By Shambhavi Saxena:
In what comes as a shockingly regressive move, the budget for national rape crisis centres has been slashed from Rs 244.48 crore to Rs 18 crore, because of the Modi-government’s insistence that one independent centre to 640 districts in India, and 20 more for the 6 metropolitan cities is a waste of money. This means, India will have only 36 rape crisis centres for each state and its union territories to deal with a systemic problem in our society. Once again, that’s 36 RCCs for a population of over a billion.
Even at a glance, the decision seems absurd, not just in terms of how little importance the problem of rape merits for the present government, but also in terms of practicality. Jagmati Sangwan of the All India Democratic Women’s Association said: “If a woman is raped in Jaisalmer, say, she will not go to a crisis centre in Jaipur.”
While the Prime Minister waxed eloquent on women’s empowerment and safety in his Independence Day speech, his and his government’s true attitude to the same is self-evident. How different are they, then, from the previous Congress-led government, when it comes to effective response to rape and other forms of sexual violence/assault?
Rape crisis centres offer a safe space for counselling, rehabilitation, medical examination and legal aid. The RCC proposal of June 2014, made provisions for lodging FIRs as well video-conferencing facilities, and is supposed to be geared towards protecting and ensuring justice for victims. It is truly heartbreaking to think that cutting down so dramatically the number of RCC’s available to victims of sexual assault can only mean that a large percentage of them will not receive the care and justice they deserve. It was hoped that with sophisticated infrastructure to handle rape cases, the first step towards eliminating rape culture would have been taken. As it is, one cannot know just how many instances of sexual violence go unreported for whatever reason. Compounded with the fact that corruption exists and the legal system moves at an excruciatingly slow pace, it appears we’ve hardly moved forward from square one, since Nirbhaya.
One has to ask why steps like these are taken to disadvantage the very people who are meant to benefit from RCCs. One must also question the logic behind budget cuts for these matters, while public money is gaily spent on, say, more ineffective coal projects, or gigantic statues. Are we to allow such a decision to slide, and pretend it does not affect us? Or are we to ensure our representatives act keeping our needs and best interests in mind? I would argue the latter.