It has been ten long years since the night that an aspiring physiotherapist, who was out with her friend to watch a movie and boarded a bus thereafter, was brutally gangraped by men in the moving bus and thrown out on a street in New Delhi.
She died ten days later despite the Government of India making the best possible treatment available to her. Though it was one of the many rapes that happen in India, this case struck a chord among urban Indians and ‘Nirbhaya’ became the signature of a generation — especially women — that wanted sweeping changes in law and society so that women would feel safer and crimes against women would reduce.
The ledger shows that India, as a society and its governments, has utterly failed its women and girls — crimes against women, in fact violence against women, has not lessened but increased. Crimes against women, which include rape, assaults, kidnapping and abduction,domestic violence and dowry deaths, have seen an increase of 26.35% over the last six years from 2016.
Acid attacks, molestation, and intimate partner violence are becoming more common by the day. India ranks as the ninth most dangerous country for women and at the top on the gender inequality index — the two are more interlinked than is apparent.
That apart, the point of concern is that in the post-Nirbhaya national mood, legislation was brought in to award the death penalty for rape besides effecting other changes in procedures to make the law more sensitive to traumatised women.
The rate of conviction for rape or other serious crimes against women has not increased as a result. Technology was offered as an answer but the CCTV and face recognition systems have raised surveillance concerns.
While the judicial process takes its course even in heinous cases, India’s social sentiment has seen a transformation for the worse. From a nation moved by ‘Nirbhaya’ we stand at a point where convicted rapists of Bilkis Bano, survivor of the Gujarat riots of 2002, are not only released but also feted.
It is not only that rapes or crimes against women have not declined in the decade past; it is also that India’s attitude towards rape and rapists, especially if it has communal undertones, has fundamentally changed. This not only makes women less safe but also politicises rape.
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