POLICE APATHY OVER STALKING

Mehru Jaffer

Women are harassed worldwide but, in India, the lack of empathy of most law enforcement agencies regarding problems faced by women is shocking. As far as the law is concerned, the position of women in society is equal but in reality whenever things go wrong in the home, street or office it is invariably the fault of the woman who is promptly held responsible and punished.

Take Khabar Lahariya as an example. This is a newspaper managed by a group of rural women journalists in Uttar Pradesh (UP). In January, five members of the Khabar Lahariya team received repeated phone calls from a man using numerous phone numbers.

He just wanted to talk to the women he called at odd hours of the day and night, often asking them to meet him just for fun. The caller identified himself as Nishu and refused to stop calling despite several requests. When asked to go away, Nishu threatened, intimidated and stalked the Khabar Lahariya reporters for over three months.

They were afraid that he would throw acid on them and finally filed complaints and formal FIRs at police stations in Banda, Chitrakoot and Mahoba. Despite providing all the information and statements to the police, no action was taken.

The reporters complained to 1090, the Women Power Line, and to the Vodafone company. But do you think the harassment ended?

It was only in September, after the reporters talked to The Ladies Finger, a new women’s zine writing mostly what it wants to read, that the office of the chief minister woke up to their plight. The response the report generated on the social media regarding the attitude of the police towards sexual violence included directives to take immediate action. After that report, there was pressure on the authorities to act.

“We got calls from the police asking us where we were,” says Kavita, Editor, Khabar Lahariya. Two days later, the culprit was found, arrested and put in judicial custody in Banda. The accused, identified as Saddam alias Nishu from Sonbhadra district, confessed that he was in possession of over 40 fake SIM cards.

At a press conference in Lucknow, Kavita appreciated the swift action taken by the police after being ordered to do so by the high-ups. Meera, Chief of Operations, Khabar Lahariya, said that the working environment for women journalists, especially in the districts of UP, is extremely dangerous. She added that male colleagues and officials are insensitive towards female reporters. She sought some sort of security in her workplace and for the 1090 helpline to be made more efficient and accountable.

Speaking of her experience as a senior correspondent of Jan Morcha, Suman Gupta said that female reporters fear for their security during assignments. Jagmohan Yadav, Director General, Police, told the Khabar Lahariya reporters when they went to thank him for nabbing Nishu that they should rest assured that many efforts were being made to make the state a safer place for women. Yadav admitted that the biggest challenge was to change the mindset of those in charge of police stations in the district.

At the police station, Nishu was brought face to face with the female reporters who found him smiling. He said that it was the women who had tortured him by not talking to him and never calling him back. He even said that he had not bothered the women then but would now! “There was no question of him apologising to us,” Kavita said.

And what did the policemen do but smile back, saying that Nishu was just a young, unemployed and confused man. That he did not mean to harm anyone of them! This is despite the fact that the police confiscated 40 fake SIM cards from him and were told that he seemed to know exactly when to call the female journalists: when the paper had to go to press and they were caught in the midst of work.

Kavita feels that the police would not have arrested Nishu if the incident had not hit the headlines on social media.

When they complained to the crime branch they were told that the police received similar complaints every day and that theirs was nothing special.

“We were already traumatised by the anonymous phone calls that were accompanied by abusive vocabulary. Then the police put us on the defensive by asking us odd questions. That made us feel even more helpless,” recalls Kavita.

In a way, the women found the police adding to their harassment although the police is quite capable of taking quick action when it wants to.

Why the police does not do this and, instead, all female complaints are dismissed as unimportant whimpering is the question.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: OCTOBER 2015