Save our Women” is an independent and most interesting report on crimes against women in Uttar Pradesh (UP). The report was written by social activists Shefali Misra and Hema Badhwar Mehra, both Aam Aadmi Party contestants in the last Lok Sabha elections. Appalled by the ever increasing abuses suffered by women in UP, Misra and Badhwar—hailing from Sitapur and Badaun, respectively—decided to revisit Badaun, Bareilly and Mishrikh. “The recent surge of rapes, murders and sodomy are not one-off incidents in Uttar Pradesh. What seems like a spurt of bone-chilling incidents capturing national and global attention is, in fact, the indicator of a much deeper form of disempowerment,” the report concludes.

After extensive interviews with victims, their families, police, women police workers, social workers, lawyers, district authorities, the chief judicial magistrate, paralegal workers, village heads or pradhans and local citizens, the researchers found that the majority of ordinary citizens live in fear of those in positions of power. Affirming the existence of a goonda raj, people of several villages seemed helpless in the face of a nexus between the police and local hooligans. The police are bribed with regular remunerations, also called hafta. Deep in the countryside, there seems no way to put an end to extortion, crop-stealing, land-grabbing and the creation of local rifts by those with money and muscle.

Policemen, hungry for promotions, do not record complaints against influential offenders—especially those relating to women and girls. This neglect is also an attempt to keep crime records low. Victims are told to ‘manage’ things at the local level to avoid answering insensitive questions in court. Concerns such as shame and family honour are reinforced when families visit government officials and police stations with complaints. Across all the cases covered by Mishra and Mehra, the response time of the administration was found to be too slow. In Bareilly, the police and administration reached the crime scene too late, and in Sitapur, families had to literally beg the police to note their complaint and
initiate action.

The report uncovers the disgraceful method of offering financial compensation to families instead of strict law enforcement and watertight police vigilance, which strongly dilutes the severity of crimes and leads to a means of gaining political mileage and party homage. Further, insufficient funding and inept deployment of human resources—especially with regard to female police and para-police—have resulted in a male-dominated police force, exhibiting a gender bias towards cases of violence and crimes against women.

Save our Women shows that the media hype over incidents like the Badaun case speeds up court proceedings, so the accused are booked and jailed within 24 hours, constables arrested, a fast-track court established and a CBI inquiry ordered in quick succession. Meanwhile, no such action was seen in the less-publicised Bareilly and Sitapur incidents, where the pace of inquiry and officers’ attitudes remained insensitive. The researchers were told that, in Bareilly, sexual assault on women is quite common. Auto-rickshaw stops and bus stops were common points and, despite numerous citizen complaints, hooliganism in the area continues unchecked.

A deep fear reigns among the victims’ families. Women who have survived sexual harassment, molestation or dowry demands suffer poor psycho-social health. This is true of their families as well. Ranging from fear psychosis to post-traumatic stress disorder, melancholia and fear of abandonment, survivors and their families are found to be totally disempowered.

Talking to men and boys in the area, it was evident the stereotyping of women as sex objects has much to do with the media. Another culprit is apparently easy access to pornography on smartphones, which reinforces the perception of women as accessible objects of lust. Such images have made young men feel entitled to force themselves on women.

Some people interviewed said that women themselves misused mobiles by indulging in promiscuous behaviour, thereby inviting trouble.

Last but not least, a true measure of crimes against women is unavailable, as victims mostly suffer in silence and the majority of abuse goes unreported.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: JULY 2014