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Women safety is Haryana's shame: What needs to be done in a situation like this?

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 25 May 2017, 20:04 IST
(In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images)

Haryana continues to be shamed for its failure to ensure security, safety and dignity to its women. A recent incident saw school girls taking on the state for upgrading their schools as they fear travelling long distances on account of eve teasing and sexual harassment.

This, along with the regular reports of crimes against women in the form of gruesome rapes and murders have made the claims of the government fall flat on their face. Whether it is the much publicised 'Operation Durga' or the 'Beti Bachao Beti Padhao' campaign, these initiatives carry no meaning in the face of what has been going on in the state.

The desperate reaction from the administration has been in the form of more measures being announced, which, going by how it has been, are expected to fall flat unless a long-term strategy promising sure-shot results is created some how.

Taking on the state

The government right now is dealing with the demands from girl students. The ball was set rolling by the girls of the Government High School at Gothda Tappa Dahina village in Rewari who wanted their school upgraded to class 12 and the government had to give in.

This was followed by instances of locking of school gates and dharnas by the girls, with the support of their parents, in other parts of the state that has put the Manohar Lal Khattar government on tenterhooks.

According to reports, the girl students of a school in Panipat’s Nangal Kheri locked the school gates to push for the upgrade, a demand that had been gathering dust for six years.

Similar demands have also reportedly come to light from Rewari’s Rajgarh, Bhiwani’s Bidola, Gurugram’s Kadarpur, Jind’s Rohar alongside Jaffarpur in Ambala.

These protests and agitations put a big question mark on the 'Beti Bachao Beti Padhao' and 'Bahut hua ladkiyon par atyachar, abki baar Modi sarkar' slogans. Haryana was the first state where the BJP came to power riding high on the Narendra Modi wave of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

Amid such demands, the state faces a big challenge with limited availability of teachers. To make matters worse, opposition MLAs like Indian National Lok Dal's (INLD) Parminder Dhull have started submitting requests for upgradation of schools in their individual constituencies.

...and matters get worse

Alongside such agitations are other crimes like rapes, murders and eve teasing that continue to be reported at regular intervals.

The recent kidnapping and the gang rape of a Sonepat woman whose body was found from Rohtak sent fresh waves of terror and anger across the state. It slammed the police and the state's judicial system with several questions regarding women's safety. Questions they were not equipped to answer.

The government has come out with a promise of a comprehensive plan to prevent crimes against women and to provide to them a safe environment. Besides this, a Police Complaint Authority (PCA) is being constituted for disposal of complaints.

Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Ram Niwas has asked senior police officers to visit all educational institutions and sensitise girls about such crimes besides informing them about the 24-hour helpline number 1091.

He has also asked the police and administration to seek the assistance of NGOs and Panchayati Raj institutions to ensure the safety of women.

The state's education minister Ram Bilas Sharma has announced that district-level special squads would be constituted to take strict action against anti-social elements who are found indulging in eve-teasing near educational institutes.

Gazetted officers in each women’s police station would be responsible for examining information received on the helpline on a daily basis. These officer would inform supervising officers in the concerned police stations about sensitive incidents. The supervising officers are expected to take immediate action and ensure its disposal, Sharma added.

How far do challans/warnings go?

A recent report on Operation Durga revealed that the police have arrested 15 persons for eve teasing and has registered 30 cases. Apart from this:

– 23,185 violators were let off after warnings,

– 822 violators were counselled in police stations in the presence of their parents

– 5,880 persons were challaned for violation of traffic rules

The Director General of Police (DGP) BS Sandhu said that under the programme, 125 eve-teasing prone areas, including parks, markets, schools, colleges and public transport vehicles, have been identified.

Patrolling parties and woman police officers are being sent as decoys to take action against eve-teasers and miscreants.

“Giving women a safe living environment is our top priority. I have asked all my field units to dedicate a good number of work hours and a fair share of resources towards this end. It is something that hurts half of the population and is completely unacceptable to us,” Sandhu said

The truth however

But what is more important is the picture being presented by social activists and academicians.

“It is the police that needs to be reformed first. More often it is the victim who is treated as an accused. The complainant is often persuaded to compromise with the accused because there is the pressure on the police officials to report a low crime rate,” Sudesh Kumari of Jan Sangharsh Manch (Haryana) points out.

“What follows registering a complaint is a trauma in itself. The victim is told to produce witnesses. Why cannot the CCTV recordings be taken as evidence by the lower judiciary? Our experience is that the victims are often let off for the want of evidence or because the accused was given the benefit of doubt. The lower-level judiciary also has to be more responsive and sensitive to such issues. It is in very few cases that the high court or the Supreme Court intervenes. The women today are left with no option but to organise themselves and agitate,” she added.

Another prominent social activist Jagmati Sangwan told Catch, “People believed the tall slogans given by the government for three years but have now started to lose patience. The government reducing the budgetary allocations to the institutions working for women empowerment in the state is a signal in itself. To cap this is the negative social philosophy that places the blame on the victim with regards to the dress she was wearing and the timings at which she went out.”

Sangwan added that the need of the hour is to go beyond mere gender sensitisation. It is the accountability that needs to be fixed on the law enforcing officers.

“Our social justice and women empowerment minister Kavita Jain has been talking about the need of a change in the social mindset. That is fine and needs to be done by those in the social realm, but what is more important is that she tells people about those on whom the responsibility to stem this actually lies and what are the results,” she added.

Sangwan said that during a recent public hearing, it came to light that those committing crimes against the women have been going after soft targets like migrant labour and others sections of the marginalised society. Especially, the differently abled women like those who have hearing and speech impairments.

A way out?

A senior academician at the Kurukshetra University, Richa Tanwar, points out that the only solution is perhaps to instil the fear of law among the guilty by serving them immediate punishment.

This can be done through the constitution of fast track courts or other similar measures so that the matter is not hanging for years together, she suggests.

“We need to ask ourselves where we have gone wrong...one of the surveys we conducted some time back revealed how the people who have emerged as the neo-rich have no fear of the law since they have developed a political clout as well as a hold over the local police. They believe that they can get away by doing wrong through their money power,” she said.

She disclosed that while the government has taken measures at its level with sincerity, these measures are not 'visible' at public places. “The police need to be visible outside institutions and other identified public places. Only then the steps can act as a deterrent. This should be coupled with social interventions,” she added.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

First published: 25 May 2017, 20:04 IST