The incident, less than three years after the 2012 Delhi gang rape that sparked nationwide protests and forced a change in rape and assault laws, highlighted how women continue to be unsafe in the Capital. At the time, several city politicians visited Anand Parbat, and CCTV security cameras were installed.
Six years later, women in the locality report little improvement in their safety. In Delhi Police’s 2020 annual report, Anand Parbat is still among the 17 most unsafe localities for women in the city.
“These louts stand in large groups, and when a woman passes by, they deliberately do not leave space for her to walk. After 6pm, you can see drunk, jobless men standing around, and it is impossible for women to be outside,” a relative of the 19-year-old victim told HT this week.
Though Delhi was badly hit by the pandemic over four waves in the past 15 months, cases of crimes against women — rape, sexual harassment, kidnapping, and dowry deaths — rose in 2021.
A comparison of police data between January 1 and June 15 in 2020 and 2021 showed that crimes targeting women increased nearly 63% this year — from 3,407 to 5,566. This translates into 34 (33.53) every day in 2021, as opposed to 21 (20.52) a day in 2020. Registered rape cases rose about 43% till June 15 this year, as compared to the corresponding period last year.
The numbers further hurt Delhi’s already poor national image as a city unsafe for women.
The Capital reported a crime against woman every hour in 2019, the last year for which national data is available from the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB). The Capital registered 12,902 cases of crimes against women that year, more than Mumbai, Bengaluru and Ahmedabad put together.
The grim numbers pointed out the need for more vigilant policing but experts said social changes were required as well. They also don’t capture how the Internet has become increasingly unsafe for women in the past decade with frequent complaints of cyber bullying, harassment, morphed photos, fake identifies and blackmail.
“After the barbaric gang rape of 2012, the authorities have acted and done some work to ensure that the roads are lit and that there are security cameras installed in areas that are prone to such crimes, but the actual change will only come when we as a society change the way we look at and treat women,” said Renuka Reddy, a women’s rights activist and a gender studies scholar.
CRIME HOT SPOTS
An analysis of last year’s cases showed that the maximum cases of rape, sexual assault and harassment were reported from cramped, low-income neighbourhoods of Bindapur, Dwarka, Laxmi Nagar, Mayur Vihar, and Bharat Nagar.
A police officer, who earlier served in outer Delhi’s Prem Nagar police station, among the 17 police stations which recorded maximum crimes against women, said, “A lack of parental supervision was also a major reason behind such crimes. Prem Nagar mostly has kacchi colonies, where daily wagers and people working in factories or private companies live. Parents go out for work, leaving their children behind. Many boys fall into bad company and commit crimes against women in their neighbourhood.”.
Former Delhi Police commissioner Neeraj Kumar said certain areas of the city need “immediate police attention” because of local thugs.
“The local police of those problematic (unsafe) areas should take immediate steps to identify hot spots, and increase their presence by setting up police pickets. There should be a zero-tolerance policy against drinking in public spaces. If there are certain spots or lanes within the residential colonies, where people sit in groups and drink, the police needs to act strictly. Safety and security of women should not be compromised at any cost,” the retired IPS officer said.
Kumar was the police commissioner during the 2012 Delhi gang rape case.
But incidents of harassment, stalking and molestation have penetrated even colonies considered safer and better equipped with surveillance.
On July 12, a 15-year-old girl in Moti Bagh was hacked to death by her stalker, a day before her 16th birthday, for ignoring his advances. The family of the girl said that 21-year-old Pradeep was stalking her for nearly eight months. “The locality is a mix of government colonies, private bungalows and embassies. In our colony itself, there are CCTV cameras installed in every building. Despite all this, my sister was killed by her stalker in front of everyone,” said the girl’s 12-year-old sister.
Dwarka sub-city is another locality where the number of crimes against women are higher than the rest of the city.
Sudhir Pandey, president of the residents welfare association of Dwarka Sector 14, said, “The roads here are secluded. After sundown, you will only see vehicles moving on roads. Even the roads outside Metro stations are not well lit and do not have any security. This area is overall unsafe for everyone, but more so for women. Despite being a largely upper-middle-class neighbourhood, if women cannot walk freely, what development have we achieved?”
UNSAFE IN CYBERSPACE TOO
In recent years, even the Internet is being used to harass women. Complaints by women of harassment online have also increased in the past few years, and more so after the pandemic. Delhi police officers said the cyber cell receives around 40 complaints of online harassment. Until five years ago, they received only about 5-10 complaints a week, said the officers.
Earlier this month, the photographs of more than 80 Muslim women, including social activists, journalists and students, were uploaded on an app that used a derogatory term used for Muslims. The website even held a “virtual auction”, advertising these women as “deals of the day”. “I learnt that my photograph along with a link to my Twitter handle was also being circulated on the website. I felt absolutely powerless and had sleepless nights. After posting about the creation of this website, I have received messages containing sexually explicit language, gestures, threats of sexual attacks and even physical violence,” said a woman whose photograph was also uploaded on the website.
According to NCRB’s data, a total of 56 cases of cyber crimes against women were reported in 2019. Of them, four cases were of cyber blackmailing and threatening, five cases of cyber pornography, hosting or publishing obscene sexual materials, 17 cases of cyber stalking or bullying of women, two cases of fake profile, and 28 cases of cyber crimes of other nature.
“Several of the cyber crimes against women are committed by people who are known to the victims, and have animosity against them. Incidents of strangers targeting women on cyber space are very less. These strangers mostly target randomly and many women in one go,” said an officer who works on cyber crimes.
In simple terms, cyberspace appears to mimic the real world — according to Delhi Police data of 2020, nearly 98% crimes against women are perpetrated by family members, or people who know them from their localities or workplaces.
Delhi Police spokesperson Chinmoy Biswal said that the Covid-19 lockdown last year was responsible for the relatively low numbers in the first six months of 2020.
He added that city police was maintaining its “free and fearless” FIR registration policy and constantly taking measures to make the city safer, especially women.
“Women safety is our top priority. We have launched our street domination drive by having maximum patrolling of police staff on roads. Now, our women personnel are also conducting bike and scooter patrolling. Women officers have been deployed in beats. They interact with women on streets to understand the issues they face and accordingly take actions. Delhi Police is committed towards the safety of all citizens,” he added.
But Reddy said while penalties for sexual crimes have been strengthened, there was no corresponding change in mentality among people. “Woman of all ages are seen as sexual objects, and no matter how much we try to put all the blame on the police and the governments, unless we start changing the attitudes towards girl children, help them get an education and change the way we talk about women, these crimes will keep happening. The administration and the society has to work together to make the city safer for women,” said Reddy.