What is it about Delhi that apart from the distinction of being the political capital of India, it also has to face the ignominy of being labelled the rape capital of India? The recent gang-rape of a 23 year medical professional in the heart of South Delhi has only confirmed the worst imagery of Delhi. What is it about Delhi that this label has been in vogue now for almost a decade and still nothing seems to have been done to reverse the situation, at least as per recent evidence? How can we ever look at the world in the eye when our own capital is so unsafe for women? There are several dimensions to this and I intend to do some loud thinking on some of these :
What is it about Delhi?
1. Delhi is a unique state and that has its attendant problems in law enforcing. A rapist in say Mumbai or Kolkata can escape to hinterlands to avoid capture by police. But he would still be in Maharashtra or West Bengal police jurisdiction, respectively. The same is not the case with Delhi. A rapist, after his heinous crime, can and does escape to Gurgaon, NOIDA, Ghaziabad, Faridabad, Merrut or any other such place. A criminal can be in UP or Haryana police jurisdiction almost within 25-30 minutes of his crime. He can be in Rajasthan or Punjab police jurisdiction in 3-4 hours. This is something which is unique to situation in Delhi – change in police jurisdiction and it presents vast complications in first nabbing the criminal in time and then prosecution.
2. There is no polite way to say this but it has to be said. Men in and around Delhi have invited sharp negative focus on all menfolk in India. But this is not a recent phenomenon – remember Draupadi was first put on a bet in these lands and later disrobed. The modern-day manifestation of this mindset are Khap Panchayats, who in their vision towards women are perhaps worse than Taliban. The maximum cases of honor killings come from these lands. Mainstream politicians (of Congress and Samajwadi party) defend the mentality of the Khaps in these lands.
3. Delhi and areas around it bore the brunt of land invasions – Turkish, Mongols, Afghans, Arabs – during the middle ages. After each victorious invasion, there would be loot and plunder of what was thought of as just spoils of war. These invading armies would many times also treat women of the conquered armies or cities as also part of just spoils of war. It is entirely possible that this mindset, ingrained over several centuries, has led men from these lands to likely consider women as mere objects and therefore almost have a sense of entitlement over them. It is this mindset which manifests itself in these gory acts.
4. Gurgaon has more liquor outlets per square meter than perhaps any place in the country. Just today I counted 5 street side liquor vendors (but selling high-end stuff) and 4 malls on a 4.5 Km stretch of road – 9 outlets on a 4.5 Km road ! NOIDA and Faridabad have the same menace, though to a lesser extent. Easy money obtained by selling ancestral land, which is how many have become rich in Gurgaon and NODA, and easy availability of liquor has consequences. What do men, who have become millionaires by selling land, but no ready day job, do? They drink. What else they do? Some become the animals who hit national headlines. This perhaps explains why Delhi has this rather extraordinary number of moving-vehicle-rapes: drunk men picking random women from streets and violating them in moving cars or buses and then dumping them at a secluded places. This in addition to heinous crime being perpetuated in homes and colonies. This recurrence of moving-vehicle-rapes is rather unique to Delhi and in some ways it defies the accepted wisdom that rape is only about exercise of power and is not a case of sick libido. And it also defies the conventional wisdom, which is true in other parts of the country, that in most cases of rape the perpetrator is known to the victim and rarely an absolute stranger.
What can be done?
While vacuous posturing and platitudes have started pouring in from professional outragers, some others have demanded death penalty for rapists. In the sentiment of the moment death penalty may seem just, but consider that India has been unable to hang a terrorist who conspired in attack on Parliament. There may be some more practicable solutions which can be implemented:
Arnab Ray ( @greatbong ) suggested an interesting solution on his Twitter feed – women carrying smart mobile devices which can help in emergency . Since mobile phones are now practically available to everyone, consider how this can work: An emergency number is opened by Delhi Police – say 999. Every mobile operator in Delhi is mandated to give access to this number on all connections. A woman in distress has simply to dial this number. Cellular towers can track down the location of the phone even in non smart phones which do not have GPS tracker. Those which have GPS will obviously be easier to track. Whenever a call is registered on this number, it simultaneously flashes to the Police Control room with real-time location of victim seeking help. But this is where governmental action is needed – how does the police react in time?
Delhi has been plagued with rape capital label since a decade or more and yet no action has been taken beyond platitudes. Here is what Sheila Dixit and Home Ministry can do (both under Congress regime) : for a start, deploy 100 PCR vans on Delhi streets with singular mandate to only respond to rape distress calls. There should be no other duty for these PCR vans except responding to rape distress calls. Each PCR van should have 2 police personnel on rotation duty of three shifts – that is 600 police personnel in total (as opposed to many thousands in VIP duty). The moment a call is registered on this number – 999 – the nearest PCR van reacts and reaches the location from where distress call was made. There need not be any bureaucracy of picking the call and registering complaint – as soon as a call is registered the nearest PCR van reacts. 100 additional PCR vans should not cost in excess of Rs. 20 crores, all expenses inclusive. Doable?
Since almost decade of outrage has been unable to either goad the Police or the judiciary to move with any purpose, is it not time for special measures – Special courts? Have special courts which will only try rape cases and all rape cases will go to these courts only which will have daily hearings. Between arrest of the culprits and first sentencing by trial court, cap the time limit to three months. This will have two consequences – confirmed speedy conviction for actual culprits and thus deterrence value while also giving a chance to wrongly accused people to be free of the stigma within a quick time. This will also solve the quandary of bail as a right for the accused, during trial period, when trial extends for years. Three months and the case is decided one way or the other. Confirmed sentencing is the biggest deterrence, more than any calls for stricter laws.
One legitimate question is – why special courts only in Delhi and why not for all India? It is this type of logic that binds us in analysis paralysis and we end up doing nothing. Delhi hits headlines daily. Women come to Delhi from all parts of India, especially from underdeveloped parts like North East and Kashmir, to study and work. Is it not important that capital of India be safe for women? If special courts work in Delhi, ramp them to all India level or do it from day one, but let not this wrangling stop immediate action in Delhi.
Other than going for capital punishment, there are other ways too in which laws can be made stricter.
A) Rape of minor : In cases of rape of minors (as distinct from statutory rape), the only punishment prescribed should be life term jail.
B) Rape and murder: Only death should be the option before the judge; remove the rarest or rare clause ambiguity for such cases.
C) Gangrape: The judge has option only between life term and death.
D) Rape: Minimum should be 10 years and maximum can be life term.
D) Eve teasing : If innocuously termed sexual offenders can be dealt with harshly, actual rape criminals may also be deterred. Make it a part of social record of such people and make their social life difficult.
In all such cases, it should also be made impossible for Governors and Presidents to exercise their pardon powers.
We need to do one more thing. Stop believing that women in power will have more sensitivity towards women issues. Sheila Dixit has been in power in Delhi since 1998. Sonia Gandhi has been the most powerful politician in India since 2004. Has this in any way improved the situation in Delhi or only worsened it? Making our cities safe for women needs leadership and not some politically correct, soft speaking but utterly inefficient page three type politician.