India is a country with 29 states and 7 union territories. It is the most diverse nation with a population of 1.3 billion and that number is never constant. The irony is that the capital of India is also nicknamed as the rape capital of India. But the question then arises, which state is safe? What is the definition of safe? On what grounds is a state defined as safe?
The United Nations General Recommendation 19 to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women defines sexual harassment of women to include:
“such unwelcome sexually determined behaviour as physical contact and advances, sexually coloured remarks, showing pornography and sexual demands, whether by words or actions. Such conduct can be humiliating and may constitute a health and safety problem; it is discriminatory when the woman has reasonable ground to believe that her objection would disadvantage her in connection with her employment, including recruitment or promotion, or when it creates a hostile working environment.”
Even after the passing of several laws, there is still no place that can fully justify the definition of “safe”. Most of the laws are not gender neutral. Even after the implementation of laws, crimes continue to be committed. In today’s world, no person is safe even in the boundaries of their own place called home. Sexual harassment is not a crime that is limited to the office space or the roads. In many, and that means an extremely large number, of cases, the person harassing the victim is a family member or a relative. Women are harassed by their own husbands, daughters by their own fathers, sons by their own uncles. This is merely the start, the list goes on and on, and continues proving itself to get more horrific.
After the pressing of sexual harassment charges against the powerful Hollywood film producer, Harvey Weinstein, women from different parts of the world came forward to narrate their own stories of harassment. This included famous stars and normal middle-class people.
According to National Crime Records Bureau data, Odisha, Telangana and Assam ranked worst with the highest rate of assaults on women, while the state with the lowest rate for sexual assaults on women in India is Nagaland.
Whereas the highest harassments would be expected from the cities of New Delhi and Mumbai, others are no less. Maharashtra accounted for the highest incest rape cases according to a survey conducted. Other states reporting high rates of harassment were Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal. Even the state with the highest literacy rate of a hundred percent, Kerala reported 16,755 cases of rape in a decade. Over 2500 cases were reported in 2016 itself.
The major reasons responsible for non-reporting of sexual harassment include fear of supervisors, fear of losing their job, fear of the society, fear of getting stigmatized and fear of getting side-lined and boycotted by everyone.
Statistics clearly show that sexual harassment cases are not limited to a particular state or a particular profile of a victim. It happens in every corner of the country, from rural to urban places and from housewives to little kids. It does not matter whether you’re standing in the rape capital of India or the literacy centre. It also doesn’t matter if you’re wearing that is revealing your skin or not. It doesn’t matter if you have a dupatta or not, if you’re married or not, if you’re legal to be involved in a sexual intercourse or not. Sexual harassment takes place anywhere and everywhere, with anyone and everyone.
Laws are being reformed all over the world, all over the country; and it is, to a large extent, empowering sexual harassment victims to come forward and speak for themselves, to raise their voices. If not anything, it would at least support other victims.
The million-dollar question, does a safe city really exist, has a very simple answer to it. It exists only if we want it to. Any city can be termed as having highest number of harassment cases and can also work the other way around. A city can be made safer for all its citizens if everyone comes together to work against it. Awareness should be raised about the issue; the taboos should be broken, and sexual harassment shouldn’t be treated as an alien concept. It is something that need not be hidden but should be accepted and fought against. The constitution provides us with measures to raise our voices and protect ourselves. Laws should be made gender neutral; sexual harassment happens with men too and also in the reverse cycle from employee to employer which is in contrast to the usual and common situation. This should be accepted, and measures should be taken accordingly.
The rising spotlight on sexual harassment across the world will hopefully spur more firms to deal with this issue more seriously. This also means that the number of reported harassment cases may go up rather than down in the coming years. Even after so many efforts of the Government of India, the number of cases of sexual harassment in India have seen something close to no decline. The provisions contain several loopholes which can be exploited easily by the harasser in his favour. Regardless, sexual harassment anywhere is not acceptable and needs to be rooted out of the society. The concept of a safe city should be replaced with the concept of a safe country with every neighbourhood as a safe neighbourhood.