By Soma Wadhwa
22 October, 2003
disgraced itself yet again. A series of gruesome rapes and sexual assaults
in the last two months have served as rude reminders of how frighteningly
unsafe the city has become for women.
But what happened last week in the parking lot of the capital's Siri
Fort Auditorium, the venue for the 34th International Film Festival
of India, has shaken off any remaining delusions of normalcy.
The victim this
time was a 36-year-old Swiss diplomat returning home after a screening
of a Chinese film. It was just 10 pm and the parking lot was still fairly
busy, with people coming in and out from the auditorium and the adjoining
restaurant complex. Undeterred, however, by the fact that they ran the
risk of being spotted, the two assailants struck.
As the victim opened
her Toyota Qualis, the duo pushed her into the back seat. One of the
men raped her, while the other drove through the well-lit streets of
South Delhi. Finally, after half-an-hour she was dropped off at Safdarjung
Enclave and was casually given instructions on how to get back home.
The man who sexually assaulted the Swiss diplomat was well-dressed and
spoke fluent English. The other, in a T-shirt, was more comfortable
with Hindi. Both were in their late 20s and police suspect they had
followed their victim from the auditorium.
According to the diplomat's testimony to the police, the man who sexually
assaulted her seemed to be coldly casual about the entire act. After
raping her he went into a monologue about life in Switzerland and Europe
and spoke of the sanctity of Indian marriages. In her assessment, the
rapist clearly came from an upper middle class background and seemed
to have dealt with foreigners in the past. After recording her statement
with the police, the diplomat has returned to Switzerland. But she has
agreed to return to assist the police in its investigations.
Barely an hour later,
at the same parking lot, a 27-year-old documentary filmmaker Akanksha
Joshi went through a similar ordeal although she escaped sexual assault.
Accosted by two men as she was getting into her Maruti 800, she threw
her car keys into the bushes nearby so that they couldn't drive off
with her. Enraged by such resistance, the men brought her down on her
knees with one of them repeatedly hitting her head against the road,
while the other scrounged the bushes for her car keys.
Finally, hearing a family approach, they fled from the spot.
The incident has
outraged the diplomatic community in the capital. The Swiss embassy
has given instructions to its women staffers and families of its employees
to be extremely careful while going out shopping or partying at night.
Women have been advised not to drive alone at night and to avoid secluded
places. Senior officials of high commissions and embassies are to meet
to review security arrangements.
The two incidents
outside the Siri Fort auditorium being high-profile cases, the police
is working overtime on nabbing the culprits. But there is very little
by way of material evidence except for a cigarette lighter and some
fingerprints in the Toyota Qualis. According to a senior police official,
the statements of the two victims have thus become very crucial. "There
clearly seems to be a link between the two crimes. In both cases, a
similar threat of pumping six bullets into the victim was made. Also,
the manner in which the two women were approached seemed the same,"
he told Outlook on October 17. The police has been combing residential
colonies near the scene of the crime and claims it will crack the case.
What has outraged
many is the surprising ease with which such human predators stalk the
national capital. Says Poornima Advani, chairperson of the National
Commission for Women: "It has become just too easy for rapists,
molesters and eve-teasers in the capital.There is a complete breakdown
of law and order here and these attackers seem to fear no one. Naturally
then, the frequency of crimes against women in the city is on the rise."
In fact, going by
police statistics, Delhi is the rape capital of the country.
This year, there have been 382 cases of rape that have been registered.
This is a far higher figure than those for Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata
which recorded 108, 26 and 15 cases respectively. Police officials admit
that these statistics do not tell the entire story since many cases
go unrecorded as the victim is reluctant to file a complaint with the
Of the many cases
recorded in the last two months, only eight have received media attention.
When the victim comes from the upper class, there is national outcry.
But many less fortunate women also suffer the same indignities with
no one to take up their cause. Admits a senior police official, "Why,
even some of our inspectors are guilty of not recording a complaint.
They often advise the victims to forget the entire incident since filing
a case would end up embarrassing them. This sort of attitude has to
change. We are trying to make the men more sensitive."
After the incident
involving the Swiss diplomat, the Delhi police has come in for considerable
criticism. Police commissioner R.S. Gupta has admitted that his men
had failed him. "Had my men carried out their duty, such a thing
would never have happened," he told the press. Since the city police
comes under the Union home ministry, there is considerable pressure
from deputy prime minister L.K. Advani to book the culprits at the earliest.
The pattern that
emerges from the rape cases in the last two months is alarming, to say
the least. It is not just secluded spaces, but even the most public
of places which seem to be becoming increasingly unsafe for Delhi's
women. So, an unidentified assailant found access into a government
school in Saket and sexually assaulted a class VIII student in the school
auditorium on September 14. A doctor at the upmarket Holy Angels hospital
raped a 15-year-old in his chamber on September 23. And on October 6,
four personnel from the elite President's Body Guard gangraped a college
girl in broad daylight at the Buddha Jayanti Park not far from the heavily-policed
Chanakyapuri diplomatic enclave. There is a chilling detail to this
incidentone of the four jawans, after the crime, went off to sleep
behind a dwelling unit for the soldiers inside the park.
predicts sociologist Shiv Visvanathan of the Centre for Study of Developing
Societies in Delhi, is only going to escalate in the capital. Says he,
"The north Indian male, perhaps much more than his counterparts
in the rest of India, is sexually repressed, has no role models to emulate
as far as playing out his sexuality is concerned. He lives in gender-segregated
spaces through much of his childhood and youth. And is now increasingly
going to turn from voyeur to prowler to rapist."
for Social Research's Ranjana Kumari offers yet another reason for the
rising instances of rape in the capital: "Just look at how many
rapes are reported in Delhi every month, then tally the number with
those who are caught or punished. You'll know why rapists are becoming
bolder by the day here."
In fact, according
to court records, of every five men accused of rape, four walk away
scot free. And countrywide there are 56,343 cases still pending. The
legal process can take many years. But what makes the situation even
more spine-chilling, argues Kumari, is that despite the low conviction
rate, the administration has done precious little to inspire confidence
in their seriousness to bring such men to book. "The hospitals
in which women were assaulted in these past two months are still running.Rarely
ever, unlike in the recent Swiss diplomat rape case where the five policemen
deployed at the iffi venue have been suspended, is the police ever made
to bear responsibility for such incidents. Where is the accountability?"
Indeed, in the aftermath
of the rape at the iffi, everyone resorted to mere platitudes. While
Advani dubbed the incident "shocking and shameful", leader
of Opposition Sonia Gandhi suggested that the DPM "review and make
a comprehensive action plan" for the safety of women in the capital.
Delhi Lt Governor Vijai Kapoor, meanwhile, said "we are taking
a very serious view of what has happened and are determined to ensure
that this does not happen again". And though the city police, by
October 16 evening, promised an "investigative breakthrough in
two days' time", few women's groups found solace in such assurances.
As Anjali Rai, chairperson
of the Delhi Commission for Women, puts it: "The reaction of our
authorities to rape depends on the case. A high-profile incident is
followed by news stories and statements, there's a flurry of activity.
But within a week, it fades from public memory. That is why nothing
happens to ensure that the city becomes secure for women in the long
term." Legal, social restructuring is a must, she insists, and
advocates a partnership between media, NGOs, institutes, and even religious
leaders to deal with the problem. Joint Commissioner of Delhi's Crime
Against Women's Cell Vimla Mehra says that nothing short of a change
of attitude amongst Delhi's women will help make for a secure city:
"Our girls need to realise the importance of being physically and
mentally strong to deal with attackers."
She suggests a crash
course in self-defence techniques, sharp reflexes, confidence to deal
with the situation and a willingness to report sexual crimes to the
police. "And, most importantly, they have to ensure that they don't
panic, get scared and lock themselves up inside homes." Easier
said than done.