Image for representational purpose only. (Express Illustration)
Image for representational purpose only. (Express Illustration)

Danger at every step

Women and girls are constantly at risk, be it on the streets, in schools or even at home. What ails our society, that targets women and snatches away their freedoms?   

BENGALURU:   A 32-year-old, six-month pregnant nurse was physically assaulted, solicited and sexually harassed by a cab driver, said to be inebriated, near Electronics City last month. The woman was returning home when the accused approached her, seeking sexual favours and offering Rs 1 lakh to spend time with him. She later registered a police complaint, and the accused, identified as Avinash, was arrested. 

In another incident, a 28-year-old dance teacher allegedly raped and blackmailed his ex-girlfriend, a minor. He took videos of his depraved act and blackmailed her into having sex with his two friends for monetary benefits.

The principal of a school allegedly sexually assaulted a Class 2 girl student, and was arrested after her parents lodged a police complaint. Last month, a 14-year-old girl was gang-raped by five men on multiple occasions in Vitla, in Dashina Kannada district.

Going by the number and nature of incidents, it seems no place is safe for a girl child or woman. Stripping women and parading them naked to send a message of their community’s one-upmanship in conflict-torn Manipur is a glaring example of toxic masculinity, as is the paedophile in the garb of principal or the dance teacher or cab driver.

For any government, safety of women and children is top priority, and Karnataka is no exception, yet cases of violence -- domestic, sexual, fatal and life-altering -- happen periodically. Police come into action after the incident is reported, so can we blame the police alone in failing to safeguard women? Do we need police to ensure girls and women are safe inside their homes, in schools and on roads?

Experts and citizens say the law enforcement structure alone is not enough to protect women from violence. “If in a cosmopolitan city like Bengaluru, a woman cannot walk safely alone without the fear of being accosted and harassed, what must be the situation in Tier-2 and 3 cities and villages?” asked a well-known person who didn’t wish to be named.

NCRB DATA 
As India celebrates her 76th Independence Day, experts point out recent incidents of violence against women in Manipur, Hyderabad, Rajasthan and Hathras. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report of 2021 recorded 14,468 cases against women during the year, including cases filed under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Special Local Laws. In 2020, 12,680 cases were reported, and in 2019, 11,462 cases were reported. 

Last year, Bengaluru police reported a 30 per cent increase in cases of violence against women, as compared to other crimes registered in the city. “The country talks about achieving a trillion-dollar economy and Karnataka is one of the most progressive states, but there are huge gaps when it comes to women’s safety. A lot needs to be done to address the issue,” said a women’s rights activist.

She also pointed out the daily incidents of street harassment which are not reported. “There are cases of harassment inside parks, on streets, near bus stands etc. But how many incidents are reported? They have become a routine affair. Girls and women take it in their stride,” she added.

Whether public places or schools, the danger of being violated remains. “Schools are a second home to children. Parents send their wards to school with the trust and confidence that their child is safe. But how safe are they with the school bus driver or conductor misbehaving, touching the child inappropriately, teachers or principal sexually misbehaving with them? School counsellors are flooded with concerns from parents, who fear for their child’s safety,” said an activist.

Recollecting the Udupi court verdict where a 45-year-old karate instructor was sentenced to 10 years rigorous imprisonment for sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl student during a karate class, senior police officials from Udupi said it is important to educate children about their vulnerability to such assaults by people known to them, and how they can protect themselves. “Teaching life skills to children is a must. Most parents miss out this crucial learning,” she added.

SOCIAL MEDIA AND CRIME
Sub-inspector Achamma from Madikeri said they would often get cases where husbands abuse their wives physically and mentally. There have been several instances where women file cases against husbands for stealing their jewellery and then abandoning them. Several uneducated tribal women in Madikeri are also falling prey to rape by their alleged lovers, and the cases end up in police stations. Many tribal girls below the age of 18 get pregnant.

A senior police officer from Dharwad said in the recent past, more crimes are surfacing in educated families and in cities, compared to rural areas. “Accessibility and awareness among women in cities is one of the reasons for higher registration of cases, compared to rural areas,” he said.

Police officials also caution against the increasing misuse of social media and technology, where women are trolled and victimised. “Around three months ago, some unknown people had uploaded morphed derogatory images of girl students on a social media platform, and police are still investigating,” said a police officer from Dharwad. “Excessive use of mobile phones and social media platforms, sharing personal details and images with others leads to such troubles.” 

Residents of Kalaburagi recollect a recent incident in Savalagi Gram Panchayat, Sindagi village, where some people tried to kidnap a woman GP member to force her to vote in favour of a candidate for the GP president’s post. “They threatened her, saying they were from the police department. She was assaulted with a knife, but was rescued by one of the villagers,” said a cop. 

Basavaraj I, former DSP, Kalaburagi, said crimes against women could be prevented only when there was awareness and women were trained in self-defence. Women activists working with the police point out that while cases of acid attacks have come down, domestic violence is on the rise, especially in middle and lower-income groups. “The reason for this is finance and alcohol. Today’s generation seeks instant gratification, and marriage is a casualty. There is violence even during small arguments,” said an activist. 

Legal experts say the situation can be improved if everyone gets together -- law enforcement wing, judiciary, activists, and most importantly, society. “Some solutions suggested recently by politicians to beat up those trying to outrage women’s modesty, are not feasible. Cases should be immediately reported to the police who should also act fast,” they say. 

With the Central government working on new bills to replace the IPC, Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and the Evidence Act, there is hope for course correction. Some of the much-needed steps to contain violence against women in the proposed bills include awarding maximum punishment for crimes against women, with the provision of a death sentence for raping a minor; 20 years imprisonment for gangrape, 10 years imprisonment for concealing identity to marry women or having sexual relationships under the false promise of marriage, promotion or employment; video recording the statement of a sexual assault survivor.  

Women need to feel safe in using government apparatus for their safety. In Gadag, cases against women have seen a decline due to increased vigilance. “Women’s helpline ‘Gelati’, meaning female friend, is a big hit,” said an officer.

CRIMES AGAINST WOMEN 

There is a 30% increase in cases against women, compared to other crimes registered in 2022  

Crimes against women include POCSO, dowry harassment, molestation and rape  

153 cases of rape registered last year, of which 149 were committed by those known to the victim, like relatives, or those who falsely promised marriage, live-in relationship partners and those who were courting

112 rape cases were reported in 2020, 116 reported in 2021  

444 cases registered under POCSO Act, 286 cases registered in 2020, 399 cases in 2021 

OTHER DISTRICTS 

Dharwad 
92 cases registered in 2022 in Women police stations  

Udupi
Seven rape cases reported in 2023 so far, 19 cases of harassment by husband’s relatives were reported in the same period. Six dowry harassment and 25 sexual assault cases registered under POCSO Act, besides nine other cases 

Kalaburagi 
105 crimes reported in 2023, of which 80 are under investigation. Of 105 crimes, 42 were related to use of criminal force intending to outrage women’s modesty, 32 were related to cruelty, 4 cases of rape, 7 cases of attempt to murder, and 5 cases of murder have been reported in the past 8 months

RAPE CASES 

By relative/guardian/ someone in position of trust  17

Against women incapable of giving consent 02

By person in control/dominance over women 01

Repeated rape on same women 51

Gang rape 12

Total 100

(other than custodial)
 

(Inputs by Prajna GR/ Madikeri, Mallikarjun Hiremath/ Dharwad, Prakash Samaga/ Udupi, Ramakrishna Badsheshi/ Kalaburgi, Raghu Koppar/ Gadag, Chetan MG & Praveen Kumar/ Bengaluru)

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