Horrendous is the only word that comes to mind when reading about the para-medical student, a girl who is battling for her life after being assaulted and gang-raped by four men in a bus in New Delhi.

For too many years now, Delhi has carried the unfortunate label of being a city unsafe for women, and is actually used as a shameful yardstick when comparisons are made between Indian cities on how they rank on the safety for women scale. Off late, there have been plenty of reports speculating about whether Mumbai is going the Delhi way, given the spike in cases of sexual violence against women here, assaults, robberies and murders.

It is time to stop the debates and start acting. No longer can policy makers cluck in sympathy and shake their heads in disgust at the situation in the Capital. Take an absolute zero-tolerance approach towards violence against women to start making a difference — change the penalties for rape. One has to also remember that sexual assaulters often kill their victims.

More importantly, let mindsets start changing now. Sexual harassment needs to be thought of as a grievous, very serious crime. Do not focus on what women were wearing, at what time of the night they were travelling, why they boarded an empty public vehicle, why they did this or that or attracted attention or whatever. Change the focus to: zero tolerance for physical violence and assault against women.

Do not put the burden on women to be sensible, safe, suspicious or learn self-defence to combat assaults. Don’t try to sweep things under the carpet by saying that it is not violence against women that is increasing but that the media is sensationalising things. Look at the crime and statistics straight in the eye and dial Code Red from now. It is time to turn outrage into action.