A recent IndiaSpend report on crimes against women in the Capital brings home the many promises made in the aftermath of the Nirbhaya rape in 2012 that remain unmet; and how four years after that horrific assault on a paramedical student, the number of rapes in Delhi has tripled.
After the incident, the Verma Commission that was entrusted with looking into reforms proposed many changes to the law. Chief among them was hiring more women in the police force as it was seen as a vital step towards ensuring greater sensitivity towards rape survivors. As the IndiaSpend report highlights, this, like along with many others like hiking expenditure on police training remains on paper.
Police, the world over, handle rape badly. Even in developed countries like the US and the UK where resources are so much more advanced, there is a huge variation in the way rape is recorded and how survivors are treated.
In India, where this is compounded by a crippling shortfall of staff, experts say there is a need to take a more pragmatic approach towards tackling crimes against women.
One that does not put the entire onus on the police, but a multi-sectoral approach that involves different agencies across key sectors – health, psychosocial and justice – working together.
Increasing the number of female cops is not the sole answer, says Dr Nayreen Daruwalla, Program Director for Prevention of Violence against Women and Children, SNEHA. “Women share the same concepts of patriarchy and are not able to shed their deep entrenched attitudes while dealing with cases and survivors of violence”, she says. “We are working towards making violence against women and children a public concern, so should not the responsibility of assisting the survivor lie with all duty bearers, irrespective of being a woman or a man?”
Daruwalla argues that a multi-sectoral approach offers a more effective, long-term solution to bringing down crimes against women, pointing towards SNEHA’s convergence approach in the Mahim and Nehru Nagar police stations of Mumbai.
In September 2013, when SNEHA started an observation and in-house training program in gender sensitivity in these two stations there was some initial discomfort. However, gradually there was an understanding from both sides of each other’s pressures and needs.
While the counselors got to witness firsthand the extreme stress and staff crunch the force faces, the police too realized that SNEHA’s presence and inputs were helping them handle cases related to gender based violence in a better manner. It also helped tone down levels of aggression and the use of abusive language. Gradually the police began to reflect upon their patriarchal mindsets.
A study done before and after the program on the policemen who participated showed significant results. Some of them were –
*Greater understanding of the law against domestic violence
*Greater awareness of stalking, violence and disrobing as forms of violence
*53% decrease in the number of policemen who thought it was important to ask if a woman had provoked an act of violence
*Nearly 70% decrease in the number of police who said a woman’s sexual past was not important while recording a rape complaint
The greatest testament to the changes came from the women in the community who said that they were satisfied with how they were being treated by the police in these two stations.
“Changing mindsets is a longer term process that requires regular follow-up and reinforcement”, says Dr Daruwalla. “We work with the premise that the police are ready to fulfill their role appropriately and adequately if given an opportunity to work in a supportive environment. “
The convergence approach pioneered by SNEHA holds many lessons. Enabling the law system to respond to violence against women and children needs a supportive environment, one where various agencies come together and work in partnership with the police.
Instead of seeing the police as the ‘other’, it brings the community closer to the men in uniform, making the fight against gender based violence, everyone’s battle.