Systemic solutions needed, from wholesale change in attitudes towards women to beefing up technological aids to policing
The Hyderabad gangrape-murder has foregrounded, once again, the pervasiveness and brutality of sexual crimes against women. The revival of public debate on the issue of women’s safety with renewed vigour has exposed the sheer inability of the state to preserve the most fundamental right to life and dignity for about half its population. Lawmakers vociferously demanded stricter punishments for rapists in Parliament, from surgical and chemical castration to public lynching and more liberal awarding of the death penalty as a deterrent. The parliamentarians’ statements betray, at best, their helplessness in dealing with a systemic problem; at worst, it indicates a failure to recognise the systemic nature of the problem of sexual violence. Neither case instills confidence.
Making public spaces safe for women is unachievable without wholesale change in attitudes towards and about women. That will be a multi-generational endeavour. Meanwhile, the state must make spaces safer and more gender-inclusive. For instance, simply reviving the beat constable system, as recommended by the NITI Aayog in 2016, and increasing the number of PCR vans can do much to make public spaces safer for women. Coverage and surveillance of public spaces, including roads, parking spaces, and buses, by CCTV cameras, too, should act as a deterrent. India could also look to emulate the US’s strategy of employing drones for public safety. Reducing police response time—the average response time in India still remains abysmally high—would immensely improve both crime prevention and investigation. The judicial system, too, needs an overhaul—the need is not only to speed up the process of addressing cases of sexual violence but also to provide affordable legal aid to survivors. It is shameful that over half a decade after the Centre established the Nirbahaya Fund in the aftermath of the Delhi gangrape, its corpus remains largely unused. Telangana has only used 8% of the Rs 12.3 crore that was allocated to it.