The police may have numerous excuses for its behaviour, but the fact remains that most women find it nightmarish to deal with those who don the khaki, avers Annapurna Jha
“I was desperate as my sister was missing from a few days and when I went to the police station to lodge a report it was nothing short of a nightmare. Not only did the police not take any action but when they realised that I was a poor, orphan girl living alone they tried to exploit me,” recounts Soni Kumari, who lives in the national capital region. It was only after Dr Jyotsna Chatterji of the Joint Women’s Programme, a national forum of women’s groups that upholds gender and human rights, intervened that the police registered an FIR regarding the kidnapping and murder of Soni’s sister in the infamous Nithari serial killings that came to light in 2006.
Bhuro, 45, who belongs to a minority community, has a similar experience to share although she feels that women from her community are doubly disadvantaged when it comes to dealing with law enforcement agencies. With her brother and nephew arrested in an allegedly false case she has been running from pillar to post to get someone to listen to her but to no avail. That the police are insensitive to the plight of the poor and marginalised is a well-known fact; but it in no way means that the apathetic attitude is reserved for them alone. Over the years there have been several incidents involving empowered citizens being harassed and heckled by the men in khaki. Yet, the one involving the former chairperson of the National Commission for Women (NCW) Dr V Mohini Giri that occurred in August 2014 made the case for the much-overdue police reforms stronger than ever.
Mohini was returning home from her office in South Delhi one evening when she saw a girl being beaten by a group of men on a busy street. When she stepped in to help she, too, was roughed up. As the veteran human rights activist saw a Police Control Room van passing by she managed to free herself from the clutches of the assailants and ran to ask for assistance. But, instead of arresting the hooligans, the beat constable told her off for interfering in the altercation.
If we take a look at the National Crime Records Bureau statistics for Delhi for 2002 to 2012, the overall crime rate shows a rise of 10 percent, while crimes against women register an increase of 67 percent and rape cases see a jump of 43 percent. Post the Nirbhaya case in December 2012, and the enactment of the new law, The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013, the gender crime graph in the capital has risen significantly by 54 percent. This upsurge, however, is being attributed to the increased reporting of cases.
Clearly, better policing is the pressing demand of our times, although there are multiple challenges to contend with – from lack of personnel to inadequate resources to a generally callous attitude. According to Maja Daruwala, executive director of Commonwealth for Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), “Delhi has a shortfall of 5,000 police personnel. And of the ones in service, 50 percent are engaged in VIP duty. How can there be effective policing in such a scenario?”
Eight years ago, the Supreme Court had delivered a historic judgment in the Prakash Singh vs Union of India case, instructing the central and state governments to comply with a set of seven directives that seek to achieve two main objectives: functional autonomy for the police – through security of tenure, streamlined appointment and transfer processes, and the creation of a “buffer body” between the police and the government – and enhanced accountability, both for organisational performance and individual misconduct. Unfortunately, not much progress has been made in this regard. “Though 17 states have passed laws and many have issued executive orders, their main purpose has been to subvert and dilute the order,” informs Maja, who has worked on this issue for more than a decade.
The Apex Court has proposed the setting up of a State Security Commission to lay down long-term policy and objectives for the police. Besides this, it has recommended a fixed two-year tenure for the director general of police, called for putting a stop to arbitrary transfers, suggested separating the investigation and law enforcement branches, and creating a police establishment board and police complaint authority to look into police misconduct.
Political and bureaucratic meddling, points out Maja, are the key reasons behind the non-implementation of these directives. Former Delhi police commissioner, Ved Marwah, agrees. “Despite finding a place in the election manifestoes of national political parties, police reforms have not taken off yet, he rues, adding, “Apart from greater political will, we need more resources to improve the working conditions of police personnel, especially the lower constabulary that is on duty 24x7.” Social activist O P Sharma, who, like Mohini, has been at the receiving end of police insensitivity, believes that change can only happen when the force sheds its colonial mindset and realises that it is there to serve the people. Seconding this line of thought is Dr Syeda Hameed, former member of planning commission and NCW, who states that the police have to “not just be a law enforcing agency but a law abiding one, too”.
Veena Kohli of the All India Women’s Conference vociferously slams the high-handed manner in which the crimes against women cell in Delhi deals with cases of domestic violence. “Many a time, instead of registering the complaint, the police forcibly tries to foster a reconciliation by intimidating the victim,” she says.
Varsha Sharma, deputy commissioner of police in-charge of the cell, is quick to counter this impression, “It would be easier for police to file an FIR and send the victim back. But as per court guidelines, along with professional counsellors, the police makes an effort to bring about reconciliation between the victim and her husband or in-laws.”
Delhi police commissioner, B S Bassi, too, fiercely defends his department, “The knowledge of what the police really does is at best skin deep due to which such negative impressions are created. The motto of every police force is to ensure that each citizen is and feels safe.”