Harassment of women: a forgotten initiative
Posted June 22, 2014on:
Long before the UPA government was forced to amend the criminal law by violent protests over gang-rape and murder of a Delhi paramedic student in December 2012, the short-lived BJP government of Uma Bharti in Madhya Pradesh had addressed itself to the problem of humiliation of women in public and moved a bill in the Assembly to provide harsher punishment to the offenders. She, though, could not see it through. Babulal Gaur had replaced her as the chief minister by the time the bill was passed. It became part of the statute book in December 2004.
The bill added Subsection-A to Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code (use of criminal force to outrage the modesty of woman) and provided that the offender “shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than one year but which may extend to ten years and shall also be liable to fine.” The main Section provides for a maximum punishment of up to two years. Besides, the Madhya Pradesh amendment also provides for the same punishment to whoever abets or conspires in the act, which is not there in the main Section.
Difficult to say how the amended Section would have been enforced had Uma Bharti remained at the helm of affairs. Her successors (Babulal Gaur and then Shivraj Singh Chouhan), however, did not show any interest in this. The amended law was consigned to the archives once the gazette notification was made. Today most of those concerned – the politicians, the police officers and, of course, those for whose benefit the Act was amended — are not even aware that such a law exists.
Crime, particularly the crimes against women, has been steadily going up in Madhya Pradesh for quite some time. It was during the BJP government of Sunderlal Patwa that Madhya Pradesh recorded the highest number of heinous crimes including murder, rape and dacoity. The trend continued almost unabated during the ten-year Congress regime of Digvijaya Singh. Bad law and order, with emphasis on crimes against women, formed part of Uma Bharti’s vigorous campaign for the November 2003 Assembly elections, along with what was then described as BSP (bijli, sadak, pani). Being a woman, she had shown particular sensitivity towards the plight of women. Under her leadership, the BJP captured power with an overwhelming majority.
It would be interesting to note that Chouhan, when he replaced Babulal Gaur as chief minister in November 2005, believed there was no rule of law in the State. This he put as his top priority. The Governor’s customary address to the Assembly at the beginning of Chouhan’s first budget session had specifically stated: “Meri Sarkar ki prathamikata kanoon ka raaj sthapit karana hai”(the priority of my government is to establish the rule of law). The Governor’s address is always approved by the cabinet.
However, there was no change on the ground. . In 2011, when Chouhan was well into his second term, there were 3406 rape cases in the State, the figure being the highest in the country, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). In the previous year, the State had registered 3135 rape cases and 6646 cases of molestation of women/girls, again the highest in the country. Minor girls are particularly vulnerable in the State. According to the figures given in the Assembly, 29,828 minor girls were reported missing and 7,306 minor girls were raped in the State between January 2008 and February 2009, two years after Chouhan had announced his priority as establishment of the rule of law in the State.
A major reason for this state of affairs is the complete politicisation of the police. Secondly, there are too many IPS officers and an acute shortage of the lower staff. To top it all, there is the pathetic insensitivity of the police almost at every level.
A recent incident will illustrate the point. On May 14, Sunita Sharma was on her morning walk when a miscreant snatched her chain (a very common occurrence in Bhopal) and tried to run away. Sunita had, however, caught hold of his hand and forced him to escape without the chain; she, though, received injuries on her neck and hands in the struggle. Her husband Vijay Sharma, who is personal secretary to Woman and Child Development Minister Maya Singh, said that he continued ringing up No. 100 (police emergency) for some 25 minutes but no one picked up the phone on the other end. Then he went to the T.T. Nagar police station, which was nearer, but was asked to go to Habibganj police station because the offence had taken place in the jurisdiction of Habibganj police station.