December 2012, the brutal rape and murder of a 21-year-old college
student on a bus in New Delhi shook the conscience of the entire nation.
The incident led to public outcry, including widespread protests
across India decrying crimes against women. The case also gained
international attention; the gang rape of the young student led the BBC
to produce a documentary called “India’s Daughters.”
government, shaken by the intensity of protests both in India and
abroad, was forced to amend the criminal law by providing for stringent
punishments against the perpetrators of sexual offenses. Sadly, the
change in law has had little effect on the ground, as sexual offenses
against women are on the rise.
According to the National Crimes
Records Bureau (NCRB) “assault on women with intent to outrage her
modesty” (previously categorized as “molestation”) constitutes the second-most-reported crime against women. In over 337,992 crimes against women reported in 2014, over 82,000 related to this charge.
are several reasons for the rise in sexual crimes in India. First, the
rise in crimes is linked to poor policing. India has one policeman for
every 720 persons, which is the lowest police-to-public ratio across
the world. The United States, for comparison, has one police officer
for every 436 citizens; South Africa has one for 347 citizens and Sri
Lanka one for every 424 citizens. According to the Bureau of Police Research & Development
(BPR&D), India has a shortage of at least 500,000 police
personnel. Of the police India does have, over 33 percent of the police
force is deployed for VVIP duties and only around one-third do actual
Second, India’s police are not trained and sensitized to
handle sexual crimes. When confronted with such cases, it has been
seen that more often than not the police either look the other way or
force the victims to settle the issue with the offenders. Moreover,
there is a huge shortage of policewomen, which discourages victims
from sharing their experience with police officers.
if cases are taken seriously, the Indian judicial system is painfully
slow. It generally takes anywhere from 10 to 15 years for an Indian
court to decide on a case and convict the offender. This is primarily
because of a shortage of judges. India has 15 judges for every one
million, compared to China’s 159. Although, the government has
introduced fast track courts to expedite the cases, it still continues
to take years before a case sees the light of the day. A Delhi high
court judge once estimated it would take 466 years to get through the backlog in the capital alone.
NCRB has reported that only around 24 percent of those charged with
sexual violence are convicted, while the others are let off, largely
because of the inability of prosecutors to prove the case. In India,
the onus of proving the crime rests with the victims. The victims often
avoid narrating the gory details of their ordeal in court because of
social stigma; for this reason many crimes do not get registered.
on New Year’s Eve, inebriated revelers in India’s IT capital,
Bangalore, sexually assaulted women who had gathered in public places
for celebrations. The police, rather than overpowering the offenders,
ended up chasing them away. The incident once again led to public
outrage against continued violence against the women. Making matters
worse, the state home minister, instead of taking steps to apprehend
the perpetrators, laid the blame squarely on the victims for their
improper and provocative attire. The police commissioner went one step
further by denying the incident ever happened and accusing the media of
misreporting. However, when the media released video clips captured on
CCTVs, especially a video depicting a woman being groped and molested,
the police commissioner swung into action. So far, around five people
have been arrested after being identified through the videos.
incidents happened in Delhi. In Delhi, the mob, who outnumbered the
police force, reportedly thrashed the officers when they came to the
aid of the women. It is reported there were only 4 policemen on duty.
has been seen that stringent laws have not brought any change on the
ground. The government should appoint more police officers, especially
women, to prevent and properly respond to attacks against women.
general public is also equally culpable for not coming to the rescue
when women are attacked. In part, this is because of high-profiled
incidents when those who tried to help victims were also attacked, even
killed. However, these incidents should not deter the community from
coming to the aid of victims, instead of looking the other way. They
should also inform the police whenever they see such incidents
happening. As responsible citizens, it is our paramount duty to assist
the police in tackling crimes against women. There is also an urgent
need to sensitize primary and secondary students to the evils of such
crimes. Further, it is also the responsibility of every parent to teach
their children to respect women.
At a time when India is emerging
as one of the world’s biggest economies, it must be remembered that
true development can be realized only when we are able to ensure the
safety and security of our women.
K.S. Venkatachalam is an independent columnist and political commentator.