After India's rape verdict, the question being asked is whether anything has changed in the past nine months. While there has been some progress, this does not necessarily translate into women feeling safer.
There is no doubt that the gruesome case and the protests that followed represent a watershed where the entire country responded for the first time to an instance of sexual violence, which had till then been seen as a “women’s issue”. But the impression that violence or crime has gone up in the past nine months is a difficult one to prove. What has happened is increased reporting, greater awareness and media focus on the issue.
Over the past nine months there have been steps taken to address women’s lack of safety. Firstly the criminal amendment bill introduced many important changes to the law including expanding the definition of rape to include more than just penetration. Fast-track courts have been set up. Another significant change has been the inclusion of stalking as a criminal offence. Dealing with stalking at an early stage can maybe prevent more serious forms of violence.
There is also increasing recognition that prevention of violence is a broader issue than policing. Furthermore, the issue of mindset and behaviour as perpetuating patriarchal stereotypes is also being discussed and has led to the recognition of the need for longer-term processes to change attitudes.
We are hopefully on a path towards greater justice and space for women – though it will be a long journey.
Kalpana Viswanath is an activist with the Delhi-based women’s rights group Jagori