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Interview With Annie Raja

Interview With Annie Raja

Remember the Nirbhaya case that had jolted the entire country on December 16, 2012. Memories are still afresh in the mind of people. Campaigns and plays were staged in buses and on streets of Delhi and elsewhere in the country to remember Nirbhaya.

Four years after the 16 December gang-rape and murder – a case that shocked and enraged the entire country and made international headlines – the decision on fate of the five men found guilty of assaulting her, is pending in the Supreme Court. The men have challenged the death sentence in Supreme Court. The top court has put a freeze on the death sentence. The court said it would sit for extra time to hear their appeal.

Anju Grover for Indian Currents conducted a detailed interview with noted woman activist and National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW) general secretary Annie Raja to know why young girls and women face harassment at work, on roads and in public transport. Why there has been an increase in cases of rape and sexual assault in the country. Raja concedes that crimes against women are increasing by the day and added that these incidents have become more brutal.

IC: Four years have passed since Delhi Gang Rapa incident happened. Do you see any change in the ground reality with regard to women’s safety and security in the country?

Annie Raja: Two things ever since Delhi gang rape incident happened. One was a nation-wide movement against the gang rape had started. Youngsters in large number took to the streets to condemn the incident. Another was enactment of anti-rape bill or Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013. The governments at the Centre, present NDA government and previous UPA II government, lack political will and social commitment to implement existing laws on women to prevent rise in crime against women.  The budgetary allocation for implementation of women friendly legislations is low. People in the government do not believe in ‘gender equality and gender justice’. It is due to this fact that crimes against women especially sexual assault or rape cases are treated as women’s issue. It is a political and social issue.

IC:  Anti rape law was made after Dec 16 gang rape incident, the government and police became very active. Your comments.

Both the government and the police had become active until the law on sexual assault came into effect. The government had amended the rape law only under public pressure.

IC: The reality is that young women still face harassment at home, work place and in public transport. The problem remains the same, although helpline for women in distress has started. Your views.

You cannot solve this problem by starting helpline or installing tube lights or CCTVs in public places. There is a need for strong political will to stop crime against women. This alone will send a strong message to perpetrators of crime that they will not be spared if they target women.

IC: One should appreciate the fact that more women are coming forward to report to the police about sexual assault or crime against them. Even police forces are willing to record these complaints as well.

The purpose of having such legislation should not be to report cases; it should rather prevent crime against women. Women organisations welcomed when more women started coming forward to report cases of crimes against them and said that an increase in reported cases of rape incidents was due to women’s movement in the country. The emphasis should be on prevention of crime. Low conviction rate clearly shows that there is no significant improvement and perpetrators walk free. Bhanvri Devi Bhanwari Devi, a dalit social-worker from Bhateri, Rajasthan, who was allegedly gang raped in 1992 goes to the court with a hope that she will get justice one day even 26 years after the incident. It is time that political parties take up this issue as top on the agenda and take effective steps.

IC: Many questions have been raised on the Nirbhaya fund. Reports said that out of Rs 3000 crore, only one per cent has been used. The government formed a panel to approve schemes under the Nirbhaya fund in November. Your comments.

This government lacks vision and does not know how to address the issue of women’s safety and security. The government does not hold consultations with women organisations or people who have worked on women issues. So it is unable to take concrete measures for women’s safety and security.

IC: The Supreme Court had stated that the government should have a National Compensation policy as Nirbhaya fund was not enough. What are your views on it?

The announcement of creating Nirbhaya Fund was a ‘political decision’ as elections were round the corner. The government in power wanted to pacify agitating people after the Nirbhaya incident. The government had not decided any road map for utilizing fund. Mere allocation of funds for relief and rehabilitation of victims of sexual assault will not help.  

IC: As many as 183 one Stop centres were to be set up from Nirbhaya fund allocations to provide medical, police assistance and legal aid to women in distress. Only 20 one Stop centres have been set up so far. Your comments.

You should ask Women and Child Development Ministry and National Commission for Women as to why they are silent on it. Political parties rarely speak on rape or incidents of violence against women because of vote bank politics. 

IC: Amicus curia has raised questions about the death sentence for convicts in the Nirbhaya case. Parents of Nirbhaya are worried because of this development. Do you think that death penalty is not an answer to deal with heinous crimes like gang rape or sexual assault?

Can you stop cases of rape or sexual assault against women by hanging five people in the Delhi gang rape incident? Aggrieved parents of Nirbhaya are well within their right to say that their daughter would get justice only when convicts are hanged to death.  But death penalty cannot be a deterrent factor as more cases of rape or sexual assault are being reported. We need to focus on prevention of such cases. Crime against women should not happen at all. A  strong message from the government, both centre and states, should go to people that they will not tolerate any crime against women and use provisions of the existing laws to stop crime against women. The government should ensure time bound justice in cases of rape or sexual assault as this can help in preventing crime against women.

IC: Four years have gone; Police forces remain undertrained, understaffed, underpaid and under-functioning...

The police personnel are responsible for investigating cases of rape or sexual assault against women like other cases. Lack of training or awareness among police personnel about women laws is making things difficult for women when they approach the police for help. Women are often discouraged by the police personnel to report cases of rape and sexual assault because of prejudiced mindset.

IC: How, according to you, women organisations can help in improving safety conditions for women in the country?

Women organisations are always seen responsible in ensuring safety and security of women. Why can’t political parties keep women’s safety on top of the agenda and allocate adequate funds for women’s safety and security? The involvement of women in decision making process is not there. Women parliamentarians are encouraged to speak in Parliament on International Women’s day only. Men parliamentarians should also speak on women’s issues. Men should speak on incidents of violence against women.

IC: Do you intend to involve more men while taking up issues relating to women’s safety and security?

A time has come to involve more men in raising issues relating to women’s safety and security in the country.

(Published on 26th December 2016, Volume XXVIII, Issue 52)#