000-crore corpus.

Because of a lack of deep thinking on all aspects of freedom and safety for women and girls in homes and in public spaces or because of its haste to show some changes at least in big cities, both the previous and the current government have allocated nearly two-thirds of the fund on setting up CCTVs cameras and GPS-tracking devices alone. The government seems to have ignored data from the National Crime Records Bureau, which show that in over 94 per cent of the reported cases, the alleged perpetrator was known to the victim.

In January, the Union Cabinet approved Rs. 1,404 crore for a national and State-level vehicle security and tracking system under which public transport vehicles will have GPS tracking, panic button alerts and video recording in public transport vehicles as a “preventive measure for probable offenders”.

In June, Home Minister Rajnath Singh ordered that Rs. 321 crore be disbursed from the Nirbhaya Fund to create a system which will allow a woman in distress to generate an alarm to the police control room van from her mobile phone. The police can then trace her location using GPS tracking. This is to be done by March 2015 in 114 cities.

“Can the perpetrator not break the CCTV cameras inside buses? Will this panic button work better if the woman alerts the police who may still be reluctant to respond sometimes or if they can alert their known ones directly. If the latter is better, there are already mobile apps which allow one to alert family and friends in case of emergencies,” says a senior official in the Department of Women and Child Development.

An atmosphere of safety?

At the State level, in Delhi, a core group under the Chief Secretary met twice last year to discuss and collate suggestions from various departments on using the Fund effectively. The Unified Traffic and Transportation Infrastructure Centre of the Delhi Development Authority presented results from safety audits from five spots and recommended simple measures such as better streetlights, allowing vendors who will function as “eyes on Delhi's streets,” functional public toilets, safer bus stops and walking space, and encouraging 24*7 activity.

The thrust of the planners and researchers' recommendations was that the government must not just address violence but create an atmosphere of safety. The minutes from the Group's last meeting on 22 August 2013 show the meeting ended with a request for a time-bound common action plan from with various departments including the police, Heath and Family Welfare, the UN, Education Department etc. This too is still pending.

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