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Delhi Uber rape case won't be last: Face it, women aren't safe in lawless India

The rape of a 27-year-old MNC executive by an Uber driver in Delhi has reignited the search for the elusive solution for women’s safety yet again - from bans of taxi services to technological fixes are ringing the air. Exactly two years ago, the country had collectively fumed and agonised over the same issue, following the Delhi gangrape, but it reached nowhere.

The unprecedented outrage in the streets and the death penalty for the perpetrators following the Delhi gangrape should have been the strongest possible deterrent for crime and violence against women, but unfortunately, looks like it had zero impact. Several more rapes, including that of minors, have since been reported from all parts of the country. Despite all that happened subsequent to the Delhi gangrape, the incidence has in fact increased along with the overall trend of violence against women. A woman is raped every 29 minutes.

Protest against rape in India. Agencies.

Protest against rape in India. Agencies.

The Delhi incident in 2012 was not the first rape in the capital, and it was not the last. Similarly, the Uber incident will not be the last either. The reason, besides the overall socio-economic vulnerability of women, is that we are living in a lawless society. It’s inordinately distressing, but true. This lawlessness will continue to breed criminal men who are out to rape women even as law enforcement agencies and governments continue to indulge in quick fixes.

The unabated incidence of rape and violence against women should be seen within the overall context of lawlessness and crime. For instance, Uttar Pradesh, which had reported 126 rapes in a week last year, also accounts for one third of the crimes in the country. Similarly West Bengal, where the general level of crime is high, ranks third in crimes against women. The tolerance to crime in such social contexts may be low and when men from such milieu move into new places, they carry the lawlessness and attitude towards women with them.

Although not all, many of the rapes reported in the media have been committed by men, who either have some criminal background, or have come from a social milieu that breeds lawlessness and criminality. Possibly, many of them may not have even been aware of the consequences because the state of law and order in their backyard is dismal. How else could one explain rapists, such as the Uber driver, escaping to their villages after committing the crime?

The situation is unlikely to change because according to the 2011 census, about 400 million Indians, or one-third of the country’s population are migrants. Migration to cities is their only strategy for survival. Many of them end up as drivers, security guards, cooks and labourers in the cities. Cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai are magnets that attract a lot of migrants, mostly from the hinterlands where life, much less the rule of law, has completely broken down.

So, how will the Delhi government and its police, for instance, fix this problem? They will arrest the culprit, parade him and prosecute him. Does it do anything to prevent the men from committing crimes against women? There are many possibilities that can make women a lot safer and men less dangerous, but it requires commitment and hard work.

In the absence of any concrete commitment, the only feasible solution seems to be caution by the women because everything else is failing. You cannot travel in a public bus, you cannot trust a taxi service that promises accountability with the help of technology, and you cannot walk alone at night. In such a situation, the only possible protection is abundant caution and the realisation that in a risky situation, nobody is going to help you.

This, of course, is a hopeless situation, and people in many parts of the world do this because the state has failed to curb crime. In many cities of South Africa, one is extremely cautious when they are walking to the nearest mall. The same kind of fear limits your actions in some parts of Brazil, many African countries and even in Washington DC. The only protection in such situations is calibrated fear.

It’s so regressive and anti-feminist to ask women to be guarded, but that’s the solution that may work in India. Women’s empowerment and gender equality are lip service and social transformation is a political keyword. In retrospect, had the Delhi girl not got into the bus at that hour of the night and had the MNC executive been a little more alert, the rapes could have been avoided. The point is when the governments and police have time and again demonstrated to us that they are incapable of protecting us, there’s no other way.

Updated Date: Dec 10, 2014 19:37 PM

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