Why These Fearless Delhi Women Took to the Streets for a Midnight Marathon
According to statistics, five women are raped every day in the capital.
What are women, faced by barriers, restrictions and threats in a country that can barely meet their safety needs to do in order to reclaim their own safety? Delhi police has the answer - claim the streets with confidence and fearlessness, be it day or night.
The capital's police on the intervening midnight of September 9 and September 10 organised a 'Fearless Run' for the women of Delhi.
"The idea was to reclaim public space for women," Delhi Police Public Relations Officer and DCP told News18. "We often hear that crimes against women happen because they venture out alone at night. But that's not true. This marathon is to prove that women have the right to be on the streets at nights as much as men," he added.
About 200 women from all walks of life congregated at Connaught Place and started marching at the stroke of midnight. The 5-km marathon was organised jointly by Delhi Police and United Sisters Foundation, the organisatioon responsible for organizing 'The Pinkathon', an annual women's marathon co-founded by Milind Soman in 2012.
One of the women leading the marathon was Laxmi Agarwal, who is an acid attack survivor and woman's rights activist. Laxmi was attacked by a 32-year-old man in Delhi's Khan Market in 2005 when she rejected the man's overtures and consequent proposal for marriage. Laxmi was only 15 years old then. The 28-year-old activist said that it took her a long time before she could regain courage and independence.
"I participated in the walk because I see that most women are afraid to go out at night. Even in places like the metro when some men travel drunk and misbehave with women, the victims and those around often remain quiet. Maybe if they see other women, other survivors come out at night like this, they too will get the courage to do so," she said.
The marathon was also used as a launchpad by Delhi Police to introduce an updated version of their women's safety app 'Himmat' which was launched in 2015 by Home Minister Rajnath Singh following a wave of protests after increasing rapes in the capital. The app was built as an SOS portal for women in distress, but has been criticised over its alleged failure to provide protection to women.
Since its inception, a parliamentary panel noted in March this years, just over 30,000 women have enlisted for the app's services. In a city of over 25 million, the precious few subscribers to the app means it has been failing.
DCP Verma insisted that the updated 'Himmat Plus', will have higher efficiency as it has increased its database of information and also promised improved police response time and assistance. At the rally he also enumerated a list of other services and schemes Delhi Police provides for women's safety.
However, Laxmi, who was part of the marathon, said that unless police become sensitised, no number of app updates will help.
"While returning from the rally, my cab broke down in a deserted area. There was a police station in walking distance and we were stranded there for about 15 minutes. Yet no cop came to our assistance," she said.
This attitude of damage control rather than prevention is the problem, she added.
While Delhi Police maintained that cases of violence against women have reduced, statistics speak otherwise. According to recent data, five women were raped each day in the capital 2017. Till April 2017, 563 women had been raped. As opposed to last year, the figure till April 2018 was 578, marking an increase.
While the police at the time attributed the rise in cases to a rise in cases being actually reported, the numbers are still grim. And whether a police controlled walk would be enough to lift the fear that plagues the women in the city, and very legitimately so, is something women such as Laxmi highly doubt.
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