Not easy for women in a Police Station

If educated women or those from influential families find it difficult to engage with the police, what can poor women in the margins do? Sumiran Preet Kaur Delhi

It's almost impossible for educated or professional women in Delhi to go to a police station, especially in the night. The affluent society women might never have visited a police station in their lifetime, unless it's a case like Jessica Lal, when socialites and fashionistas were made to answer questions. Even in daytime it is plain difficult for ordinary Indian women from the margins, or who don't have any influence whatsoever, to enter police stations. This is not a general rule but a repetitive narrative.

And if this is the scenario in Delhi, it's like a nightmare in mofussil townships and interior villages. Witness for instance the police stations in western UP, Omkara territory, where between crime and law and order, the lines are so terribily blurred. Tribals and Dalits, especially women, are routinely refused entry in police stations. In a classically perverse sense, it is often the typical scenario shown in old parallel cinema like Aakrosh - check out innumerable stories of women assaulted, degraded and humiliated in Indian villages, or where movements against displacement are consolidating like in Lalgarh, Kalinganagar, Kashipur or Dantewada, or close to the capital in the caste khaps of Haryana and western UP, in the lynching and public spectacles of torture and death sentences given to women in the form of honour killings.

Rashi Mehra works with Sweccha, an NGO. She was the president of the Gargi College Students' Union in Delhi University, when, on September 16, 2007, she saw it point-blank - male, machismo's perversity as a public spectacle. A gang of nearly 300 young men who had come to appear for the 'constable exams' in Delhi Police, went berserk around the north campus of  Delhi University, attacking, abusing and molesting female students.

"I was in the south campus when we heard of this. We spoke to the girls who were molested. Since they were shocked, and shy of approaching the police, we formed a Joint Action Committee Group (JACG). We, a group of girls from Lady Sri Ram, Hindu, St. Stephen's, Kamala Nehru and Gargi College, went to the Maurice Nagar police station, which has north campus under its jurisdiction. But the FIR was not lodged. "We were told that you cannot lodge an FIR as we were not the ones who were molested. Do we have to be raped or molested first to get an FIR lodged for a woman who has been brutally attacked?" questions Rashi Mehra angrily.

"The police categorically told us that since we were not the ones who were molested and  there were too many men it was not possible to recognise and arrest them. We requested them that the FIR can surely be lodged on somebody's behalf, since it happened in a public place. No luck. Next time, when our group went again to the police station, they said, so where all did the guys touch them? It was so embarrassing," she says

Now if the police has behaved like this in the capital of India, where will the other girls go ?"

After two weeks, the JACG met the then Union human resource development minister Arjun Singh. They also approached the National Commission for Women (NCW). Two weeks later, an FIR was lodged. "How come the delayed FIR was lodged this time? The atmosphere in the police station was very intimidating. The police did not seem approachable at all. Even the women constables were of no help. They were rude and asked all sorts of questions which made no sense," says Rashi.

Beena Thakkar (name changed) was frequently abused by her husband. She had gone back to her parents' home several times, but had to come back to her husband's house since her parents insisted that "like all women she should make adjustments". "One day, he came back home drunk and forced me to have sex with him. I didn't want to. He beat me up. That day it was so severe that I went to the nearby police station. There was no woman official there. I was highly uncomfortable telling all the details. My FIR was not lodged. The experience was traumatic. Maybe it's because they knew my in-laws," says Beena stoically.

Beena, now a 'contract teacher' in a government school in Delhi and divorced, has come a long way. She is trying to find her feet again with great difficulty, but at least she does not have to face the violence of that man day after day. But she has little faith in the government, or the police. She is on her own, like many other women survivors of male violence in this country.

Most women feel that there should be sensitivity within the police force with regard to women's complainants. Rashmi Anand of Lawyers Collective, who herself has been a victim of domestic violence, feels that women have different kind of needs which has to be dealt with extra care and sensitivity. "Sometimes, because of the background they come from, they are shy of discussing everything with the men. So we need people who can listen to them patiently. We have to deal with their apprehensions. Indeed, it is possible to solve their problems."

Anand works with the Delhi Police Women's Cell based in Nanakpura in Moti Bagh, to provide free legal aid to those whose cases have been referred to them by the womens' cell.

Enter the womens' cell in Nanakpura and you can hear subdued female voices in the counselling rooms. The women are discussing their problems in the presence of a counsellor. Asserting that women have different needs when compared to men, ACP Pratima Sharma says that the cases that come to them get individual attention. 

"The entire city comes under our jurisdiction. We have female police officials here. If it is a family problem and there is any scope of reconciliation, we go for counselling. The female counsellors are from TISS (Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai) and funding is given by the NCW, while the infrastructure is provided by Delhi Police. If counselling fails, and couples want mutual separation, we go for a mediation process where we explain all the legal aspects. But in cases where they are adamant to lodge an FIR, we first explain the repercussions, and then lodge an FIR. Then the case goes to the court. In such cases we have NGOs like the Lawyers Collective which comes to the cell on specific days and gives free legal aid."

However, the fact is there is only one cell of this kind in Delhi. Is it not less for women who want to lodge a complaint or seek police help?

"What if a woman out on the road is having a problem? She can contact a nearby PCR van or police station. Indeed, in such cases, you cannot always have a woman police official on duty. The solution does not lie in opening new women's cells, but in social sensitisation. The attitude of the police and people has to change. When we approach them, they either ask us to disappear, go back home, or start moral policing. I have been asked by the police: what kind of a college president are you, why do you smoke, or what are you doing at this hour?" says Rashi Mehra.

 

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: FEBRUARY 2010

#Tags: