Police need to be gender sensitised

To address the needs of women, many police forces have increased the intake of women into police.

The outrage of the entire nation over the brutal sexual assault on a 23-year-old student in Delhi manifested in Parliament. A number of suggestions, including award of death penalty, were made to prevent such attacks in future. In fact the Delhi police made a statement that a request would be made to consider death penalty to the rape accused. Is death penalty the only answer to prevent incidents of rape?
It is well known that crimes cannot be completely stopped but at best kept under check. Crime usually takes place when there is an opportunity to commit it --presence of a target and absence of police or security mechanism there.

This has been proved time and again, more significantly in New York City where since 1990 violent crime showed a declining trend. The then mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani made  a new approach called  ‘broken windows,’ which meant adopting an aggressive deterrent and enforcement strategy wherein perpetrators of ‘minor crimes’ were severely dealt with. The extensive use of cameras in all vulnerable places, the involvement of the citizenry in combating crime also helped in crime reduction.

Cops being at the hotspots of crime is a good deterrent.  Hence police forces all over usually map areas that are prone for crime and give adequate attention to that area by deploying static police pickets, patrol cars, electronic surveillance devices etc. But when such a deployment is not done scientifically, or not done at all, crimes  happen.

Lack of staff

Station house officers complain that they do not have adequate staff for crime prevention since most of the staff are doing ‘VIP security’ duties. Many of these securitymen are seen doing personal errands for their ‘protectees’ rather than provide security. Despite the Supreme Court ruling in Prakash Singh case that crime duties and law and order duties need to be separated, nothing like that has happened on the ground. With the result, there are not enough policemen to do beat or patrolling duties.

Hundreds of crores of rupees have been spent by the police forces in India in the name of ‘modernisation.’ Amounts earmarked for technological upgradation, however, have not been  spent rationally. CCTV cameras were installed in some cities, but due to lack of proper maintenance, many are non-functional. Thousands of vehicles were purchased but they are not effectively being used for crime prevention. Quick investigation and prosecution are also important to prevent future crimes. Adequate attention needs to be given to this aspect.

There is one more complaint against the police in India, that police are not sensitive to the problems of women and children and are not sympathetic to women who are victims of crime. The male dominated police in our country carry the same prejudices against women like the other males in society. To address the needs of women and children, many police forces have increased the intake of women into police. Some states created help desks for women and children in police stations exclusively managed by women.

Karnataka, however, has gone a step ahead. Apart from reserving  10 per cent of police jobs to women, with the help of Unicef, Karnataka police embarked upon a gender sensitisation programme for its ranks which has given rich dividends. This model can be adopted by others while tackling gender issues. The most vocal suggestion that has been put forth to prevent brutal assaults on women is to change the existing laws. It is seen that several commissions have been set up in the country to suggest measures to revamp the criminal justice system, but most of these reports are gathering dust. Unless the criminal justice system is thoroughly revamped, the police cannot face the challenges of the present day.

There is a demand that crimes against women and children should be dealt with by fast track courts and the perpetrators of such crimes should get exemplary punishment. Crimes have come down whenever habitual offenders are put behind bars or put under surveillance.  While quick arrests and longer times in prisons may deter criminals, the theory that harsh sentences deter crimes has little evidence to support it. Presently death penalty is not prescribed for the offence of rape in India. It is pertinent to note that even those offences which carry death penalty, like murder, continue to occur frequently. Death penalty can be imposed only in the rarest of rare cases and very recently the Supreme Court in Sangeet v/s State of Haryana has reiterated this.  Besides, there are a number of Human Rights groups which are opposing continuance of death penalty in India stating that hundreds of other countries have abolished it.

Hence the best way to prevent attacks on women in future is to tighten the preventive action by the police, to sensitise the police forces to the problems of women and children, to quickly investigate and prosecute the case and get the culprit punished.

(The author is a retired DGP)

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