Haryana, a patriarchal state, has launched campaigns to fight its unfavourable sex ratio and gender disparities. But these efforts have not helped address one basic concern of women – safety.
RUHI TEWARI in Rohtak, Sonipat & Gurgaon
“What will we do with Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (Saving our daughter, educating our daughter), if our daughters are brutalised like this? We don’t even want to allow daughters to be born if we have to lose them to such demonic acts.”
These words spoken by the father of the 20-odd year old girl savagely murdered after being allegedly gang raped shake the very premise of all efforts to address gender inequalities in Haryana by successive governments, and put a huge question mark on the promises made to girls, and their parents, in the state.
The victim was allegedly abducted from near her home when she was on her way to work, gang raped and brutally murdered in Rohtak’s Industrial Model Township in Urban Estate. Her decomposed body was found on 11 May and the only way for her mother to identify her, was through her clothes.
In the modest, in fact cramped one-room house in Kalupur in Sonipat, the victim’s mother sits quietly, clearly still in shock. Her father, meanwhile, points out how despite various government schemes to address gender issues, safety remains a key concern. “The administration is supporting us now, but what was done to prevent such a crime? We want justice, death for the culprits,” says the father.
Clearly, all that the family is seeking now is some level of institutional comfort, and more importantly, a sense of justice. They, along with their relatives, hope such “justice” will act as a deterrent and prevent more such crimes. The fact that this heinous crime happened after the death sentence to the perpetrators of the 16 December gang rape in Delhi was upheld makes little difference to their quest for extreme punishment for the accused.
However, more worryingly, this has heightened the already strong sense of paranoia in the neighbourhood.
“I have two daughters, they go to college. After this, every day they set out, I shiver. How can we allow our daughters to go out, study, work and be independent if this is what might happen? How can we allow them to progress? We always knew this was an unsafe area but this incident has shaken us,” said the girl’s uncle, who lives a few houses away.
This fear clearly transcends age barriers. The victim’s neighbour, 45-year old Krishna, has two college-going daughters herself, but is scared not just for them but also for herself. “It’s not just young girls, but also women like us who are scared to go out. We’re all vulnerable. This incident has only highlighted what we always knew,” she says, sitting with the victim’s family.
A few houses away lives Kumar, who has a 6-year-old daughter. “I know she’s young but we get very worried about her safety too. We now feel scared to even let her play outside on her own,” he says.
Incidentally, the victim worked at a factory barely a kilometre from her house and even that short distance proved to be fatally unsafe. After being allegedly abducted, the victim was taken to the isolated spot in Rohtak. When ThePrint visited the large stretch of area in Rohtak where the crime took place, it was as isolated, as unmanned as it perhaps was on that fateful day, making it vulnerable to such crimes.
To be sure, Haryana, a patriarchal state known for its unfavourable sex ratio and gender disparities, has launched campaigns to address these issues and bring about socio-cultural change. The government’s Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao scheme launched in 2015 aims to address the declining sex ratio in the state. In August 2015, special women police stations were opened in several districts of the state. Earlier this year, the government launched ‘Operation Durga’ to check crimes against women, However, such steps, not just by the incumbent government but even the previous ones, have not helped address the one basic yet most frightening concern of women — safety.
And this fact is not lost on the young girls of the state.
In Sonipat’s Hindu Girls College, which has both day scholars and boarders, everyone has heard of this high-profile crime. However, their own safety, or the lack of it, is what worries them.
Ritu Dahiya, a first year student, lives 20 km away from the college and says she does feel vulnerable during her commute, especially when it gets dark. “I take a while to reach college from home. Sometimes I don’t bother but there are times when I feel very scared. Men ogle and harass us and that makes us vulnerable. The system can do only so much to help us. They can’t have a police person everywhere,” she reasons.
Shilvi Sharma, another student, admits the college does its best to ensure their safety by stationing guards everywhere, but says the spike in the number of crimes in the area is a huge worry. She says it scares not just her, but also her parents who are reluctant to allow her to venture out beyond college hours. Her friends nod in agreement, chipping in with their own insecurities. They, however, add the situation has been as dismal since they remember, the party in power notwithstanding.
While women in Haryana, like in other states, remain vulnerable in uncontrolled, public environments what makes the situation even more perturbing is that these sexual assaults take place not just outside, but also within the confines of homes.
Most recently, this was illustrated by the case of a 10-year-old girl who was allegedly repeatedly raped by her step-father. The case came to light after the girl became pregnant and crossed the 20-week limit for termination of pregnancies. She has now been allowed to abort the foetus.
At the gynaecology ward of the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences in Rohtak, there is visibly increased security. Police personnel on duty do not allow anyone to meet the victim’s family, but inform how it was the police’s pro-activeness that highlighted the case and how the victim’s mother has been reluctant to report this crime by her husband.
The Deputy Superintendent of Police, Rohtak district, Pushpa Khatri explains how there has been a rise in complaints of crime against women but how rape/incest at home are still reluctantly reported.
“The number of complaints has definitely increased since we started these special women’s police stations. More women are now coming forward to report crimes against themselves. However, people are still hesitant about reporting sexual crimes committed inside homes, for the fear of ostracisation. In this case as well, we got an anonymous complaint and acted on it,” Khatri says, adding sexual crimes against women are neither a rural-urban issue, nor limited to certain age groups.
“We have night patrolling, women constables stationed across, PCR vans that promptly respond to calls on our efficient helpline numbers. We are doing our bit to prevent crimes. However, it is crimes within homes that are more difficult to prevent, control or punish perpetrators for. In this respect, we hold very regular programmes in schools and colleges in both rural and urban areas, to sensitise girls and their immediate families on issues of abuse at home. In fact, we have expanded our segment of girls that we address, from those who study in Class 8 onward to even young ones, realising they are as vulnerable,” Khatri, who is also in-charge of the women’s police station in Rohtak, explains.
Her point about sexual violence against women transcending the rural-urban divide isn’t lost on anyone. The gang rape of a 26-year old woman in a moving car in Gurgaon just earlier this week highlights the point.
“Crimes against women are on the rise, in urban areas as well. We receive more complaints each passing day. Our attempt is to tell girls to be cautious, to immediately report any stalking, threat or even the slightest of doubt to us. Our helplines react promptly. Girls, women should have complete freedom, but they do need to be more aware and willing to approach us,” says Reena Devi, Assistant Sub-Inspector at the special women’s police station in Sector 51 of Gurgaon.
Reena Devi explains how they try to ensure beefed up security, and more women police officers outside malls, movie halls, metro stations and other public spaces after dark, especially on weekends. She adds that while complaints have gone up since these police stations started, very few crimes of sexual violence within homes are actually reported due to fear of stigmatisation.
“Women should go wherever they want to, and whenever they wish to. How can we say they are safe at home when clearly, so many abuses happen within the walls of houses. Women need to keep their spirits up and their confidence intact. We are there to protect them, to address their complaints,” she says.
Reena Devi’s words may be comforting, and even encouraging, but the irony of complete absence of safety for women in a state that is trying to reform a very patriarchal society to allow its girls to grow isn’t lost on anyone. Sexual crimes against women transcend age and social barriers, the rural-urban divide and also shatter the myth of safety at home. Government campaigns and slogans need to be matched by commitment to bring about change on the ground. Until then, the words of the father of Sonipat’s victim will continue to haunt.
– Ruhi Tewari is Associate Editor at ThePrint. You can follow her on Twitter @RuhiTewari
(Lead photo by Ruhi Tewari shows the campaign hoarding of ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ scheme in Rohtak.)