NEW DELHI—Responding to demand for concrete steps to ensure women’s safety, the new Indian government announced fresh initiatives and funds for safeguarding women and girls.
In its 2014–2015 budget, announced July 10, the government allocated US$24 million to increase the safety of women in all states. Around US$8 million has been allocated to make public transportation safe for women and another US$$16 million has been set aside for a scheme called “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Yojana” or Save the Girl, Educate the Girl.
According to last year’s crime report by India’s National Crime Records Bureau, the total number of crimes against women increased to over 309,500 from 2012 to 2013, an increase of 26.7 percent.
We Just Don’t Feel Safe
A 23-year-old physiotherapy student was raped and then thrown from a moving bus in South Delhi in December 2012, causing mass protests and outrage in India and making headlines around the world.
Crimes like these are horrific but sporadic—women in India face more subtle aggression on a daily basis such as sexual harassment and lewd stares on roads, streets, and in buses.
“You don’t feel very safe. Although they are not doing anything to you, we just don’t feel very safe,” said Aastha Khatri, a 23-year-old student in New Delhi.
The government has a challenging task ahead of it as the public has lost much of its confidence in state-run institutions that provide public safety. Khatri said criminals are not afraid of authority because, “They know they might go to jail. But nothing is going to happen to them.”
She is skeptical that government funding is going to help the situation, saying corruption will get in the way of implementation.
“What are you going to do with the money? Put some policemen on the roads? Maybe more security guards in populated areas? But then you need to make sure they are genuine [and] they are not corrupt themselves.”
Khatri, who is doing her postgraduate in forensic science, said her father has become extremely protective since the physiotherapy student’s rape case. Her curfew every night is now 7:00 p.m.
Education Over Money
Government support for women’s safety is a start, but some believe it will not yield results if the community as whole does not change.
“We need to look at the kind of children we are bringing up, the kind of society we are forming. A society, its people are all formed from the basic values that you give them in their childhood,” said Mridula Tandon, a Delhi-based social activist.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, Delhi had the highest number of rape cases last year of any of the Indian cities.
According to Tandon, Indians are fast losing their traditional values, and this is having a bearing on the overall situation.
“If you are not able to provide them [children] with the correct set of values … then we are going to be facing this sort of situation in more and more areas,” said Tandon.
Tandon believes government intentions are good, but it remains to be seen how the funds will be used and the how the initiatives will be executed.