Historically, women have held a contested place within the patriarchal society found in India. Human Right activists declaring the country a “dangerous place to be a woman.” The deep-seated patriarchy that resides in India enables women to be treated as ‘second-class’ citizens. India’s legal system is framed by systemic sexism, founded on the ideology that a woman is subservient to a man. The deep-rooted belief that a woman’s place is second to that of a man has enabled men to perform horrific crimes, such as rape, with little to no repercussions. The 2012 Delhi gang rape marked a ‘watershed’ moment for the women of India. Changes to the repressive legal system seemed imminent. The government declared its ambitious anti-rape stance, establishing the $113 million Nirbhaya fund in 2013, designed to support sexual assault survivors. The principal focus to improve infrastructures and prioritize the safety and rehabilitation of victims. However, reports suggest minimal changes have been made to reduce rape culture in India. Business today reports only 9% of the funds were utilized during 2020; the majority of which are accounted for by India’s Home Ministry.
Recent data suggest that since the funds’ establishment in 2013, funds allocated to government departments and state governments have been heavily underutilized. The Federal Women and Child Ministry has reportedly used 20% of their allocated funds–which helped create crisis centres, shelters, and supported female police volunteers–while the Delhi state government utilized less than 5% of their Nirbhaya funds.
Kailash, Leader of the Children’s Foundation believes the “the abysmally low utilization of Nirbhaya Fund is a testimony to the fact that there is very little or no political will to ensure the safety and security of women in our country.” Economist Reetika discusses how a major contributing factor to organizations ‘sitting on their money’ is due to the hurdles created to access or use funds. The paperwork for many organizations is overbearing, with no guarantee they will continue to receive funds. Therefore, they are reluctant to implement programs that are reliant on federal charity. India’s Home Ministry is the greatest benefactor of Nirbhaya funding, using the money predominantly on roading, lighting, and CCTV. Asha Devi, Nirbhaya’s mother, says the funds should be used for women’s security and empowerment, not road construction.
According to Oxfam’s calculation, the Nirbhaya fund was extremely underfunded. To support 60% of affected women the fund would have needed an injection of close to 1.3 billion dollars. Despite seemingly well-placed intention, the significant lack of funding confirms the government’s nonchalant attitude towards misogyny.
The anti-rape laws and medical guidelines established in response to Nirbhaya have not reduced or abated crimes against women. For many, the pursuit of justice seems futile. Survivor Pinky reportedly waited nearly two hours at the Lucknow police station to be told police will “only get involved if the perpetrator is a stranger.” Lawyer, Shubhangi Singh states public hospitals fundamentally lack the resources to support women. Hospitals do not have enough rape detection kits or lock bags to collect and transport evidence.
According to activist Meenakshi, systemic changes are necessary; “reforms take a long time, and there are no short-term measures.” Gender rights advocates suggest the emphasis needs to be on empowering women. Women need the confidence to use their voices and exercise their human rights. The empowerment of women in-turn creates a cultural shift in the way men perceive and treat women. To change the patriarchal system, re-education must occur from the bottom up
To ensure women in India are adequately supported by the government, the allocation of funding needs to be monitored by a regulated body. It is vital funds are allocated to the re-educating of civil servants. Casual misogyny extends to all social and health-care systems; it’s important doctors and police are trained to support patients in cases of rape and abuse.
India is not alone in the battle for gender equality, worldwide there needs to be greater education regarding consent, sexuality, and gender. It is a fundamental human right that women feel safe, secure, and protected. Continual advances are made in the fight towards a gender equilibrium. It is imperative India utilizes national resources to empower women through the re-education of outdated misogyny. Annual protests occur on the anniversary of the Delhi rape; to ensure Nirbhaya’s legacy lives on, women must value their role within society and fight for equality and justice.