In almost all countries, the patriarchal view pervades policing when it is a crime against women, where law-enforcers are already prejudiced before an investigation.
Is your city safe? Could a woman and or a young girl walk the streets without feeling scared? What is the possibility of a patrolling police vehicle intercepting a woman and asking what she is doing outside so late at night and instead of ensuring she finds a safe mode of conveyance in which to get home, she is pulled up? What is the possibility of this woman being followed by a drunk or a person wanting to attack her sexually? There’s a high probability that the latter two scenarios could play out. This is the case even in our very own, ‘spirited’ Mumbai city. This is the story of most cities in the world. With the progress of technology and infrastructure in modern-day, nowhere has the safety of women been given priority in various policies or more so, by our law-enforcers. In almost all countries, the patriarchal view pervades policing when it is a crime against women, where law-enforcers are already prejudiced before an investigation.
In one week, incidents reported across the globe, be it in our own back of the beyond, Uttar Pradesh, or London or Afghanistan or America, have thrown up questions on the crucial factor of women’s safety. Rape, sexual assault, the lack of reporting these cases to police, the conviction rate, the way these cases are handled by police and the government and most of all, the eventual, if any, punishment.
No place safe for women
There is no safe place for women to be – the streets, or newsrooms, classrooms or within the confines of one’s own home. I think it is time women come together to boycott celebrating Women’s Day, long reduced to tokenism and the useless promotion of consumer goods. The anger expressed by women across the world is over making the streets safe for women and not the patriarchal policing that asks women to wear ‘decent’ clothes, not drink and step out, or speak with strangers and many other such ridiculous restrictions.
On March 3, a 33-year-old marketing executive, Sarah Everard, was walking back home in south London when she disappeared. I would urge all women to listen to this really nice podcast on The Guardian where Rachel Humphreys spoke to Alexandra Topping, the senior reporter of The Guardian. Topping noted how Sarah had followed all safety protocols to ensure she would be safe. “She wore red-coloured clothes, called her boyfriend and had worn running shoes”. Steps she had taken to ensure she would be ‘safe’. But alas, it was not to be. Now, what makes it all the more worse is that it was a police constable who kidnapped and killed her. Ironically, today we see many videos asking women to be alert, safe and take steps to ensure their own safety. It is a sinking feeling that in major leading cities we are told how women need to take precautions and despite doing so, Sarah was not saved.
Women have to walk lonely paths, be in the forests, fields or the streets and no amount of adequate lighting or CCTV cameras can prevent crimes against women. Once such assaults take place, it gets worse. The attitude of a patriarchal society being that women are responsible for their safety, or in the event that an assault takes place. Thereafter, the way the police and the authorities handle the case of a sexual assault or rape is most often appalling – especially the leaks to the media, within the police fraternity and the statements are given. Take the example of Sarah’s case, a metropolitan police officer was removed after he circulated an offensive WhatsApp image on the official group. Why go so far, on September 14, 2020, a 19-year old Dalit girl was gang-raped by upper caste men in Hathras, UP. In a report, the UP police claimed, as per a forensic report, the rape never took place. Worse still, the hurried cremation of the girl’s body that was carried out by the police raised more questions about the crime. This is exactly the reason that most often sexual assault and rape crimes are not reported. Most often fake information, photos, in such cases, are reported more than accurate information, sending a message to society that this could happen to any woman who reports on similar crimes. Here, authentic reporting by the media plays a crucial role. Time and again, we are seeing how personal details are widely shared, inaccurate information and also the insinuation that the woman was responsible for the crime. In the aftermath of actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide the malicious campaign against his girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty apart, when his ex-manager Disha Salian too died by suicide, her parents had to urge the media to not spread false information about her.
Policing sexual assault cases
According to a Statistical Research Department study in March this year, of the 338,000 cases of crimes against women reported, over 33,000 were rapes that occurred in 2018. That year, more than 93 per cent of the rapes were committed by someone known to the victim. India is considered a dangerous country for women, with a high incidence of rape, along with South Africa, Botswana, Sweden and other countries. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, on average, 88 rapes take place every day in India. This data is from 2019. However, the conviction rate is only 27.8%, which means, out of 100, only 28 accused are convicted. Now, as Topping mentioned in the podcast, one in three women face domestic abuse, two women are killed every week by a former partner in the UK and half-a-million are raped or sexually assaulted every year. Ninety-seven per cent of rapes of young women who are raped are not reported. Worse still, there has been a decrease in rape prosecution, which further deters women from going to the police and reporting such crimes. The rate of prosecution of rape crimes in England is 1.4%. Topping said there was a huge danger of rape getting decriminalised in the UK. In fact, more crime reporters and young students of journalism need to listen to this podcast of The Guardian to understand how to report rape and sexual assault cases.
After Sarah’s remains were found, the women have been protesting on the streets and the way these were handled was flashed on the screens across the world – scenes of police pinning down women, taking them in vans to the police stations – evoking immense criticism. Women are angry and not just in London. Everywhere, one sees the onus of ensuring their own safety being put on women and aspersions being cast on their character or behaviour.
However, since a decade, there are some initiatives involving women to make safety a priority at the local level. Some street surveys as part of the Gender Inclusive Cities Programme 2009-2012 show women in Rosario (Argentia), Petrozaodsk (Russia), Delhi (India) and Dar es Salam (Tanzania) identifying gender as the number one personal identity, a related factor that contributes to their lack of safety. There are many factors that influence the relationship a person has with a public place in a city and others who are in it. What makes one feel safe or not. Most often, the men will not have any objection to space, they do not feel threatened, unlike women and do not have the sensitivity to understand what makes a woman feel safe or not. Recently, the government’s ‘Ease of Living Index’ said Bengaluru was the most liveable city in India. The criteria for the selection of cities was not made public. It only goes to show that women’s safety and public transport were definitely not the selection criteria, or else this city could not have qualified.
It is time policy-makers make it mandatory to involve women in the local municipal committees to decide security and safety norms, to make our cities more liveable.
Neeta Kolhatkar is a senior journalist with over 30 years of work experience across different media platforms. She is currently a freelancer and media consultant.
(Views Expressed Are Personal)