NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - On a cold, rainy Sunday night, two policemen in khaki uniforms and fluorescent yellow jackets stand among commuters at a bus shelter in the Indian capital, occasionally stepping out to stop passing buses and climbing on board to conduct inspections.
A white police car halts to check in with the men stationed at the bus stop. Some minutes after, two other constables walk past on their night patrol which they say runs from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. daily.
The security at this infamous bus stand in Delhi’s Munirka district is not surprising. It was here on Dec. 16, 2012 that a 23-year-old trainee physiotherapist boarded an unregistered bus and was fatally gang raped in a case that led to nationwide protests and forced authorities to tighten laws on sex crimes.
But two years on, police attention to this particular bus stand remains an exception rather than the rule, say women commuters and activists, as government pledges on everything from better street lighting and public transport to more policing remain unfulfilled.
“The cops at this bus stop have just been here for a few days - maybe because the anniversary is coming. They were never here before. I’ve never seen them at other bus stops at night,” said 24-year-old student Meghlai Lama.
“I don’t think much has changed. Whether I feel safer is not even a question worth asking,” said Lama, as she waited for a bus to the same destination as the victim of the high-profile crime two years ago.
A poll published by Hindustan Times newspaper on Tuesday, the anniversary of the Delhi gang rape, said 91 percent of 2,557 women surveyed did not see any improvements in safety. The same survey found 86 percent of respondents avoided going out alone after dark.
Police and government officials argue that a host of measures have been introduced to improve safety, but add that violence against women is a far more deep-rooted problem which cannot be solved in just two years.
“We want zero tolerance to crimes against women,” Delhi Police Commissioner B.S. Bassi told reporters. “Several changes in the law and order have been made to prevent crimes against women since December 16, 2012, but society also needs to change for it to be effectively implemented.”
FAST-TRACK COURTS, WOMEN‘S HELPLINE
Indian girls and women face a barrage of threats ranging from human trafficking and sexual violence to child marriage and acid attacks, say experts, largely due to age-old patriarchal attitudes that view women as having a lower status than men.
But it is New Delhi - with a burgeoning population of 16 million - which annually records the highest number of rapes, earning it the unsavory reputation of “India’s Rape Capital”.
The city ranked as the fourth most dangerous for a woman to take public transport in an October poll by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. It was rated second-worst on safety at night and for verbal harassment on transportation.
On average, 40 cases of crimes against women are registered daily by Delhi police, including at least four cases of rape, say government officials.
The bus gang rape case was seen as a watershed moment, jolting usually apathetic, urban Indians onto the streets to demand security for women, and throwing a global spotlight on gender violence in the world’s second most populous country.
It pushed authorities to enact tougher laws allowing for death sentences to be handed down to repeat rape offenders. Voyeurism and stalking were criminalized and acid attacks and human trafficking made specific offences.
Fast-track courts were also set up in the city to speedily try gender crimes, and GPS has been installed in over 6,300 buses.
“We’ve done a lot to improve the situation,” said an official from Delhi’s transport department, who did not wish to be named. “But there are many things which require resources, and proper planning which we haven’t been able to (do).”
Faced with criticism over apathy and insensitivity to crimes against women, Delhi’s 80,000-strong police force have also attempted a revamp of sorts.
Police officials list 18 measures which include gender sensitization classes for officers and constables, women’s help desks in most police stations and a toll-free women’s helpline number that receives more than 250 calls daily. They also conduct self-defense classes for school children and are putting more female constables on the beat at night, they said.
But the most significant change has been the increased conversation on violence against women in last two years, which has emboldened victims to come forward and report crimes.
For instance, 13,230 cases of crimes against women were registered in Delhi this year up to Nov. 15, compared to 11,479 cases during the corresponding period in 2013.
The alleged rape of a 27-year-old woman in Delhi on Dec. 5 by a taxi driver licensed by popular U.S. online cab service Uber is a pointed reminder that not enough is being done to tackle the problem, say activists.
The taxi driver had been previously charged with sexual offences including rape, exposing not only Uber’s failure to conduct background checks on drivers in India, but the absence of government regulation on internet-based taxi services.
“We need more done in terms of making our public spaces safer. Infrastructure like better street lighting, public transport and last mile connectivity are essential,” said Kalpana Viswanath, co-founder of Safetipin, an app that helps users by providing safety-related information.
There are still hundreds of unlit stretches, many metro stations without autorickshaws or taxis outside at night and not enough buses plying after the evening rush hour - safety gaps that a $320 million fund named after the bus gang rape victim was supposed to fill but hasn‘t.
“No one expects everything to be okay after two years.” said Kavita Krishnan, activist and secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association.
“But the easiest things the government could have done to ensure the freedom of movement of women in the city, have not been done.”
Reporting by Nita Bhalla, Editing by Lisa Anderson