By Akhila Nagar:
What happens to the issues of women’s security when a Parliament with only 11% representation of women sits down to formulate the Union Budget?
While policy reforms catering to an international audience such as a threefold increase in the number countries with visa-on-arrival facilities seem to make it to the list, the safety and security of almost 50% of the country’s own citizens has taken a backseat. It took the brutal, widely covered December 16 rape case to open the government’s eyes to the increasingly serious problem of women’s security in India (or if not the government’s eyes, at least their PR representatives’). While 2013 registered over 33,000 rape cases, the 660 rape crisis centres promised in 2014 have boiled down to just 36, helping the government save Rs. 200 crore (which also happens to be the additional funding allocated to the Sardar Patel statue in Gujarat).
Ever since the UPA government installed the Nirbhaya Fund in 2013 without any concrete plans for execution, the only movement of finances seen is Arun Jaitley’s decision to pour in another Rs. 1000 crore into the fund this year. Perhaps, the time has come to finally put this fund to use. In the 2015-16 Budget, Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu has declared that it will be used to install CCTV cameras in “selected” coaches for “augmenting security of women passengers”, “without compromising privacy”. Additionally, the middle berth in three-tier coaches will be reserved for women and senior citizens.
However, knowing the condition of government installed surveillance methods, the idea of CCTV cameras for women is not reassuring. The question of reaction time after inappropriate behaviour is detected, remains; and by extension, the question of whether abusers will be deterred by surveillance in the first place if the response time is too long (or perhaps non-existent). Additionally, CCTV footage of women can often be taken as a sign of intrusion of privacy. Regardless of what Mr. Prabhu says, knowing that there is a camera that constantly has eyes on me will most certainly violate my sense of privacy. Such footage may also be further sold and distributed for lewd entertainment purposes.
At the end of the day, the government’s job is to protect each and every citizen of the country, of every sex and gender. It seems that a room full of men cannot truly understand what safety for women entails. Mass sensitisation of the public and a systemic change in patriarchal ideology is what is required. Such sensitisation works at two levels – one, change in active power such as an increase in women in the police force, and the second, at a more passive level – reworking the idea of the role of women in society.
After all, Orwell’s true Big Brother did not just watch you through surveillance, he changed your mindset.