The police response to rape, the latest one being the violation and murder of a young Hyderabad veterinarian, has been most often inappropriate or inadequate. In the Hyderabad case, the police gunned down the alleged accused, an incident which was lauded by many, but raises worrying questions about due process. In other cases, the response is usually indifference.
It takes courage for a woman to approach the police in a rape case, thanks to fear and stigma. But once she does, there seems little by way of proper forensic evidence gathering – this must be done within 24 hours – or even empathy shown to the victim. Last year, I read the story of a child who had been raped in Punjab, and was kept waiting traumatised and injured all night at a police station, as the personnel dragged their feet on registering a case. Much has been discussed about mainstreaming gender rights into the police system, but little has been done.
The same prejudices prevalent in a patriarchal society are present among many policemen who come from the same milieu. Given the alarming rate at which crimes against women and girls is increasing, the police have to be made more aware of gender justice and its myriad forms. We have a strong government; there is no excuse not to begin these reforms.
The community and the police cannot work in isolation. The police have to work harder to engage local communities in the fight against gender violence. The police can use its might to work with non-governmental organisations and other community organisations to set up specific activities to combat the issue of violence against women whether within the home, public harassment, stalking and rape.
There are different forms of violence specific to localities. There are certain areas where there has been a spate of rape cases reported. There are urban areas which are unsafe for women travelling back and forth from work. There are always miscreants near women’s colleges and universities looking for an opportunity to harass and harm. In slum areas, women have no privacy and are forced to stay in dwellings which are not secure.
Part of the reform, the push for which must come from the home ministry, should be to set up specialised units in police stations across the country, which can work with local communities. This could also help generate awareness on women’s consent and their autonomy, something which far too few Indian men know or accept.
The attitude of one of the accused in the Delhi gang rape is telling. He felt that the victim had no right to be out at that night and that harming her was only natural. He has no moral compass at all, no sense that what he had done was wrong. The reasons for this are many – a brutalised upbringing and often condoning of violence against women at home and the local environment. But the police can play an active role in changing perceptions as they are still considered to represent the state and, hence, are authority figures.
The idea that some forms of violence against women are justified, for example, giving her a slap for not cooking dinner properly, has to be challenged. It would help if more women were inducted into the police force and sensitised on how to deal with violence rather than falling in line with their male colleagues. Policing is a tough job, with few perks and long hours, not a profession that attracts too many women. This should also be addressed. Women police must be visible and vocal in police stations, which is not the case at the moment.
Many victims of public harassment have said that they did not get any support from the public. This could change with greater police initiatives involving the community. The home ministry has been particularly active. This could be one reform which will earn it accolades and show that it is trying to reverse the vicious tide against women in the country.