In the winter of 2012, a horrific and barely comprehensible act of extreme violence seized the country’s attention. In the following weeks and months, nationwide protests erupted demanding justice and most importantly, change. There are few moments in a country’s history that come to determine its future. This was one such moment of reckoning wherein the responsibility to do better fell not only on those in charge but also on society at large. What had occurred could never be allowed to happen again, but the road to redemption was always going to be a complicated one.
During the presentation of the Union Budget two months later, the Finance Minister announced the creation of a fund called the ‘Nirbhaya Fund’. The purpose of the fund was to provide financial support for the ‘empowerment, safety, and security of women and girl children’. The allocation of resources towards this effort was a positive development but the actual work to be done would require sustained attention. Violence against women continues to occur in this country on a daily basis, with a recent report published by Oxfam India highlighting some truly disheartening statistics. These include –
- One woman/girl is raped every 15 minutes as per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB)
- 33% of women report having suffered some form of domestic violence
- 6% of married women report having experienced physical, sexual, or emotional violence regularly in the preceding 12 months
- 52% of women and 42% of men believe that a husband is justified in beating his wife
- Only 14% of women who have experienced violence report seeking help as of 2015/16
These statistics reveal just how deeprooted the problem is. Similarly, the report also tracked how the fund has been utilised over the years and the findings here reveal a distinct lack of a concentrated effort. For example, most of the fund is allocated to the Home Ministry who spend the money on infrastructure (CCTVs, better street lighting, safer public transport, panic buttons in taxis etc.) While these solutions might help make public spaces more secure they dont address the fact that in 80% of the cases the acts of violence are committed by someone known to the victim. Activists have put forward solutions like training the police, judiciary, legal aid, health and social workers in gender sensitisation as a more effective way to reduce instances of violence.
Another issue that the report found was that the Nirbhaya Fund is both underfunded and underutilised. To even reach just 60% of the affected women, the government would have to increase its spending five-fold. In recent years, the amount allocated for the fund has been in steady decline. The share of the annual budget of the fund was around 6% when it was first established but as of 2020 it declined to under 4%. Of the funds that are available to the states, very little ends up actually being spent. The reasons for this seem to largely revolve around redtapism and bottlenecks in the channels through which the funds are meant to travel. Thus far, what has happened is that governments have made initial investments insetting up crisis centers and so on but do not sustain the funding which helps pay for salaries and run these centers over a longer term. As a result, these centers are not as effective as they ought to be.
The Oxfam report believes that the current share of the funds, which is 60:40 between the central and state governments, should be revised so that the center receives 90% of the funds itself. In such a scenario the center can take up responsibility as a singular organisation rather than relying on a coordinated effort by various state governments. Decisions made by the center should also be implemented as policy decisions which will then have to be followed across the board.
The government has taken steps to improve gender equality in the country but these measures largely revolve around economics. For example, there have been schemes introduced which encourage women entrprenuership via skill development and digital literacy. As a part of the governments programme to construct homes, they have mandated in some cases that a woman must be at least a co-owner in order for a family to have access to the housing. These policies are a step in the right direction, but tackling such a complex issue will require a multi-faceted approach.
Going beyond the actual amount of money to be spent, there needs to be a clear and concentrated effort in terms of what needs to be done across all levels. Training of personnel is one avenue for improvement but physical resources such as rapekits, food, clothing, medicine, etc. also need to be made available with consistency to those in need. The government only seems to be interested in the issues if there are demands from the public or outrage over a heinous crime. As a result, their efforts are largely reactionary and the issue of the safety of women appear to be lower down on their agenda.