Sinlung /
23 April 2013

India: No Country For Women

While violence against women continues unabated in India, our crime investigation and justice systems offer no comfort.
 
No country for women (© Reuters)
The Capital has erupted once again over the gruesome kidnapping and rape of a five-year-old girl child. This time, the protests are more political with the presence of volunteers from organisations such as the Aam Aadmi Party, the ABVP, etc. But matters have come to such a head vis-à-vis the gender front that help from any quarter is welcome.

Since the gang rape of the physiotherapy student in Delhi in December 2012, horrendous and continuing brutalisation and sexual assaults on women have continued. Western tourists have also not been spared, resulting in advisories by countries such as the US and the UK cautioning women tourists to take extreme care while travelling in India.

Erupting even amidst economic scams connected to 2G and 3G Spectrum and Coalgate, the debate on India being no country for women/girls has hogged media headlines. Grim-faced politicians, from the UPA as well as the Opposition, have expressed their pain and outrage at these developments, and voiced concern on the growing cult of violence against women.

In the latest incident of monstrosity on the tiny girl in Gandhi Nagar in Delhi, once again we saw the total indifference and callous attitude of the police. The child’s parents were made to wait for hours to file a “missing” complaint. The child, abandoned in a room in the same building in a serious condition, was found no thanks to the police but after her cries were heard by a neighbour.

The events that followed were even more bizarre when it comes to shaming and disgracing an already discredited police force.

A policeman offered the father a “bribe” of Rs 2,000 to hush up the matter! Hence it was nothing short of catharsis to watch continuous telecast of several protestors offering the police a “bribe” of Rs 2,000. The pained expressions on the face of the policemen facing this barrage was gratifying, to say the least.

Known perpetrators
At the core of the protests and demands from Opposition parties is the issue of Delhi, and the rest of India as well, being unsafe and insecure for women. This is not to defend the police force, which is more often than not found lacking when it comes to prompt filing of FIRs or investigation. But the fact remains that much of the violence — sexual and otherwise – that women and girls face is perpetrated by known people… a relative, a friend, a lover or ex-lover. If not in the womb, where foetuses are aborted, with the common consent of male and female relatives.

Delhi Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar, who addressed a press conference Monday afternoon, was quick to latch on to his point when questions were raised about his resignation.

At first he impudently asked the reporter, “When you do misreporting, does your editor resign?”
Later he pointed out the futility of expecting the police to prevent sexual assaults against women or girls that are carried out by their relatives. Quoting figures, he said that in several cases, fathers, stepfathers, brothers-in-law, cousins, neighbours, lovers and ex-lovers were guilty of rape. This doesn’t absolve those supposed to prevent crimes failing to do so in thousands of cases where young women are abducted on roads or raped in moving cars, as happens often in Delhi, but there is an element of truth in what he says.

The mighty climb down
But what I enjoyed the most while watching Kumar’s live press conference was his opening statement where he said the ACP who had slapped a woman protestor had been suspended. But the two policemen who had offered bribe to the father to hush up the case had not been identified because the father was busy in the hospital where his daughter was being treated.

And next followed a clear demonstration of what collective rage or mass protests can do. Delhi’s police force was ready, said its chief, to parade the possible culprits before the father at the hospital if he so desired!

Wow! How many ordinary people who throng our police stations for a modicum of action or justice can expect such a gesture from the top boss of the police?

No country for the poor too
But let us not fool ourselves. Whether it is the crime redressal dispensation, or our justice system, beginning with the lawyer who takes up a case, how many economically disadvantaged people have timely access to these? But for the protests which the media picked up and broadcast and wrote about, would the two men accused in this child’s rape been arrested so quickly?

The heavy wheels of our crime administration system move only on the application of lubricants such as bribes, influence, or public pressure. The ACP who slapped the woman protestor only displayed the habitual arrogance of our public “servants”. And why only suspend a senior officer who would dare to so impudently slap a young woman in full view of hundreds of others? Instead of a “departmental inquiry” in which the public has little faith, should he not be thrown behind bars?

Isn’t a man in uniform who is supposed to protect civilians a bigger criminal when he assaults a woman? And one who is well within her right to express her outrage over the plummeting record of the Delhi administration when it comes to making girls like her feel safe.

Juxtaposed against the way our creaky wheels of crime investigation and justice dispensation move, I watched in utter admiration the speed and efficiency with which the Boston police carried out operations to hunt down and kill one terrorist and capture the second one involved in the Boston Marathon bombing.

An entire township was shut down, the people responded and co-operated totally and within a week the perpetrators had been traced, challenged and one captured. You may find any number of faults with the US for its arrogance or its supercilious manner in dealing with the rest of the world.

But when it comes to rising as one to ensure public safety and security, they just do it…without any fear, favour or fuss. Now this is the kind of police force that inspires confidence. Not one which slaps protestors, or offers bribes to the victims to shut their mouths.

Or worse, derisively asks a middle-aged woman who goes to report her rape: “Tu teen bachcho ki maa hei; tujhe kaun rape karenga? (You’re a mother of three, who will rape you)?

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