Women tread with fear in Pune

By Shalmali Bhagwat

Despite securing the second rank in Ease of Living Index, women in Pune are not secure in the city as daily episodes of horrific crimes against women are building up collective anxiety.

19 arrests have been made so far in an abduction and gang-rape of a 14-year-old girl in Pune over a course of two days. An autorickshaw driver allegedly kidnapped her from Pune Railway Station under the pretext of helping her find a place to stay. This case was closely followed by a 32-year-old rickshaw driver allegedly raping a 6-year-old girl and arrest has been made by Bundgarden Police Station in this case. The occurrence of these two cases within 48 hours has shocked the city.

Crime statistics:

The latest e-bulletin released by CID does not allot a specific section for crime against woman, rape cases or POCSO but the total number of cases under ‘offences affecting human body’ are 753 in the period from January to March 2021 alone. In the period from January to March 2020 Pune registered offences affecting the human body around 380. In 2020, Maharashtra recorded highest number of rape with murder cases too.

 The POCSO cases reflect a dangerous upward trend in Maharashtra from 16918 in 2017 to 19592 in 2019 leading other states in the number of complaints registered under this head. About 50 percent were trapped online and subjected to sexual assault or initiated in a sexual relationship under the pretext of marriage. 

 

Measures for women safety:

Under the supervision of Pune Police Commissioner K.K Pathak, the Bharosa Cell in Pune city instituted the Damini Squad in 2015, a team of female officers to assist a woman in need on the streets and in public places against any possible threat to security. The cases associated with Damini Squad in the past have included Maharashtra government has also introduced different measures to curb rise in crime against women like Mahila Suraksha Samiti and Social Security Cell.

 In 2020 the Pune Police also issued a press release stating that women working late at night shall be escorted with a police vehicle if necessary and they can dial the 1091 helpline so that 2 beat Marshalls can escort them safely till home. 

Safety near railway stations:

The consecutive sexual assaults have also led to questions being raised about police presence at railway stations in Pune. Pune Police Commissioner Amitabh Gupta has also assured people of swift changes in rules for public transport providers to better women safety.

Currently meetings are being conducted between railway stations RPF (Railway Police Force), GRP (Government Railway Police), and Pune traffic police. There are 72 cameras installed on the Pune railway station to keep a watch on illegal activities and police presence in public places is under scanner in Pune now. 

Legal obstacles:

The Criminal Law Amendment Act 2013 also popularly referred to as Anti-Rape Act introduced massive changes in Indian legal system with inclusion of offences like acid attack under the broad definition, lowering age to be tried as an adult from 18 to 16, boosting up the severity of punishment and mandating registration of complaints in these cases and guaranteeing medico-legal care. Provisions look good on paper however the ground reality is very different. 

Source: CID Bulletin- January to March 2021- Pune

The Ministry of Law and Justice stated in a reply in Parliament that about 163,112 lakh cases are currently pending before various fast-track courts in Maharashtra with the state ranking second in terms of pendency of cases before fast-track courts. “Pune has a special POCSO court but no fast-track court for rape victims. Also, the problem with fast-track courts is that several cases of different nature both civil and criminal are diverted to these courts making their function to speed up processes redundant,” according to criminal lawyer Advocate Siddharth Patil who is based in Pune.    

The poor conviction rate in Pune and overall Maharashtra cannot solely be attributed to the judiciary, he adds. “For example, rickshaw drivers are noted as witnesses in the complaint rather than shopkeepers who are based in one location. So many times it is observed that the witnesses can’t be traced and the argument loses its reliability,” he added. “The complainant is not familiarised with a court-room which is an in-camera trial in these cases, and absence of prior counselling often results in confusion,” according to him.

Maharashtra recently received three DNA machines for three crores each, procured under Nirbhaya fund in order to speed up the process of investigation in crime against women and children. Discussions around women safety continue to appear in popular discourse only after horrific crimes or high-profile cases. The utilisation of Nirbhaya fund in this context feels like a stone hurled in the ocean, as ill-lit streets, deserted roads and sparse patrolling plague the minds of women. We still walk down dark alleys with clenched fists and palpitating hearts hoping that just this once no harm befalls us. Just this once. 

An interview with Advocate Rama Sarode, a legal consultant and trainer based in Pune actively working in the realm of human rights, who is associated with Sahyog Trust which recently started a free helpline across Maharashtra to assist sexual assault victims with counselling and legal aid.