Fear still haunts Delhi women
By Prathiba Raju, New Delhi, Feb 18 : Two months after the gang-rape of a 23-year-old, protests might have quelled but women in India's national capital say they still don't feel safe and are haunted by the horrific incident on that wintry night of Dec 16.
Every woman in the capital has in some way relived in her mind the trauma of the young physiotherapist. And battled that nagging, subliminal fear that it could have happened to anyone, particularly a woman whose work or studies compel her to stay out late.
"If not her, it could have been me. I travel during late hours after my work. Putting myself in her position on that dreaded night when five men and one juvenile stripped her clothes off and raped her, left her battered and bleeding on the roadside...a chill runs down my spine," Neha Khanna, a journalist, told IANS.
"What would I have done... a sense of helplessness grips me as I wait alone everyday for autorickshaws near metro stations and walk out alone. My educational qualifications, economic independence, self defence classes and the pepper spray can may not be helpful... I know I can be a victim too, anytime," said Tanima Sen, a BPO employee.
However, Deputy Commissioner of Police (South) Chayya Sharma told IANS that there should be no fear psychosis after the Dec 16 incident as police vigil had been increased.
"As a woman living in Delhi, yes I feel safe...you come from other cities then you will realise it's true," Sharma said.
Many women say they are unable to forget the incident and forgive the accused as their barbaric act put an end to the dreams of a girl, who belonged to a lower middle class family and was working towards becoming economically independent.
"Police presence on roads is not enough. Police personnel have to be more sensitive to women's issues. A week ago on my way home with two of my friends after a movie, our car was stopped by three patrolling policemen. They said it was a routine check-up after the Dec 16 gang rape incident and asked me even after the incident why don't I go home by 7 p.m.," said Deepali Bharadwaj.
Like Bharadwaj, many women say the mentality of the men should be changed, not the working hours of women or their clothes.
Based on the recommendations of the Justice J.S. Verma Committee, formed to look into laws on sexual violence against women, the government passed an ordinance paving way for stricter laws for crime against women.
Activists claim that the women's helpline set up by the Delhi government, added police vigil and an ordinance by the government that is weaker that what the Justice Verma committee has recommended are not sufficient enough to protect women.
"The case has definitely been an eye opener to youngsters and men to a certain extent. But it doesn't end, the government should bring in a strong anti-rape law; this case should become a benchmark for how a rape case should be handled," Kavita Krishnan, All India Progressive Women's Association (AIPWA), told IANS. Krishnan was at the forefront of the anti-rape protests that was seen in the city in the wake of the gang-rape.
Various women activists say the government should take their words seriously and would ensure that the movement does not fizzle out.
"We will again stage protests in Jantar Mantar from Feb 21 when the budget session begins in parliament. We will fight till a strong bill is passed to amend anti-rape laws," Krishnan told IANS.
An ordinance is a law made by the government while parliament is not in session. It lapses unless it is approved by parliament within six months.
The protest over the incident has emerged as a global torchbearer for awakening on sexual violence against women as the capital's women call it a blot on history.
"Mindsets have to change otherwise women will continue to feel insecure and scared and that in a society is a big no-no," Arti Mehra, who works in a call centre, said.
(Prathiba Raju can be contacted at email@example.com)