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Tuesday, December 5, 2023
N Chandra Mohan is an economics and business commentator.
NEW DELHI, Oct 28 2015 (IPS) - Delhi’s shame is that it’s the rape capital of India. The recent brutal rape of minors only underscores the tragic fact that nothing has changed since December 16, 2012 when a 23-year old physiotherapy student was gang-raped in a moving bus and triggered a nationwide outrage.
The massive protests that shook the capital and metropolitan India were considered by sociologists as a tipping point as there was pent up anger against the breakdown in law and order and governance. The recent incidents have only thrown up a sordid blame game between Delhi’s government and Centre while rapes in the capital have trebled since 2012.
For all the talk of reforms of the criminal justice system and swifter justice, the appeals of the four accused against the death sentence in the December 16 rape case are still pending in Supreme Court. In the lower courts, the conviction rate in rape cases is a lowly 23 to 27 per cent, which only emboldens rapists that they need not fear the law of the land.
The 77,000 strong Delhi Police, however, claim that in most cases rapists are brought to justice. But they were too busy providing security for the India-Africa Forum summit to escort the rapist in the infamous Uber rape case of December 2014 to the fast track court to decide his quantum of punishment.
Policing is as much the problem as the solution. So is the ruling political class. On national TV channels, they insist that rapists must be hanged. The Madras High Court is sure that castrating the rapists of minors will fetch magical results. But the ruling dispensation is more worried that such crimes take attention away from Delhi’s claims of being a world-class destination for tourism or a diversion from its efforts to sell the India story. “One small incident of rape in Delhi advertised world over is enough to cost us billions of dollars in terms of global tourism,” stated a minister of the NDA government. Although he retracted his statement, the damage was done.
No doubt, these small incidents in Delhi and elsewhere in India have impacted tourist footfalls. More than the loss of a fistful of dollars, however, they point to a pervasive failure of development on the gender front. This is reflected in the imbalanced sex ratio as there is a lesser number of women per 1,000 men. This ratio is one of the lowest in Delhi. Does any of this have a bearing on the higher incidence of sexual offences against women when compared to states where there the gender ratio is more balanced? Interestingly, social scientists have noted a robust inverse relationship between the sex ratio and murders and other violent crimes in India.
In states with an adverse sex ratio, a higher incidence of murders was observed. A better sex ratio was associated with fewer murders. Many years ago, Philip Oldenburgh termed the states in the country with the worst sex ratios mostly in the north and northwest of Indiaas “the Bermuda Triangle for girls.” In sharp contrast, a more affirmative link between gender relations and crime was observed in the southern state of Kerala which has the highest sex ratio in the country and some of the lowest crime rates, not only of murders but others as well, according to the research of Jean Dreze and Reetika Khera.
Can this reasoning extend to sexual crimes against women, including rapes? Using the latest numbers of the National Crime Research Bureau, Delhi clearly is an outlier as it has one of the lowest sex ratios and the highest incidence of sexual offences in the country by a substantial margin in 2014. The crime rate, defined as the incidence of criminal sexual offences per 100,000 women, is the highest at 86.96 in the national capital. Although this is highly suggestive, the relationship across 35 states and union territories in the country is observed to be only mildly inverse and not significant. In other words, it is only broadly true and doesn’t tell the full story.
Kerala, with the best gender balance, indicates why this is so as it has a crime rate against women that is higher than the national average. In fact, seven out of the top 10 states with the highest sex ratios also had a higher incidence of sexual offences against women than the national average. Research is now re-appraising the so-called Kerala model of development which indicated the possibilities of higher social development at low levels of per capita income. How does one reconcile this model with the growing gender-based violence, mental illness and the rapid incidence of dowry and related crimes in the state? Kerala is no safe haven for women.
According to a fascinating paper by Mridul Eapen and Praveena Kodoth of the Centre for Development Studies in Thiruvananthapuram, “changes in the structure and practices of families in the past century have had wide-ranging implications for gender relations… alterations in marriage, inheritance and succession practices have… weakened women’s access to and control of inherited resources… the persistence of a gendered work structure have limited women’s claims to ‘self-acquired’ or independent sources of wealth.” With their weaker position, can domestic violence, declining property rights and serious mental illnesses be far behind?
What is happening in Delhi is only a concentrated expression of what is occurring in the country. Doing whatever it takes to ensure gender parity, including in the police force, is desirable. Killing the girl child at birth has to stop at all costs. Family and societal values that favour sons over daughters, too, must change. A dark and troubling truth is that women, including minors, are mostly raped by members of the family and known people like neighbours and relatives. There is a need to have child protection services, including provision of crèches for working mothers – especially of the poorer sections of society – so that minors are not left unattended. Ultimately, it is only the vigilance of a gender-sensitised citizenry that will minimize rapes.
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