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Four years since Jyoti Singh's death, yet poor governance fails to protect women

Violence is immortal. Out of helplessness, it is predicted; out of fear, it is anticipated. It breaks into the warm walls of the psyche and freezes in one dark corner of it. Time and again, it sends chills down the spine. Since 2012, on each 16 December, a sharp coldness returns to stab Delhi in the back. This was the night that turned a 23-year-old paramedic, against her will, into a symbol of oppression against women. Raped, injured and left to die on a busy Delhi road, her own identity had an anonymous end. Jyoti Singh lives on as Nirbhaya, a reminder that violence lives next door.

Back then, debates on moral conditioning and legal action took off like missiles, turning public discourse into a battlefield of spontaneous opinions. But there was one more factor that needed some serious addressing, and it still does. Her rapists had a history of drug addiction.

For over 25,000 drug addicts in need of urgent relief in the capital, the government offers only five drug de-addiction centres, which too are jointly run by NGOs and are struggling for clearance of funds. Why doesn't the 2013 Mental Health Care Bill feature a provision for rescue services, where the doctors have the right to pick up addicts from the street and cure them?

Drugs are about denial and quite rarely will an addict want to believe that he or she is in need of help; even families and friends don't want to accept it as a problem. Hemant Kumar, a family counsellor at the Nasha Mukti Kendra in Amberhai in Dwarka, Delhi was an addict for nearly two decades. He says that there is great restlessness and a wave of nastiness that takes over an addict and at that point acts like robbery, inflicting harm on someone, to raping or abusing a woman, become vents for the rage erupting inside. Are women in Delhi, then, not vulnerable at the hands of those afflicted with drug problems, who roam around uncured?

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), a total of 3,37,922 cases of crime against women (both under various sections of IPC and SLL) were reported in the country during the year 2014, as compared to 3,09,546 in the year 2013; thus showing an increase of 9.2 percent during the year 2014.

 Four years since Jyoti Singhs death, yet poor governance fails to protect women

File image of protests in Delhi following the Nirbhaya rape case in 2012. PTI

Incidents of incest rape (rape by blood relatives like father, brother etc.) in the country have increased by 25.7 percent during 2014 over the previous year (from 536 cases in 2013 to 674 cases in 2014). Delhi (140 cases with 144 victims) has reported the highest number of such incidents followed by Maharashtra (94 cases with 102 victims) and Kerala (62 cases with 63 victims). There were 713 victims for 674 reported incest rape cases in the country during the year 2014.

Crimes have continuously increased during 2010-2014 with 2,13,585 cases reported in 2010, which increased to 2,28,649 cases in 2011, which further increased to 2,44,270 cases in 2012 and 3,09,546 cases in 2013. In 2014, a total of 3,37,922 such cases were reported.

The rate for crimes against women was reported as 56.3 in 2014. Delhi has reported the highest crime rate (169.1) compared to 56.3 at all India level during the year 2014, followed by Assam (123.4), Rajasthan (91.4), Tripura (88.0), West Bengal (85.4), Madhya Pradesh (79.0) and Telangana (78.3).

Rape cases in the capital are registered by the police, who give the statistics to the NCRB and are reported by the media. But what about women in conflict zones, where an overcast of political complications shadows the crimes against them?

"In Kashmir, women have directly and indirectly been victims of violence, I would say, survivors of violence. Whether it is a women being raped, beaten up or humiliated by the government forces or even often due to domestic violence. The indirect impact of violence on women has also been when their male family members are subjected to torture, killing or kidnappings by the forces. When a son is arrested, it is the mother who faces the impact of it or if her husband has been arrested or treated inhumanely," said Fahad Shah , a journalist and writer from Kashmir.

Munaza Rashid, lawyer at the Kashmir High Court, said that Jyoti Singh's rape wasn't planned. In Kashmir, assaults against women in villages are planned. "During the recent agitation that has lasted five months, there were plenty of reports about pellets being fired at the men but no one talked about how the armed forces go and attack the homes of the protesters, where the wives and daughters of these men are. They know what will hurt these men the most. In some cases, in the name of a combing operation, they intrude into their private belongings - sanitary pads and undergarments - and perform an act of mental molestation," Rashid said.

She explains that if this issue is raised, it will be perceived as an attempt to malign the forces. She says that women's issues in Kashmir need to be raised by women's voices that are independent and not bound by the Hurriyat or political agenda. Since three years, she informs, civil society activism has grown and women are finding a platform to open up in front of other women.

In 2014, 23 February was declared Kashmiri Women's Resistance Day. On this day, in 1991, a Battalion of the 4th Rajputana Rifles of the 68th Brigade had conducted a cordon-and search operation in the adjacent Kunan- Poshpora villages in Kupwara.

The villagers allege that when the army cordoned off the village, the men were taken to a field for interrogation overnight and the women were gang-raped in their homes. "In North Kashmir, three to four years ago, a woman's husband was in jail. Whenever she went to visit him, she'd be raped by the jailer. To protect her husband from his onslaught, she kept quiet," informs Ifrah Butt of J&K Coalition of Civil Society, research and advocacy based in Srinagar.

At a sessions court during the hearing of the Kunan-Poshpora case, a senior Army counsel had said, recounts Butt, that it is like ''flogging a dead horse'', implying that the women should let go of it.

In the North East, another part of the country torn by violence, women are fighting another kind of battle. More than 15,000 women were raped in Assam in the last 15 years. On 12 December, to commemorate Nupi Lan or Women's War that was fought in 1904 and 1939, the Representation of Women in Peace Negotiations Bill, 2016 was submitted to the Parliament.

"We have proposed the framework of a peace committee for women that will be their voice in governance," said Kalyani Mathur, Project Officer at Control Arms Foundation of India. Sadly, only two women have participated in the 17 peace talks on the North East.

"The government only talks to men with guns. Women have been absent in every form of decision making. We want to change the power-dynamic," said Binalakshmi Nepram, founder of the Manipur Gun Survivors Network, which has saved and help rebuild more than 20,000 lives displaced and damaged by violence.

In the capital, there is a concentration of five to seven lakh Indians from the North East and 66 percent come here for higher studies. In a place like Manipur, explains Nepram, a three year degree will take five years because of constant combing operations, bandhs and lockdowns. Once, a lock down had lasted for 100 days, she recounts.

When they migrate to Delhi, there's a great chance that they will be perceived as 'sexually available', owing to differences that stem, quite naively and only, from culture. In 2014, the rape of girl by a Phd-IIT scholar was being portrayed as a case of stove-burning by the Police, till the girl's sister demanded a second post-mortem and strangulation marks were detected.

Multiple cases of rape and murder of North Eastern girls have surfaced in Munirka, South Delhi, in the last three to four years. "After the Jyoti Singh incident, we submitted recommendations for special protection measures for rape in conflict areas. Justice Verma recorded it in his almost 600-page document, but when the Government of India drafted the Anti Rape Law, the whole section of rape in conflict areas had been taken out," she said. The Delhi office of CAFI has counselled many rape victims from the North East and even packed their bodies and sent them back home.

'Ache waqton ki tammana mein rahee umra rawaan'. It seems that women in the country will have to wait a long time to witness good times, where they can feel safe and free.

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Updated Date: Dec 17, 2016 09:35:07 IST