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Women unsafe in India: Nothing has changed since Delhi gangrape

Even as the verdict in the December 16 Delhi gangrape case came in on Tuesday, the fact is that India remains unsafe for women.

The recent Mumbai gangrape case is one of the few that has grabbed attention, other rape victims including one in West Bengal and the Dalit victim in Jind receive scant attention. And their numbers are just growing.

According to this report, India is considered the fourth most dangerous country in the world for women. The survey is based on rankings by 213 gender experts from five continents.  The survey also highlights that 100 million people, mostly women and girls, are involved in trafficking in one way or another and says 50 million girls are missing in India due to female infanticide and foeticide.

A report on NPR quotes a UN report as saying that India is ranked 132 out of 187 countries when it comes to women's safety, and with the exception of Afghanistan, all nations in South Asia were a better place for women than India.

File photo of Delhi gangrape protests. Reuters

File photo of Delhi gangrape protests. Reuters

When it comes to women's safety in public transport, the picture doesn't get better even in the so-called safest city in India, Mumbai.

According to a report published in  DNA, 75 percent of participants in a survey in Mumbai did not feel safe taking taking public transport after sundown. Additionally, 48 percent admitted that they have been harassed verbally or physically. The survey covered 4,500 girls and women in the age group of 10-40 years who rely on public transport.

The survey shatters all myths of a safe public transport in Mumbai for women. Women's rights activists have insisted that one of the key ways of ensuring women's safety is by making sure that public transport is safe and available at all times for women.

Sameera Khan, who has worked extensively on the issue of women's safety in Mumbai, writes in this EPW article, the country’s commercial capital has recorded 649 rapes (registered under Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code – IPC) and 1,652 cases of molestation (registered under Section 354 of the IPC) in the last three years."

She also argues that what the city needs is round-the-clock transportation all days of the week, public toilets that are open at all times, optimal street lighting, and policemen on duty whose jobs are not to send a woman home at 10 pm so that she may be “safer” (she may not be), but to ensure that she can stay out because they will make sure the street is safe.

The point that Sameera stresses is for is that women's safety can only be ensured when they are given equal access to public space. Also the numbers she quotes clearly highlight that Mumbai is not far behind Delhi when it comes to crimes against women. In fact as the EPW piece points out molestation cases have increased 13 percent by 2012 in Mumbai.

And what of Delhi, which is now infamous as India's rape capital?  The NPR story also looked at the issue of travelling in Delhi where finding a cheap auto or taxi is much harder than say Mumbai. Delhi's metro now has a women's only compartment and for many women these are a boon.

Pritpal Kaur, a radio jockey, told NPR that the ladies' compartment is  a blessing. Men have leered at her and passed lewd comments. "Once or twice I slapped them back, but it does not work every time because sometimes I got reactions back," she says.

For women in India, safety can't be limited to just legal reforms or one rape judgment. As more and more women become participants in the modern Indian economy, the need for better and safer public transport will only grow.

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