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Women Have No Safety Zones

Posted: July 13, 2012

On a recent flight out of Delhi I was mentally writing a note on crime against women for a sociology journal when I, like most people, began to visualize Delhi as the crime against women capital of the country. Delhi does get a lot of attention on this subject, overshadowing the goings-on in other parts of the country.

According to the Hindustan Times of July 1, 2012, (quoting NCRB statistics) Kerala’s rate of crime against women (number of crimes per one lakh population) is 27, followed by Delhi with 24.6! According to this report verbal abuse and making lewd gestures form a major chunk of crime against women in Kerala, followed by physical abuse, stalking and flashing by men. The state also has the dubious distinction as the largest market in the country for pornography.

What is surprising here is that Kerala has the highest literacy rate in the country, the best life expectancy, the lowest infant mortality, a favorable sex ratio (1058 females per 1000 males), excellent healthcare delivery systems, and the lowest population growth- in short, it is high on nearly every social indicator but it is the lowliest of the lows where attitudes towards women are concerned. (On a personal note, my wife is a Malayalee, and whenever she goes out wearing a salwar-kameez in Kerala, the stares of the men are sickening, to say the least).

On the positive side, the Government of Kerala has recently embarked upon a scheme called ‘Nirbhaya’ (Fearless) to make the state more women-friendly. The scheme focuses on prevention, prosecution, protection and rehabilitation.

Now let me come to West Bengal, a state where nearly every female deity in the Hindu pantheon is worshipped with fervor and gusto, and where even little girls are addressed as ‘ma’. Kolkata newspaper The Telegraph (July 3, 2012), again quoting NCRB statistics, informs us that as per the NCRB report for the year 2011, the state accounted for 12.7% of crimes against women in India; it also accounted for 10% of all the rapes in the country, second only to Madhya Pradesh (14%). The newspaper also gives us this shocking discovery- that between 2006 and 2010, the incidence of rape across India rose by 15%, while in West Bengal it rose by 34%.

West Bengal, sadly, also tops the chart in cases of spousal violence, ranks 5th in the country in dowry related deaths, and is among the top ten where molestation is concerned. To this, let me add my own statistic- the state also sends the highest number of widows to Vrindavan-Mathura-Varanasi.

In a country where education, literacy, religiosity or near about anything else has not even marginally changed our attitudes towards women, what will?

I am a former bureaucrat, and have worked a lot on gender issues, disaster management

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  1. Well… there is much to change in Kerala, but I am vary about making a comment on Kerala’s climate based on on the number of reported crimes against women.
    There are a few things to be noted in this case. A vibrant civil society and a better state of law and order is a boon in this case. People report crimes much more than in other states because civil society is aware of their rights and because the law and order mechanism in the state is one of the best in the country.
    So, the crime rates are more about the difference in reporting than about actual crimes happening imo.

    Having said that, I dont think Kerala as a state is as liberating as a metropolitan city. Somehow, I have always felt it is because of the homogenous nature of society and the lack of diversity in terms of people residing in the state. Therefore, the tendency to uphold the status quo norm is very very high. And consequently, the tendency to blame the victim. Most families will ask, why cant the girl stay indoors and not come out at night? In a metropolitan city, on the other hand, the diversity of the city will push the limits of the existing social norms. It would be difficult to find a single norm, in the first place.

  2. Preethi, reporting of crime or not is only a small factor in crime statistics, and when you say that the civil society in Kerala is aware of their rights, I’d be happy to know if they are aware of their duties as well, and of the rights of the women. And if what you say is true, the Government of Kerala would not be thinking up schemes such as Nirbhaya.

  3. Agree to the blog.I have had significant amount of life in Kerala and it is difficult to walk on the road during broad daylight forget the night.The tendency is to blame the women who venture out for their activities rather than fighting against the core issue.
    The responsibility lies with the women too who need to join hands to fight this menace ,where they tend to remain mute spectators to the crime.How far schemes like Nirbhaya will succeed will still be a question but the govt. themselves have agreed to the fact that they have to come up with schemes to protect the women in the state which claims to have the highest literacy rate!

  4. I agree to all this, 100 percent, as a keralite born and brought up in Delhi.! Making those trips to the land gave me jitters down the nerves, I couldn’t wear what I want.! And using public transport was a no-no.! And even then keralites do not in the least bit accept the truth.! One reason change is a far cry.!

    • Thanks BSN and Rinzu, I have first hand experience of Kerala and the men there gawking openly and passing lewd comments. I have seen it every time I have been there.

  5. What a mockery to the state which boasts of highest literacy rate in the country!

  6. Pingback: Unacceptable Social Behavior | Women's Web: Online Community For Indian Women

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