New Delhi: Women voters in Delhi are caught in a dilemma in this election. They don’t trust any party to address their biggest concern — their safety and security.
No party is giving them any concrete plan, except offering some lip service or raising in Parliament the delay in hanging the convicts of the December 2012 gang-rape case. When they go out to vote Saturday, they are left with no choice but to ignore what keeps haunting them — their security.
There are 66 lakh women voters in Delhi.
“My family has always voted for the BJP. I will see what I feel like doing when I am at the polling booth,” said a 53-year-old who runs a small parlour in Tilak Nagar.
“Suraksha toh koi bhi nahi de paya humein, toh kya farak padta hai. Betiyon ko toh mein phir bhi raat mein na nikalne doongi (None could give us security. So how does it matter? I will not allow my daughters to venture out at night, anyway).”
Women across all age groups and strata of society voice what sounds like growing cynicism and helplessness.
Many point out the lack of initiatives by governments led by different parties to utilise the Nirbhaya fund. According to official data, 89 per cent of the funds worth Rs 2,264 crore, allocated to states and union territories to ensure the safety of women, remain unused.
Delhi, which is still haunted by the 2012 gang-rape case, has spent only 5 per cent of the allocated funds. The Nirbhaya fund was set up by the central government with a corpus of Rs 3,600 core after the 2012 rape case involving a paramedical student.
A massive vote-bank
The Delhi assembly election on 8 February will witness the highest number of women voting in the last 27 years; they constitute 45 per cent of the total electorate in the national capital.
That, however, isn’t reflected in the candidate list.
Of the 203 candidates fielded by the three major parties — AAP, BJP and the Congress — only 24 or 11.82 per cent are women, a marginal increase from the 19 women fielded by the three parties in 2015.
While women candidates such as Atishi of AAP, Shivani Chopra of the Congress and Rekha Gupta of the BJP, have put women security high on their priority list in their campaigns, the dominant election discourse has centred on Citizenship Amendment Act protests at Shaheen Bagh.
The three parties, however, have sought to address the safety concerns of women.
The ruling AAP’s manifesto talks of appointing mohalla marshals for enhanced security, in addition to CCTV cameras, streetlights and bus marshals. A similar promise to deploy marshals in public buses, made by AAP in 2015, has remained largely unfulfilled.
The BJP manifesto promises a new Rani Laxmibai Mahila Suraksha Yojana, through which women security will be firmed up with the use of information technology. The party has promised a 24-hour, fully-functional call centre as a ‘single point support system’ for women’s security. It has also proposed to set up a Women’s Security Cell under the CM’s office among others.
The Congress has promised reviving the 181 women’s helpline and introducing a gender sensitisation course in schools. It manifesto also promises to appropriately use the fund allocated under the Nirbhaya Fund of the UPA government and ensuring implementation of Vishakha guidelines and relaunching the Awaaz Uthao Programme for safety audits and community engagement of women.
The Congress has also promised 33 per cent reservation for women in government jobs, free girl child education in government schools and colleges, from Nursery to PhD and subsidised rates for women in metros to mention a few.
Women not buying the promises
These manifestos have, however, failed to impress women voters. Mallika, a 23-year-old, who resides in a PG at ITO, feels political parties only know how to do politics over women security.
“They all give gyaan in their manifestos but nothing changes once they are elected,” she said. “It is very sad. We all have to convince our parents so much to let us come and pursue higher studies in Delhi. They watch the news and feel we aren’t safe here and, well, it’s true.”
Srishti Singh, a 36-year-old home-maker living in Defence Colony, isn’t sure of the BJP promise to ensure all-out safety of women.
“How does one trust the promises of a government whose own MLAs are convicted of raping minors. So many leaders tried to defend the MLA even then,” she said, referring to Kuldeep Singh Sengar, the expelled BJP MLA from UP’s Unnao, who was convicted for raping a 16-year-old girl in his village in 2017.
Raghuvansi Dhawan, 43-year-old IT employee and mother to two young girls, told ThePrint, “Reviving helplines is alright but they have to work. It doesn’t help if they work for two days. Also, this doesn’t address the larger issue. I’m afraid to let my daughters go alone in a cab and I haven’t let them use the metro as well.”
She, however, added that fast-track courts and implementation of Vishaka guidelines were relevant points worth adding in a party manifesto.
AAP has edge with other promises
With women voters not convinced by any party manifesto on the issue of their safety and security, the ruling AAP seems to have the edge, offering them freebies such as free bus rides.
The improvements in education and health sectors also seem to have swung a section of women towards the AAP.
Gita Rani, 43, of Zamrudpur colony, feels AAP has made her life much simpler by introducing free bus rides.
“My husband is an alcoholic. He never takes me and my daughters out,” she said. “But now I feel independent enough to take my daughters out on my own since I don’t have to pay for the bus.”
The AAP’s freebies seem to have impressed the poor and the lower-middle class voters such as 37-year-old Shalin, a house-help in Greater Kailash. Zero electricity bill and ‘negligible’ water bill has reduced Shalin’s household expenditure. Talking to ThePrint, she said she was barely able to make ends meet but in the past few months, she saved enough to visit her hometown in Bihar.
Most of the women ThePrint spoke to seemed to be weighing their options. And despite all the talk by politicians on the hanging of the 2012 rapists, when Delhi women vote for a party Saturday, it won’t be because they feel safe and secure.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.