All hype, zero delivery: Modi govt to build just 36 of the 660 promised rape crisis centres

Women's safety, after all in India, is less an challenge for the political class, more a public relations opportunity.

Piyasree Dasgupta February 26, 2015 09:06:49 IST
All hype, zero delivery: Modi govt to build just 36 of the 660 promised rape crisis centres

A word like deplorable perhaps fails to adequately describe the nature of the government's response to sexual violence victims in India.

Hundreds of cases - some reported widely, some that surface and disappear as tiny page fillers in newspapers, some unreported in the media - have indicated that the trauma support infrastructure in India is as good as non-existent. It is a widely acknowledged fact that several cases of sexual assault go unreported in the county due to unfavourable perceptions about the police and medical system which openly discriminate against rape victims.

So when Maneka Gandhi announced in July last year that the Modi government planned to launch Rape Crisis Centres in every district in India, the idea was given a rousing thumbs up.

However, with the excitement of a stunning political victory ebbing and the logistics of the project staring back at the government, the project now stands scrapped. Well, almost. The Telegraph reports that instead of 660 trauma care centres that were supposed to come up in the country, we will now have just 36, one in each state.

"Our information is that the PMO (Prime Minister's Office) has remarked that the police are sensitive enough and that there is no need for such centres," The Telegraph quotes Jagmati Sangwan of the All India Democratic Women's Association.

Sangwan in the article, raises a question that immediately pops up in our mind after reading about the government's new plan. She asks, "If a woman is raped in Jaisalmer, say, she will not go to a crisis centre in Jaipur."

All hype zero delivery Modi govt to build just 36 of the 660 promised rape crisis centres

Maneka Gandhi is the women and child development minister. AFP.

While the women might just despair at the flawed perception that the government has about the pattern of sexual violence in India, the government itself has saved itself from from spending anything more than Rs 18 crore on the entire project. The project, before revision, would have cost the government Rs 244.48 crore.

If what Sangwan is saying is true, it is clear that the government wants to brush off the responsibility it had signed up for without appropriating the political dividends from the same.

Years on end, despite women suffering rampant sexual violence and suppression, governments have been elected and have run triumphantly without having to invest much political will into the cause of women. So employing the government and political machinery to battle sexual violence against women equals to a bad investment in the book of Indian politics.

In fact, many of the social machinery that help perpetuate sexual violence also reap rich benefits for the political class - parties, which later form governments, therefore have always handled them with caution. The lofty promises made vocally are almost never followed up with conviction on ground.

A case in point is the Nirbhaya fund - a Rs 1,000 crore kitty which the UPA approved for boosting women security in India. Shortly after the horrific December 16 gangrape and murder, the announcement of the fund was a great patchwork  on the UPA's government's tattered reputation.

In the House itself, the opposition too had to applaud the government, so promising were the implications of the 'Nirbhaya fund'. This was 2013. The Modi government, in its first budget, carried forward the fund, not a penny spent from it. The Jaitley government announced a further Rs 200 crore for women's safety in the Budget last year - the same amount was allocated for the Sardar Patel statue in Gujarat.

The government has announced no significant or large scale proposal to spend the Nirbhaya fund. Yet, it seems to have scrapped spending on the rape trauma care centres - a cost that funnily enough could be covered by the Nirbhaya fund.

It is obvious that the new government, flush from a spectacular victory, mouthed lines made for PR victories. A month after it was elected, promising a centre to address violence against women amounts to making the right kind of noises. But what is clear now, is that these remain just noises.

In 2013, India witnessed 33,707 rapes, registering a 35 percent jump compared to the preceding year. The government also has a rehabilitation and compensation scheme in place in paper, but many victims of sexual assault find it impossible to access it or get the benefits promised by it.

In a study titled Compensation and Rehabilitation of Rape Survivors, the authors refer to a Delhi High Court finding on trials faced by rape victims in India:

"Delhi High Court has shown serious concern related to compensation and rehabilitation of rape victims.

Following issues need special consideration:

-Man Power Shortage

- Infrastructure and Equipment Shortage

- Role of Forensic Sciences (including Forensic Medicine) in the criminal investigations process and the justice dispensation system

-Issue of Compensation"

The government's argument that the police are sensitive enough and hence we don't need specialised trauma care centres doesn't hold. The ironic bit here is, this government, like any other, clearly knows that not making a huge effort on issues of women's safety is not a great political disadvantage in India.

Women's safety, after all in India, is less an challenge for the political class, more a public relations opportunity. The Modi government just used it in the best, traditional way possible.

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