'nui­sance' for po­lice?

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Afzal A. Shi­gri

CUL­TURAL and so­ci­etal val­ues, prej­u­dices and cus­toms tend to be ac­cepted un­ques­tion­ingly and re­flected in all aspects of so­ci­ety. Of­ten, they are also re­sis­tant to change. So­ci­ety, dur­ing the course of its evo­lu­tion, has treated women as in­fe­rior, with ma­tri­ar­chal so­ci­eties a rare ex­cep­tion.

De­spite the de­vel­op­ment of com­plex and so­phis­ti­cated so­cial struc­tures, women have been con­signed to the pe­riph­ery. Even in the West, more specif­i­cally the US, which stands as the stan­dard bearer for women's eman­ci­pa­tion, the right to vote was pledged af­ter decades of strug­gle in 1912 by the fore­run­ners of mod­ern-day fem­i­nists.

Hence, it is only to be ex­pected that gov­er­nance struc­tures have been dom­i­nated by a pa­tri­ar­chal set-up and led by men with a vested in­ter­est in sus­tain­ing male hege­mony. In­deed, the im­pact of this cul­tur­ally sanc­tioned male dom­i­nance on the jus­tice sys­tem can be so over­whelm­ing that even the best of leg­is­la­tion re­mains open to dis­torted im­ple­men­ta­tion.

The most im­por­tant area of the present com­plex gov­er­nance struc­ture in Pak­istan is the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem, with the front of­fice be­ing the po­lice sta­tion, which is the lo­cus of in­ter­ac­tion be­tween the in­sti­tu­tion and the com­mon man across the coun­try. Male chau­vin­ism and hege­monic prac­tices there­fore have a strong in­flu­ence on the bi­ased be­hav­iour of po­lice to­wards women.

How­ever, the same cul­ture, which de­nies women a voice and au­ton­omy, also en­tails dif­fer­ent treat­ment and a cer­tain amount of def­er­ence based on gen­der. This cul­tural phe­nom­e­non is re­flected in the pro­ce­dural laws wherein no woman can be body-searched by a male. This not only im­per­ils the lives of po­lice per­son­nel in the present se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion but also de­nies them the op­por­tu­nity to make pos­si­ble dis­cov­er­ies of sig­nif­i­cance as the zenankhana may only be en­tered af­ter the women liv­ing there are given an op­por­tu­nity to leave the place.

In case of crim­i­nal cases, ex­cept for heinous of­fences, the fe­male ac­cused is al­lowed bail. Sim­i­larly, she can­not be de­tained in a po­lice sta­tion and must be sent to the ju­di­cial lock-up be­fore sun­set. She can only be in­ter­ro­gated for in­ves­ti­ga­tion in the pres­ence of a woman po­lice of­fi­cer or a se­nior po­lice of­fi­cer. Sim­i­larly, for the ar­rest of a woman in a crim­i­nal case, the po­lice party must be ac­com­pa­nied by a fe­male po­lice of­fi­cer or a woman from the lo­cal­ity. Th­ese le­gal pro­vi­sions are fur­ther elab­o­rated on and strength­ened through rules, reg­u­la­tions and de­part­men­tal stand­ing in­struc­tions. In big cities, sep­a­rate women po­lice sta­tions have been es­tab­lished staffed by fe­male po­lice of­fi­cers for deal­ing with women. In case of a vic­tim seek­ing shel­ter in a po­lice sta­tion, she is sent to a govern­ment fa­cil­ity set up for this pur­pose and in case of its non-avail­abil­ity, to an NGO. In ru­ral ar­eas, such a woman is sent to stay with the fam­ily of a per­son of good rep­u­ta­tion and in­tegrity.

De­spite th­ese elab­o­rate le­gal pro­vi­sions for pro­tect­ing them, the re­al­ity is that women suf­fer at the hands of the male-dom­i­nated po­lice forces. When faced with deal­ing with cases in­volv­ing women, even the most com­pas­sion­ate po­lice of­fi­cers con­sider it a nui­sance, and their ef­fort is to shift re­spon­si­bil­ity by re­fer­ring the cases to their se­niors or to other in­sti­tu­tions. Po­lice of­fi­cers in field as­sign­ments treat cases in­volv­ing women as a di­ver­sion from their nor­mal du­ties with the po­ten­tial of at­tract­ing neg­a­tive me­dia re­ports or com­plaints by the women against the in­ves­ti­ga­tors they dread most. Most of the cases filed are re­lated to do­mes­tic vi­o­lence or dis­putes that have failed to be re­solved by the fam­ily or the in­for­mal com­mu­nity struc­tures. The po­lice sta­tion is ap­proached as a last re­sort by such women who are likely to have al­ready ex­hausted other av­enues for re­solv­ing their fam­ily dis­putes.

In such cases also, the po­lice nor­mally avoid tak­ing le­gal ac­tion and ad­vise the vic­tim to seek re­me­di­a­tion of the griev­ance through fam­ily or civil so­ci­ety tra­di­tional struc­tures or even by in­volv­ing the per­pe­tra­tor of the vi­o­lence. As a last op­tion, the po­lice may agree to ini­ti­ate le­gal ac­tion, and con­trary to pop­u­lar per­cep­tion, may do so with a healthy re­spect for the dig­nity of the women. Even if it is a plainly crim­i­nal act, the po­lice tend to treat it as a per­sonal and pri­vate mat­ter, which should be set­tled within the fam­ily or through civil so­ci­ety struc­tures.

Such an at­ti­tude is shaped by their ex­pe­ri­ence that de­spite ini­ti­a­tion of le­gal ac­tion, the in­volved par­ties will end up en­gag­ing in com­pro­mise. Th­ese rec­on­cil­i­a­tions are gen­er­ally weighed against the woman where even her close re­la­tions pres­surise her to reach a com­pro­mise, and the po­lice willingly fa­cil­i­tate them know­ing pros­e­cu­tion to be fu­tile.

In cases of mo­lesta­tion and work­place ha­rass­ment, the at­ti­tude is even more com­pli­cated and the stan­dard re­ac­tion is to evade ac­tion. In most rape cases, the com­plaint is lodged with in­or­di­nate de­lay that is fa­tal to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion as all foren­sic ev­i­dence is lost. A case lost be­fore be­ing ini­ti­ated is a night­mare for the po­lice as they will be ul­ti­mately blamed for ac­quit­tal of the ac­cused, and the po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tor will be faced with the prospect of a fu­tile ques­tion­ing of the woman in ques­tion to es­tab­lish the ve­rac­ity of her state­ment.

On the other hand, an in­for­mal sys­tem in tribal set­tings pun­ishes the en­tire fam­ily of the ac­cused by yet an­other in­jus­tice to the fe­male mem­bers of his fam­ily through the cus­tom of vani and sawara or hon­our killings.

While some progress has been made with an ever-vig­i­lant me­dia and civil so­ci­ety check­ing the wrong­do­ings of the law en­forcers, it is im­por­tant that the po­lice are trained and sen­si­tised to the plight of women who con­tinue to suf­fer in the name of fam­ily hon­our.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.