Saturday, December 29, 2012

Tackling the rape problem

Why does one wake up only when something gross & vulgar as the recent gang rape & brutalisation of a 23 year old girl in New Delhi happens? It is not as if she was the 1st to be raped in India. She will not be the last, as well. That is the unfortunate fact of how we, as human beings, live. It sickens me endlessly to know that something like this happens around us, and I mean physically sickening. I write this post after recovering a little.
The reason I write this post is simply this: I am not an activist. I am a thinker. I am a problem solver. I am earnest in my urge to contribute in the best way I can to improve society & societal thinking - by writing & by debating. Not everyone must contribute in processions & slogan shouting. If anyone can use the points here & polish/implement this to improve the state of affairs, then I will consider my contribution worthy.
To me, the rape problem needs to be tackled at various levels. Education is vital but will not help all those who are currently walking the roads of cities & towns. Their brains are set to a large extent. Education too, is largely an act of hope. We hope that those whom we have educated will grow to live what they have learnt. This need not be the case. None of the white collar criminals were raised by families & schools which promoted dishonesty, yet they are, where they are. At the other end of the spectrum is the knee-jerk need for capital punishment. Rape, is often less premeditated than embezzlement (which can affect the lives of scores of people, depriving them of their hard earned savings etc.). Which should get a stricter sentence? I would leave that decision in the hands of less incensed folks.

What I outline below is a 9 step plan to significantly reduce the occurrence of rape without asking or expecting any change in the behaviour of victims. To expect that women behave this way or that is stupid. I cannot subscribe to that. If marrying off girls at the age of 18 or keeping them indoors is a solution, so does locking all men indoors solve the problem. Not creating an opportunity for rape doesn't mean hiding women or making them look undesirable. What a woman wishes to do with herself, her time, her preferences are her business. Even if those choices make her vulnerable, it is nobody's business to demand that she change them. It is the job of the government & citizen alike to ensure that we respect everyone's choices as long as they are restricted to themselves.
As a woman, what do I expect in a city to feel secure?
  • Safety on roads, public places, public modes of transport
  • Ready & immediate access to protection
  • Sensitive environment to seek redress
  • A healthy & mutually respectful environment
As a rapist, what will deter me from raping?
  • Someone always "watching"
  • Swift action by those around (citizens, police)
  • Absence of loopholes to escape from
  • Swift delivery of justice
Using these simple guidelines, here are my suggestions. I apply these suggestions to Delhi to provide an indication of practicality & feasibility. Applying it to other cities is a matter of arithmetic. There is little value in nitpicking details. The numbers below are for illustrative purposes & accuracy is not the intent. I proceed with suggestions that require least change in individual behaviour to suggestions that need some voluntary action.
Surveillance: Delhi has 28,508 km of roads (including national highways). Let's round it up to 30,000 km. If I had all the money in the world, I would install 4 CCTV cameras per km. That would mean that I require 120,000 CCTV cameras to cover the roads of Delhi. If 1 person can monitor 20 screens, then I would need to hire 6000 personnel to monitor the feeds from these cameras. Working in shifts of 6 hours, I would need 24000 personnel hired to man these screens. We would also need to setup rooms to house these screens & store feeds up to a week. If we place the mass production of CCTV cameras at 10K a piece (screen included), the total cost of installation is in the tune of 1,200,000,000 (120 crores). This is about one hundredth the cost of the Delhi Metro Phase 1. Yes, we need to provide salaries to the personnel hired. At 6000 per month (for working only 6 hours per day) the cost is about 14.4 crores a month. But it provides employment to the many who are not employed! So with a one time cost of 120 crores, an annual maintenance of about 50 crores & an annual resource cost of about 170 crores, this is far cheaper than the Delhi Metro project. Hence, I do not need all the money in the world. This is far less than the amount stolen by Kalmadi or other ministers. This is far less than the 2G scam numbers. Heck! This is less than what Satyam's Raju stole! For the government to state that this is too much money would be a shame. We'd rather have safer roads than the Delhi metro!
Beat cops: Delhi is 1484 square kilometers. Let's round it up to 1500 sqkm. If I had 4 beat policemen installed per square kilometer, I have them patrolling the area of 62500 sqmt per policeman. On a shift basis (again of 6 hours per beat), we need 16 policemen per square kilometer. This creates employment for 24000 people. At 6000 per month (for working only 6 hours per day) the cost is about 14.4 crores a month. Bicycles for them are (at the rate of 2500 per bicycle) expensed at 1.5 crores for the entire city. Given that all that a policeman has to cover is 62500 sqmt, a single round takes no more than 15 min. If the citizens participated in ensuring that the beat policeman did their job & aided them whenever possible, the city can easily be covered in about 175 crores per year. We can definitely take a mix of the options so far.

Simple alert: As a woman, I wish to be able to raise an alarm immediately without requiring complicated gadgets or complex education. If most electric utility poles and/or lamppost had a simple red button which, when I hit twice in quick succession (which one tends to do when desperately seeking help), would alert the nearest police station with the location from where this call for help arises, then I have tackled a simple problem of providing a quick & simple interface to raising a call for help. Since it is connected to the electrical system, it could easily be used to generate alerts in the local police stations. Again, given about 5 posts per km (i.e. at a space of 200 mt apart) & a cost of 50 per red button (mass produced), the cost of setting up the buttons is 0.75 crores. Add another 10 crores for the alert system in all police stations & we have an alert mechanism in place for less than 20 crores. Since the police are already there in the police station, no new staff needs to be hired. Since the button is a simple device placed at the height of 5' 4" on each pole it allows for most people to reach it. Accidental contact will be rejected as it requires two successive & rapid hits of the button. Worst case, there will be a few false alarms, but that is better than no means to raise an alarm. Railway stations, public arenas/malls etc. should also have these buttons. I would have them installed in every apartment & house too (many rapes happen at home as well).
Modern alerts: Citizens should be requested to install apps on their phone which make the alerting process simple & the subsequent process non-harrassing by the police answering the call for help. All mobile service providers must make this facility free of cost. Non-smart phones should allow sending a blank SMS-text to a nationally recognised number (across service providers) which lets the police home in on the location from where the SMS-text arose. Over and above the SMS-text reaching the nearest police station, the alert should also be sent to 3 other numbers that each person registers for this service. Citizens can sign up for receiving SMS-text requests coming around 500 metres of where they currently are. This lets people rush to help the (potential) victim.
Self-defence: All schools should make training their girls in self-defence, mandatory. Any woman who approaches the public utility store (ration shop) in their area should be provided a pepper-spray can free of cost. Since they cannot be sold, there is little corruption possible. Carrying one on your body is vital & family & friends will do well in reminding their lady-friends to carry one regularly.
With these in place, I would expect that the number of incidents of rapes (reported or unreported) would significantly reduce. India today reports about 25,000 rape cases a year which is about 1.8 per 100,000 people. Yes, it is much lower (unlike what Flavia Agnes reports in the first Tehelka link below) than in the West & many developed countries, but it is still a problem we can live without. We can deploy this solution in the top 5 cities where rape case are reported most, observe results, learn & improve the solution while deploying them in other cities over time. If this reduces the number of incidents even to a tenth of its current numbers, it is a solution well worth the cost. Speaking of costs, surveillance deployments help the police not only in tackling rape case but thefts, murder, etc. - multiple benefits.
How can we remove rape from its root?
Education: India struggles with providing education to most of its citizens. The education provided to the few, is mostly of a rudimentary literacy level and not education in its truest sense. Nevertheless, we must educate the future generations in being sensitive to human differences & variations. Sensitising children to each others needs, teaching them respect & caring for each other is far more important than learning calculus. Nearly all schools miss this obvious point. Teachers themselves are insensitive towards girl-children thereby passing on their archaic views to the young souls. Education is also not merely a matter of schools. Parents at home should also learn how to demonstrate this so that children grow to respecting women & each other. Educate your maids & your delivery boys. Educate the rickshaw drivers & vendors on the road. I talk to just about anybody who is willing to listen. Female infanticide is another reason why skewed sex ratios come into play leading to a milder voice of women in society. Right education will take many many years to right this wrong of perspective & view. It is nevertheless vital. Education is also required for girls to know how to conduct themselves in the unfortunate event of a rape (do not destroy evidence by bathing, report the issue to the police, seek help from citizen help organisations, etc.).
Sensitising public service: Police (men & women) are callous when treating rape victims. Their insensitive interrogation, their snide remarks on character (as revealed by the sting operation conducted by Tehelka on the police stations) & their lack of follow-up & support to the victims is unacceptable. Educating policemen, deploying more women in handling rape cases (though several complaints have been about insensitive women in the service) as well as in hearing them in courts, educating & supporting the family of the victims and never ever picking on the victim herself, are some of the means by which we can sensitise the service wings into making this entire process easier on the victims. It also discourages the criminals from assuming that "She won't get help anywhere" & carrying out his crime.
Timely legal process: Prolonging the agony often leads to the woman giving up or feeling shattered. It is vital to move swiftly on rape cases though not at the cost of making just decisions. Thorough investigation needs to be conducted to ensure that if a suspect is genuinely wrong, then he can be punished. Often the identified suspect need not be the one who did the criminal act. One must also ensure that his life is not affected/ruined unfairly. One must punish the criminal and also give him an opportunity to reform. To treat a murderer, thief or rapist as a lifelong criminal is something I am not in favour of. Yes, they acted wrongly, but are they beyond repair? If their are psychologically incapable of reform then they must be isolated but in humane ways. The current outrage & demand for hanging, capital punishment etc. are knee-jerk reactions which I do not subscribe to. None of the countries support that (to the best of my knowledge) & I do not find reason why India needs to be an exception.
Lifelong support: Rape victims as much as young witnesses to murder need lifelong emotional support. Once justice has been served, it is vital that the girl & her family are not ostracised from society or treated with condescension. The girl must be supported through her days of education, medical recovery & till she is in a position to live without support. Citizen participation is vital here. If none of those people who thronged the roads of Delhi in protest have the time to spare to aid & support a victim, their participation in those protests is as much as a farce as this government is. It is easy to raise hell but very difficult to silently & patiently participate in helping a girl grow up to psychologically live a normal life. I have signed am signing up for being a friend to any rape victim as long as she needs me.
With these 9 struts in place, I , as a woman, needn't fear life in a city. I, as a rapist, am deterred from performing my act & giving opportunity to reflect on things.

This is my contribution.
Lastly, do not support movies, advertisements or any other popular device of media where women are shown as naturally "keen" on being treated abusively (sexually or otherwise). Songs where the woman enjoys being spanked or stalker roles played by the "hero" only misguide the youth.
Some links to read:
  1. Some thoughts from various thinkers (some sensible, some reactionary):
  2. Why rapes will go on but what we can do:
  3. Delhi police: Why women deserve to be raped!
  4. She asked for it!



  1. Very well written ... The solutions indeed are practical, sensitive and go a long way to a society that improves holistically including towards attitude towards women

  2. Do please let know on how one goes about "signing up to be a friend" to a victim ...

  3. On the topic of "Simple alert" - the concept of Emergency Help points is quite prevalent in western railway stations (and other travel points). An example is this one found quite widely in the London tube and related travel systems:

    These are relatively easy to install + manage, quite robust and simple to use. We can easily adapt this design to the Indian landscape and requirements.

  4. Our CCTV cameras are working very efficiently and they are pretty easy to install as well. Also,we carry great experience in Fire Alarm System , Access Control System, Intrusion Alarm System, Public Address System, Fire Extinguishers, Turnkey Projects and Subcontracts.

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