Women feel no safer in Delhi, 2 years after notorious gang rape: TRFN

Women feel no safer in Delhi, 2 years after notorious gang rape: TRFN
A protester lights candles during a candlelight vigil to mark the first anniversary of the Delhi gang rape, in New Delhi December 16, 2013.

NEW DELHI - On a cold, rainy Sunday night, two policemen in khaki uniforms and fluorescent yellow jackets stand among commuters at a bus shelter in the Indian capital, occasionally stepping out to stop passing buses and climbing on board to conduct inspections.

A white police car halts to check in with the men stationed at the bus stop. Some minutes after, two other constables walk past on their night patrol which they say runs from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. daily.

The security at this infamous bus stand in Delhi's Munirka district is not surprising. It was here on Dec. 16, 2012 that a 23-year-old trainee physiotherapist boarded an unregistered bus and was fatally gang raped in a case that led to nationwide protests and forced authorities to tighten laws on sex crimes.

But two years on, police attention to this particular bus stand remains an exception rather than a rule, say women commuters and activists, as government pledges on everything from better street lighting and public transport to more policing remain unfulfilled.

"The cops at this bus stop have just been here for a few days - maybe because the anniversary is coming. They were never here before. I've never seen them at other bus stops at night," said 24-year-old student Meghlai Lama.

"I don't think much has changed. Whether I feel safer is not even a question worth asking," said Lama, as she waited for a bus to the same destination as the victim of the high-profile crime two years ago.

A poll published by Hindustan Times newspaper on Tuesday, the anniversary of the Delhi gang rape, said 90 per cent of 2,557 women surveyed did not see any improvements in safety. The same survey found 86 per cent of respondents avoided going out alone after dark.

Police and government officials argue that a host of measures have been introduced to improve safety, but add that violence against women is a far more deep-rooted problem which cannot be solved in just two years.

"We have taken a whole range of steps to improve security for women over the last two years," said Rajan Bhagat, spokesperson for Delhi police. "It's not true to say nothing has changed ... it is a long process."

FAST-TRACK COURTS, WOMEN'S HELPLINE

Indian girls and women face a barrage of threats ranging from human trafficking and sexual violence to child marriage and acid attacks, say experts, largely due to age-old patriarchal attitudes that view women as having a lower status than men.

But it is New Delhi - with a burgeoning population of 16 million - which annually records the highest number of rapes compared to other cities, earning it the unsavory reputation of "India's Rape Capital".

The city ranked as the fourth most dangerous for a woman to take public transport in an October poll by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. It was rated second-worst on safety at night and for verbal harassment on transportation.

On average, 40 cases of crimes against women are registered daily by Delhi police, including at least four cases of rape, say government officials.

The bus gang rape case was seen as a watershed moment, jolting usually apathetic, urban Indians onto the streets to demand security for women, and throwing a global spotlight on gender violence in the world's second-most populous country.

It pushed authorities to enact tougher laws allowing for death sentences to be handed down to repeat rape offenders. Voyeurism and stalking were criminalized and acid attacks and human trafficking made specific offences.

Fast-track courts were also set up in the city to speedily try gender crimes and GPS has been installed in over 6,300 buses.

"We've done a lot to improve the situation," said an official from Delhi's transport department, who did not wish to be named. "But there are many things which require resources, and proper planning which we haven't been able to (do)."

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