A measure of change

The new Delhi rape numbers are startling but may not directly reflect how violent the city is.

The number of rapes reported in Delhi has doubled, from 590 in 2012 to 1330 this year. The rise is sharper, almost four-fold, in cases of molestation, from 727 in all of 2012 to 2,884 till this October. Given that sexual violence is reinforced by shaming women into silence, the figures, which the Delhi Police submitted to the Supreme Court yesterday, might not be as stark as they seem. They might also suggest that women are more willing to step into a police station to report such violations, even if they have to steel themselves against a process that is doubly traumatising. Perhaps, the police are also less likely to fob off a complaint of rape or molestation by pre-judging the woman because they will be held accountable.

The memory of last December has cast a shadow over all discussions of violence against women since. The rape and murder of the young woman forced us to examine the patriarchal bias that stains various aspects of our society, from the humiliating two-finger examination of a rape victim to a language which puts the burden of responsibility on the woman to the laws that are loaded against her.

The Delhi Police's statistics need to be parsed further to establish if this debate has, in a small way, contributed to an environment which makes women less fearful about seeking justice. But what it should not lead to is the kind of competitive paranoia that demonises Delhi, or any other city, as a "rape capital". As the National Crime Records Bureau's figures have shown before, the majority of rapists are known to the women or children they assault. More importantly, the devaluation of women, which supports a rape culture, starts from the family, the panchayat and the polis. There are no easy solutions in this long haul.

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