India’s demographic might under threat
India is passing through a big testing time as we are unable to control heinous crimes against women. Women of all strata feel unsafe and insecure. Women of all age are being raped and harassed. We are unbale to take steps, which can bring back the confidence of women folks in our society. How can we reimagine a country, where women can move freely and boldly on the streets? We have grown hearing our sisters being told what all they should not be doing and that included restrictions on their movement. The situation has certainly become much worse today when not only girls, but their parents’ mobility is also linked with the safety of their daughters. Many women in metro cities leave job to look after their daughters. Many incidents of rape and sexual assault leave women with scars and with their restricted mobility, India lose tremendously as we are unable to unlock the real potential of half of the population.
Incidents of rapes and assaults create fear and concern in the minds of parents and girls that restricts their movement for study, work and travel. As a society, we tend to stay hyped for a while after such incidents and then we forget to the extent that we only express our anger when such heinous crimes hit the news next time. According to a Thomson Reuters Foundation report based on survey of experts last year, “ India was named as the most dangerous country for women after coming fourth in the same survey seven years ago. The world’s second most populous nation, with 1.3 billion people, ranked as the most dangerous on three of the topic questions- the risk of sexual violence and harassment against women, the danger women face from cultural, tribal and traditional practices, and the country where women are most in danger of human trafficking including forced labour, sex slavery and domestic servitude.”
The most important question that emerges out of the figures and facts from different parts of the country is that are we doing enough as a Nation and society to contain such incidents and make sure that country’s half population feel free to be mobile and stay secured? The central and state governments would never deny its efforts to curb the menace but efforts are more ornamental then visible on the ground. First time in history, the central government had allocated 1000 crore Rupees in 2003 budget after the Nirbhaya incident. According to the official data, the state governments and union territories have only utilized less than 20 per cent of the fund they have received under Nirbhaya fund between 2015-2019. While Chandigarh was on the top list by utilizing about 60 per cent of the fund, followed by Mizoram; Uttarakhand; Andhra Pradesh and Nagaland, states like Maharashtra; Manipur and Lakshadweep did not spend a single penny. Delhi, which was the centre of attention after the Nirbhaya incident in the city, could only spend 0.84 per cent under the fund. The capital city used only 3.41 per cent of the money it received for compensating victims of gender based violence. Interestingly, none of the states and UTs have spent any money on the Cyber Crime Prevention against Women and Children program under which the Centre disbursed Rupees 93.12 crore in 2017.
While the government’s implementing efforts are certainly not up to the mark, citizens will have to join hands so that the implementation of schemes and plans are executed effectively. The governments must involve women representatives from citizen bodies such as RWAs, senior citizens and pensioner’s associations etc. The following strategies should be executed on a continuous basis for at least ten-fifteen years.
Firstly, all police stations across the country should introduce internship for female students. It will be a gamechanger, if female students can get opportunity to work with the police team. The student volunteers from local places would be able to highlight the weak spots of sexual harassment zones and can undertake safety audits of local areas.
Secondly, there is no reason why we should not aim to have at least 30 per cent women in the police force. Large presence of women police on the streets and neighbourhood will make a huge difference. Until last year, the national presence of women in police force was 7.28 per cent and in the capital city Delhi, it was only 8.24 per cent. With the rising cases of sexual assault on women, presence of women police force all across the country would certainly work in favour of women folks.
Thirdly, Delhi Police ran a program called Parivartan around the city between 2005-2010 under which they used to run gender sensitization programs and posted women constables at the beat level. That was a big confidence booster for women residents and they could connect better with the police force. Reviving Parivartan model not only in Delhi but other parts of the country would drastically establish connection between the police force and women.
Fourthly, We also need to have more women judges in our courts so that sexual assault cases are dealt with full empathy. In High Courts, we only have about 11 per cent women judges and in lower courts it varies from 11.52 per in Bihar to 73.8 per cent in Meghalay with a national average of 28 per cent. The criminal justice system also need to be made more efficient by recruiting more judges. India has about 19 judges for 10 lakh people and over 6,000 posts are lying vacant. More Fast Track courts to deal with women cases need to be set-up. With about 2,76,74,499 cases pending in the District and Subordinate Courts of the country, one can imagine how many women and their families must be waiting for their turn to get justice!
Last but not the least, we need to work with men of all age and its best to start at the adolescent age. I always get reminded of two incidents where I realized the importance of interventions around sex-education among adolescent boys. After the Nirbhaya incident, we were having a discussion with adolescent girls from a slum in Delhi and her remark was “being a growing girl I am always told by my mother what not to do but she never tells my brother what not to do.” In another incident, where community health workers were providing training to adolescent girls, the boys would watch them coming to the community and once the boys asked, “if they can also provide similar training to boys in the community”. In the last 20 years or so, most of the interventions by the government and NGOs have been done with women. It is high time that we prioritize working with boys too, in order to help them understand their body and how they should control their sexual behaviour.
We need to act fast and in a sustained way so that the proposed actions do not remain only on paper. Citizens must come forward and ask the government agencies for concrete action. The problem has reached to a level that any household can be affected and it can happen with any girl in the country. The central and state governments should give this a big priority and engage citizens in their plan. If we really want to become a global power with our ‘demographic might’ then we must act promptly to stop heinous crimes against women.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.