The force is fe­male: In­dia’s women cops take a stand

Muscat Daily - - OPINION -

All-women po­lice units are shak­ing up the male-dom­i­nated force in con­ser­va­tive north­west In­dia, hit­ting the streets to com­bat sex crimes and a per­va­sive cul­ture of si­lence around rape.

One such squad in Jaipur has been pa­trolling bus stops, col­leges and parks where women are vul­ner­a­ble to sex­ual ha­rass­ment.

Women can face a bar­rage on In­dia’s streets, en­dur­ing ev­ery­thing from lewd jokes and strangers fol­low­ing them - of­ten dis­missed as in­no­cent ‘eve teas­ing’ - to phys­i­cal at­tacks and rape.

“The mes­sage we want to send out is that we have zero tol­er­ance to­wards crimes against women,” said Ka­mal Shekhawat, who heads the spe­cial­ist Jaipur unit es­tab­lished in late May.

In­dia has a grue­some record on sex crimes, with nearly 40,000 rapes re­ported ev­ery year. But the real fig­ure is thought to be much higher, with vic­tims wary of how their com­plaints will be dealt with.

In­dia’s po­lice force is over­whelm­ingly male - women make up just seven per cent of of­fi­cers - and ac­tivists com­plain that vic­tims are of­ten judged by their ap­pear­ance, asked prob­ing ques­tions, or even blamed for pro­vok­ing the crime.

The shame at­tached to rape in In­dia’s deeply pa­tri­ar­chal so­ci­ety,

and fear of reprisal, means many sex crimes are not re­ported and of­fend­ers go un­pun­ished.

Shekhawat hopes the vis­i­ble pres­ence of women of­fi­cers on the beat will en­cour­age more women in Jaipur to re­port their abusers know­ing they will find a sym­pa­thetic ear.

“Women po­lice are more em­pa­thetic and vic­tims also feel more con­fi­dent and are able to com­mu­ni­cate openly be­fore them,” she said.

Boost­ing con­fi­dence

At a park in Jaipur, con­sta­ble Saroj Chod­huary dis­mounted from her scooter and ap­proached a group of sari-clad women to in­tro­duce her­self.

“You can just make a call or even mes­sage on What­sApp and we will be right there,” she said, clad in khaki uni­form and white hel­met as she passed around her de­tails.

“Your iden­tity will not be re­vealed, so you can feel free to

reg­is­ter your com­plaint. If some­one makes cat calls or trou­bles you in any way, do let us know. Don’t take law in your own hands.”

The women ap­pear im­pressed by her au­thor­ity - Chod­huary and her col­leagues are trained in mar­tial arts and spent months learn­ing the law - and re­lieved to know help was just a phone call away.

Radha Jhabua, a 24 year old mother, said she wanted to com-

plain about a neigh­bour stalk­ing her but her hus­band feared it would bring the fam­ily a bad name.

“He told me to keep quiet and wait for the man to change his ways. I am glad we can now just send a What­sapp mes­sage to these sis­ters and they will take care of the rest,” she told AFP.

Seema Sahu, a 38 year old mother of two, said she usu­ally avoided go­ing out at night with her daugh­ters. “I am so glad now

these po­lice women will be on the roads. Their very pres­ence gives us con­fi­dence,” she said.

Restor­ing or­der

In­dia faced in­ter­na­tional scru­tiny over lev­els of vi­o­lence against women fol­low­ing the fa­tal gan­grape of a med­i­cal stu­dent in New Delhi in De­cem­ber 2012.

Laws to pun­ish sex of­fend­ers were strength­ened in the af­ter­math, but at­tacks are still wide­spread. In the cap­i­tal New Delhi alone there were 2,199 rape cases in 2015 - an av­er­age of six a day.

In­dia’s po­lice has been or­dered to re­cruit more women of­fi­cers so women make up a third of the force. But so far, their num­bers re­main low.

The Jaipur unit is just the sec­ond in Ra­jasthan state, with the first es­tab­lished in Udaipur last Oc­to­ber.

Po­lice in neigh­bour­ing Ut­tar Pradesh have come un­der fire for their con­tro­ver­sial ap­proach to com­bat sex-re­lated crimes in the no­to­ri­ously law­less state.

There of­fi­cers, in­clud­ing women, pa­trolling in so-called ‘anti-Romeo squads’ have been ac­cused of ha­rass­ing un­mar­ried and in­ter­faith cou­ples in an ef­fort to en­force a mo­ral code re­flect­ing Hindu val­ues.

Shekhawat said no such meth­ods would be adopted un­der her watch. “We have seen a very good im­pact and pos­i­tive re­sults wher­ever our teams are on pa­trol,” she said. “It is hav­ing a preven­tive ef­fect. It is restor­ing the faith of the pub­lic in the po­lice which is a must for main­tain­ing law and or­der.”

Men are tak­ing note, too. “It’s a very good move. When a man gets rounded up by these women, oth­ers will au­to­mat­i­cally feel the heat. They will have to mend their ways,” said Jaipur res­i­dent Ram Lal Gu­jar.

Mem­bers (left) of a women po­lice pa­trol unit drive through the old city in Jaipur; Ka­mal Shekhawat, head of the po­lice pa­trol unit, talks on the phone at the po­lice com­mand cen­tre


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