In Delhi’s battle of the sexes, the police is losing
Looking back at life in Delhi over 30 years since my arrival as an economic refugee during the Asian Games, I find that women in the city have more freedom than then. Because of the transformation in private and public transportation they are more mobile now. Back then, DTC buses, which ill-served most of the neighbourhoods except those in South Delhi, were the only affordable option to most of them. The crew would gleefully play cat-and-mouse with women stranded at the bus stops. There they would be set up on by male predators who would also play 'braille' on those that managed to get in, in the anonymity that crush passenger loads offered. The Red Lines that minister Jagdish Tytler introduced reduced wait time, without enhancing safety. Such was their reputation for mass murder - notoriety duly noted even by Time magazine - that they were ordered to be painted blue, as if a change in color would magically render them placid.
Over the years, the study and work opportunities for women have increased; one sees more of them in public, though a former Newsweek editor who happened to visit Delhi (and India) for the first time last month, commented how sparse they were. The increased ownership of personal wheels has made women much less confined. Attitudes have eased to the mixing of genders, which is also enabled by cellphones, malls and the Metro. Intimacy, is less inhibited, and on greater display.
But statistics of crimes against women do not reflect this. In some cases, matters have worsened. In other, change is glacial. Rapes per lakh of population have increased from 1.1 in 1982 to 3.4. During this period, annual instances have risen from 72 to 572 after peaking at 658 in 2005. Dowry deaths have increased from 102 in 1990, the first year for which the record is available, to 142. The consistency is amazing; for the past decade the rate for every one lakh people has hovered around 0.8. Kidnappings and abductions of women have increased from 680 in 1988 to 2085 in 2011, when there seems to have been a spurt.
This also perhaps suggests increased autonomy that women exercise in love and choice of partners, and the consequences that are visited upon them by defied parents and brothers. Molestations have increased from 176 in 1988 to 657; the rate at 3.9 now was almost half about two decades ago. Curiously, while there is an increase in serious crime against women, the instances of sexual harassment (or eve-teasing) have declined precipitously from 2061 in 1990 to just 162 in the previous year! Is there a change in categorization or are numbers being massaged?
Until two decades ago, that is 1990, crime against women was not a separate category. That year there were 3,249 cases, most of them of 'eve-teasing'. Since then the number has shot up to 5,234. The rate however has inched down from 37 to 31. But there are years of explicable good male behavior: like two years in the early 1990s, and four years towards the turn of the century when the rate was around 16. Did leadership make the difference? Was this difference palpable on the ground? If so, what were the policing techniques and why have they not been amplified?
Delhi has transformed over the years but it remains a bastion of male aggression and caveman attitudes. Many wars have been fought over this city. What we are seeing now is the battle of the sexes. It is a battle that the police seem to be losing.
More about Vivian FernandesVivian Fernandes is a senior journalist with nearly 30 years of practice, 19 of them in television, all of which he spent at TV18. Vivian’s last assignment was as executive editor of a book on India and China written by the founder of the Network 18 group, Mr Raghav Bahl. He has been an observer of Indian business and politics, and had reported on economic policy making as reporter, chief of Delhi bureau of correspondents and economic policy editor. Vivian has traveled abroad with Prime Ministers Narasimha Rao, Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh. He was also reported on the World Trade Organization’s trade talks from Cancun, Hong Kong and Geneva. He continues his association with the Network18 group, but not as an employee.
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