A new beat to women's safety

A new beat to women's safety

A new beat to women's safety
Beat is expected to gain pace with more vehicles

Ambika, a 41-year-old domestic help, finishes her work in seven homes in an apartment complex in Thiruvananthapuram at about 6.30 pm, every day. Then, she walks about a half-kilometre to board a bus to her home in Karamana; it’s a nearly 45-minute ride. A 10-minute walk from the bus-stop later, she reaches home, at about 8.40 pm.

Ambika says that in the one year she has taken this two-hour commute to get home, she has experienced or witnessed harassment from men “at least 10 times”. She doesn’t overstate her concerns and even seems to have resigned to accept the harassment as something she has to live with. When you tell her about Pink Police Patrol, a new dedicated all-woman police beat to ensure safety of women, piloting in Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi, she does look vaguely interested but her questions on the initiative also come with a sense of detachment, probably also stemming from her perceptions on policing rigours.

Pink Patrol is making a point at a time when the state could do with more diverse ways to deal with crimes against women. Crime-stopper initiatives the world over are getting increasingly pegged on models that incorporate advances in technology along with a personal touch. The idea is no longer exclusively about ensuring a prompt policing system; it also involves reaching out as a people-friendly force, re-branding and re-positioning in tune with the times.

Kerala, over the past few years, has been grappling with a rise in crimes against women. Outrage over sensational rapes and killings – most recently, the gruesome murder of Dalit student Jisha in Perumbavoor near Kochi – continue to trigger debates on women’s safety and also keep them alive for a couple of months but women’s rights activists maintain that these discussions haven’t translated to effective curbs or deterrents for the offenders.

Formally launched by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in Thiruvananthapuram last week, Pink Police Patrol has five police cars coloured in pink – three in Thiruvanananthapuram and two in Kochi – and dedicated teams of women officers, including one with the rank of a sub-inspector, in each team. In Thiruvananthapuram, the vehicles will monitor Technopark and surrounding areas, Vazhuthacaud and East Fort.

A Pramod Kumar, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Kazhakkuttom who coordinated the launch of the Pink Patrol service in Thiruvananthapuram, says the idea of the pilot project is to focus on areas with a substantial number of working women and tourists, before the pink beat is extended to other parts of the city. Bus stations, popular commercial neighbourhoods and areas around educational institutions are covered by the patrol teams in daily shifts between 8 am and 8 pm.

In addition to the patrol vehicles, complaints received on the toll-free number 1515 will also be followed up. The state government is already discussing the possibilities of opening the Pink Patrol service in Kozhikode.

The back-end operations of the beat are handled by an all-woman control room. “The patrol cars are equipped with two cameras, providing live feed on locations covered by the teams to the control room. The vehicles’ movement is tracked with GPS devices and the control room will be able to respond to calls for assistance from the teams,” says Kumar.

The official says the control room, on receiving calls for help from the public, typically ascertains locations of the beat vehicles, identifies the team closest to the location of the caller and assigns the task. In its latter phases, the beat is expected to gain pace with more vehicles and specially trained officials.

According to figures released by the Kerala Police, 2016 (till March) has seen 375 rape cases, 1,005 molestation cases, 29 kidnapping cases and 93 eve-teasing cases. In 2015, the corresponding figures stood at 1,263, 3,991, 177 and 265 respectively. In three months in 2016, Thiruvananthapuram city and Ernakulam city have registered 11 and 10 eve-teasing cases respectively.

The sense of assurance an initiative like Pink Patrol brings has its own value but authorities should also ensure that the intent goes beyond tokenism, says Sandhya Aravind, a Thiruvananthapuram-based banking professional.

“An all-woman patrol to ensure safety of women, while encouraging in terms of reach, also points to pitfalls in existing policing systems. In a way, it reinstates the contention that women feel more comfortable seeking assistance from women when they feel threatened. But that’s also a reality which we have to come to terms with,” she says.

The official launch of the patrol was also marked by the presence of actor-singer Mamta Mohandas. While the promoters of the initiative seem to have many things right in terms of its visibility and branding, there has also been criticism from some quarters against the stereotyping in its title. Why pink? “It’s usually seen as a colour for women”, reasons Kumar.   

Shyla P, a high school teacher in Kochi, chooses to ignore the dissent but says she understands it. “These are issues which are of concern at the initial stage. They’ll become immaterial if the promise is kept – if women in distress have access to help in time and if these teams act as a deterrent to people who think they can get away with anything on the road, nothing else should really matter,” she says

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