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Lawless nights and heartless days

Mumbai (2012-03-26): Do you pick up your newspaper every morning with dread? Do you switch TV news channels hoping to avoid visuals of weeping widows, parents and young children sitting beside dead bodies of victims of mob violence, police brutality or sexual crimes?

You probably would, if you lived in any metropolis in India. Our pages are filled with reports of murder, rape and road rage. Young girls working in call centres, pubs, media outlets, women going to work or enjoying an evening walk, picked up from streets, shoved into cars, beaten and molested.

Politicians throw back quotable quotes to us denying that Delhi has become the rape capital of the country. 568 cases of rape were recorded last year and 653 cases of molestation. You can well imagine how many go unreported, unregistered. Add to that the incidents that take place in Gurgaon and Noida, which fall under the National Capital Region and the picture looks really grim.

Home Minister P. Chidambaram said in Parliament, "One of the reasons why crimes against women are committed is that we tend to regard them as chattels. It is an unfortunate attitude." That attitude is not restricted to just the molesters. The police too treat women with scant respect, as is evident in the many cases where they denigrate the victim by either naming her or obliquely blaming her for provoking a sex crime.

A few weeks back, a police officer, in violation of a Supreme Court order regarding disclosure of identity of rape victims, issued a press release giving details of the victim including her name and address.

The first thing that strikes any visitor to the capital is that police presence is visible mainly where politicians live and circulate. Nobody grudges the fact that they need protection but what galls, is the absence of security for the lesser mortals: the aam aadmi and the aam aurat.

Which woman would dare to walk into a police station without a male escort to complain about molestation? And this should have been her right. She should feel empowered to get a case registered without the slightest bit of fear against law enforcers. Yet the grotesque irony is that she, the victim, risks humiliation, insinuations of her culpability and worse, ostracisation from members of the family, who have to deal with social stigma of having the cops come home.

Driving at night is a risk to life, even if you are not inebriated. Last week, four people bludgeoned to death an auto driver in Delhi for having bumped his three-wheeler into their car. Drunken louts think nothing of taking to the wheel when they can barely walk to their monstrous SUVs.

Last week in downtown Lucknow, a driver in a jeep crushed a 28-year- old to death because he demanded compensation for damaging his motorcycle. Uncontrollable rage and the belief that one can get away with culpable homicide have made our cities, wild and dangerous.

Trials drag on for years and the culprits get out on bail, crimes go unpunished and the streets of our cities remain unsafe. Most of us now believe that our safety is only about self-initiative. So we send our daughters with drivers, brothers or any male escort who we can trust. Driving alone at night is considered foolhardy as alcohol induced violence can strike at any time.

How many of us would call the police from our cell phones if we were attacked, stalked, chased or molested? The first instinct would be to run, escape or ignore. That itself is a wrong response but such is our conditioning and low level of faith in the system and society, that to cower in shadows seems a safer and pragmatic option.
How many of us would call up the police if we see a drunken person head towards his car? And everybody knows that if the fines increase the levels of bribes increase proportionately. At night, it's a jungle out there and cash changes hands as frequently as alcohol. Until we have more courts, stiff sentencing and speedy trials things won't change. In fact they will deteriorate.
 

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I am the Editor News, at Asian News International (ANI), Indias leading Multimedia News Agency and the India Correspondent for Channel News Asia, a Singapore based broadcaster.
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