Whether it's an utterly uninspiring Manmohan Singh or a highly insensitive Sushil Kumar Shinde, the Centre’s assurances of safety to India’s women ring completely hollow for a simple reason: 97 percent of the rapes happen in the states, and policing is a state subject.
In other words, in federal India, Manmohan Singh or Shinde have no real locus standi to assure safety and security to women on behalf of the states, unless the states do it themselves.
Unfortunately, not a single state chief minister has come up with such an assurance.
Not even the BJP chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, which has been topping the National Crime Records Bureau charts on rape for years. In 2011, the state recorded 3,406 reported cases - about 14 percent of all the cases in India.
The next in line is Mamata Banerjee’s West Bengal - 2,366, about 10 percent of the country’s total, followed by Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.
Even a fully literate small state such as Kerala had more than 1,000 cases. But, we haven’t heard any of the chief ministers of these states seizing the opportunity and coming up with responses to build the confidence of the people of India even as reports of rapes continued to pour from different parts the country.
Neither did we see any public outrage from mofussil India against what they are facing on a regular basis, other than the smaller scale reflections of the India Gate protests.
Instead, thanks to the outrageous situation in Delhi, the onus for 24,206 rapes (the number of reported rapes across India), of which its direct accountability was on only 624 (in Union territories), fell on unimaginative and seemingly insensitive leaders such as Shinde and Manmohan Singh.
And unsurprisingly, they didn’t fail to disappoint us or rather shock us.
However, what can Shinde or the Centre do to control the crime against women in the rest of India?
Other than pushing for legislative reforms, including the amendment of the IPC, that one can only hope will act as a deterrent, nothing much. Because the responsibility of the safety and security of India’s citizens rest with the states and the state police. Unless the social values and overall law and order situation change in the states, nothing will change.
Among the knee-jerk measures that Shinde has announced is a meeting of the state DGPs. Not that the Centre is calling for a meeting of the state police chiefs for the first time. They routinely do it.
What will happen afterwards? Are the DGPs obliged to act on what Shinde says?
No. They will sit through the sessions and go back to the lawlessness and patriarchy of their states and do what their chief ministers ask them to do.
The states don’t listen to even to the Supreme Court, which wanted them to act on its landmark directives for police reforms in 2006. Had the states acted on what the SC had asked them to do—such as setting up a security commission to reduce the political influence of on police, selection of DGP from a panel finalised by UPSC, minimum tenure for officers in operational duties, a police complaints authority to address public grievances, and separate investigation and law and order duties—things could have certainly improved.
However, except for a couple of states, all the others either asked for time or found excuses to oppose the move. Many constitutional experts and prominent lawyers, including a BJP leader, supported the states.
The SC had given seven "categorical directions"—as Kiran Bedi, the then Director General of the Bureau of Police Research and Development, described them—in its judgement in 2006, and subsequently rejected all arguments against them by the state governments. The court had in fact had set a deadline of 31 March 2007 to implement them or face contempt.
Many, then, had thought that the states would fall in line because of the fear for contempt. But nothing happened.
This is where UPA government could have played a constructive role - by following up with the states and encouraging them to adhere to the SC directives. Instead, they waited for years before asking the states on the status of the reforms. In fact, they woke up only in October this year.
The tragedy of the Delhi outrage is that we have lost sight of the real problem - the danger of rape and violence that women face in our cities, towns and villages. The violence against women that breeds in shocking conditions of gender inequality and overall lawlessness.
Therefore, the real agitation should be in the states, not in Delhi. And they should be bottom up - starting with communities in our lawless villages, moving upwards. They should primarily target their own men.
With many of our provincial leaders acting as high-handed satraps, who can misuse every piece of law against the poor and inconvenient citizens, will such agitations ever happen in the states? Will the TV cameras ever reach these places?
Delhi outrage is certainly justified. But outraged India should reserve their tougher questions for Shivraj Singh Chowhan, Ashok Gehlot, Akhilesh Yadav, Prithviraj Chauhan, Kiran Kumar Reddy, and the likes, for assurances and answers.