Let's talk about women's safety! : The Challenges lying ahead in Delhi
Thomas Reuters Foundation has recently concluded that India is the most dangerous country for women due to a high rate of crimes against them, which include sexual violence, molestation, forced slave labor and physical assault on women. The conclusion of the poll strongly resonates with the official statistics of crime against women in India, and the capital city of Delhi has the worst records in most of the categories. In the modern times, Delhi has experienced an enormous expansion both in terms of population and infrastructure, in line with other metropolitan cities. Being the capital of India, more and more people have settled in the city on a permanent or transient basis, in search of better living conditions. It holds a population of 28 million, making it second most populous urban agglomeration in India. Delhi today is seen as a leading example of messy, rapid and unplanned urbanization, repercussions of which are an alarming rate of urban poverty, marginalization of the poor and eventually a deepening sense of insecurity amongst the women. The National Capital Territory of Delhi, in its bid to project itself as a mega-city, has witnessed large-scale expansion in terms of infrastructure. However, it has not been able to cope with the associated problems that came along, i.e. the issue of women safety. This issue has been significantly undermining the right of a woman to live in a city as she pleases. The gender equity in the right to move around the city freely and usage of the public spaces have been greatly undermined in Delhi. Understanding Women’s Safety
Women's safety is defined as efforts that involve efficient strategies, policies, and governance, at the grass-root level, which aim to reduce gender-based violence and make our environs safer and more accessible to women. It can be studied closely by looking at the conundrum of violence against the women, albeit in a holistic manner, as multiple factors are existent in the society that pose a threat to the safety of women. Women’s safety cannot be ensured without looking at them as a unique user group. The rapid urbanization of cities has ensured ample opportunities for the masses to prosper, but the problem arises when planning is done with a patriarchal frame of mind. Karen Franck, in her paper ‘Public, Places and Spaces’ has clearly established that women and men perceive spaces differently. Consequently, addressing the needs of women as a separate user group becomes critical towards sustainable development. Karen Franck has laid down seven different characteristics that categorize the feminine way of analyzing their environment:
An underlying connectedness to others
A desire for inclusiveness and a desire to overcome
A responsibility to respond to the needs of others
An acknowledgment of the value of everyday life and experience
An acceptance of subjectivity as a scheme for perception, and of feelings as parts of knowing
An acceptance and desire of complexity; and
An acceptance for change and a desire for flexibility.
Women’s safety involves their financial autonomy. Accumulation of resources for their own security and stability will not only ensure their self-worth in their homes and society but will also serve as an instrument to counter domestic violence and battering in their homes. Delhi rings a huge bell when the issue of women's security is taken up. A report of the Daily Bhaskar newspaper reported areas like MG Road, Nelson Mandela Road, Paharganj, Sarojini Nagar, North Campus, Delhi University, Uttam Nagar, and few places of Old Delhi being a few of many places found to be vulnerable for women. An article by the Times of India newspaper jotted down around a hundred spots in Delhi & NCR which were marked unsafe for women.
The case of Old Delhi can be scrutinized to analyze the alarming situation of lack of gender sensitivity. The stretch of Ajmeri Gate to Delhi gate has two colleges, three schools, one stock exchange building and a whole lot of office buildings. This stretch also contains a police station and a branch of Crime against Women cell, in addition to an entrance to New Delhi Railway station and New Delhi metro station. Despite having so much of administrative set-up and policing, women commuting on this stretch find it highly unsafe to hang around, particularly in the dark. Antisocial activities happen right behind the police station and the existing conditions conform to the fear of women to linger all alone on the road. Intersections often act as dumping grounds which lead to spaces filled with stink and dirt. Open urinals, which always are dysfunctional, serve no purpose and often men could be seen urinating in the open. There is no public toilet facility for women. The roads are not properly lit, and physical harassment and catcalling are prevalent in the area.
The situation is analogous in other areas too. The north campus of Delhi University hosts several premier institutions for education, out of which many are exclusive to women. The problems faced by women in this area are the same. The pedestrian walkways are encroached by homeless people, making it difficult for women to walk. The electricity poles are clustered with wires and no street light works properly. The evenings are dark and full of anti-social elements. Lack of proper policing and public toilets often cause unease to women while commuting. Drawing conclusions from the above cases, the factors that make Delhi Unsafe for woman are:
Poor lighting on the streets
Poor unlit, unconnected pedestrian pathways
Lack of signage and information on the roads
Poor maintenance of public spaces
Crowded public transport
Lack of clean and safe public toilets
Lack of authorized vendors, stalls in the areas, particularly at night
Lack of effective policing in all areas
Anti-social elements prevalent on the streets
Lack of respect towards women in the society
The subject of women’s safety is a subclass of the larger concern of woman-empowerment, the discourse of which came into existence during the first wave of feminism. Our Indian society has come a great way over the past decades in terms of elevation of living standards and accessibility to world-class infrastructure. But the issue of women-safety lingers in our society to the present day, as crimes against women are rampant and increasing with each day passing. Making and implementation of better laws and efficient administrative setup is a necessity on the part of the government, but to ensure a holistic effort towards the safety of women, small steps taken while planning the spaces and households can make massive impacts. The patriarchal mindset followed by our policymakers is yielding negative outcomes and an ever-increasing rate of crime against women bears testimony to this fact. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------