Soon after the horrific case of brutal gangrape in a moving Delhi bus came to light, there have been many calls for harsh (and hopefully swift) punishment, such as life imprisonment, death penalty, “Bobbitisation”, chemical castration, etc. The problem is that these are all post-crime actions; and there is simply not enough evidence to suggest that strong punishments are deter such crimes.
Two suggestions for dealing with such tragedies. The first relates to individuals and society at large. The second deals with employers and institutional actors. Improving societal behaviour (rather, that of individuals) is difficult and takes time.
There are lessons we can draw from the revamping of Bogota, Colombia, which was also a chaotic and unsafe city just a few years back.
Beyond just violence against women, there were drug cartels and terrorist attacks to deal with. The change was successful not merely through local governance, democratisation, etc., but purposeful efforts to align the circles of society. The local governments (several successive mayors) realized that no amount of laws (even with enforcement) would be enough as long as what people wanted to do (cultural norms) didn’t fit within the legal framework.
So what did they do?
They started vast campaigns of public awareness, including hiring street mimes to embarrass people indulging in bad behaviour, not to mention handing out football style yellow and red cards (football in Colombia carries the passions of people akin to cricket combined with Bollywood in India). They also took a lot of steps to make it easy to do the right thing (soft paternalism), including creation of spaces for pedestrians, hawkers, paid parking, etc, so there would be order and legal options for all the above to coexist. This improved broader compliance with the law.
While other steps such as rights for empowering women, gun take-backs, etc were also undertaken, it was a collective effort of citizens that ultimately worked, to the extent that Bogota has been called one of the more livable cities in the world, especially in developing regions.