Thursday, October 8, 2009

National capital, capital for crimes against women

Posted from New Delhi.

Historical narratives in this part of the world use a common set of markers to describe good governance, and these invariably include tree-lined roads that were safe for old women to walk alone in the middle of the night with a basket of gold on their heads. Today's women however have to enjoy that security only in historical memory.

India's capital, beautiful, clean New Delhi, also tops the National Crime Research Bureau's rankings for crimes against women. In 2007, it contributed 17.5% of the incidents of crimes against women--just those recognized by the Indian Penal Code, reported and investigated--that took place in India's cities. In a national state-wise ranking, Delhi ranked 3rd. It followed Tripura and Andhra Pradesh, both of which states are experiencing extraordinary law and order challenges (which is not to excuse their rankings, of course).

"Delhi is unsafe for women." At least one generation of Indian women has grown up with this idea and while it hardly deters women from going out to do whatever they need or want, it is hardly an acceptable state of affairs. Moreover, we know that many of women's insecurities arise from within the family: whether it is the father who rapes his daughters believing it will bring prosperity or the father who incarcerates and beats his daughters for fear they will be raped. We live in a sick society, it seems, and the national capital's own inability to secure its female denizens is a stark illustration.

What makes some places less safe than others? What makes violence and coercion acceptable modes of behaviour? When does protection become oppressive? Why is gender violence not a pressing, critical policy issue?

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