An insensitive approach towards women complainants, lack of empathy & tiresome procedures are some reasons
The debate has been raging fiercely over why the victim in the Hyderabad gangrape-murder called her sister to tell her she was afraid, rather than dial 100 and seek help.
The Telangana police too has actively encouraged this question along with others – why did she not go to the toll plaza staff, why did she take the help of strangers for a flat tyre and so on.
Women’s rights activists have furiously condemned this narrative by the Telangana police as amounting to ‘victim blaming’.
In reality, it is an agonising exercise for a woman to lodge a complaint with the police in India. There have been many cases where families who have attempted to file ‘missing person’ reports about their daughters, have not had success, since police have assumed it to be a case of ‘elopement’.
Women complainants in domestic violence cases have often found that the police, instead of filing an FIR and arresting the perpetrator, attempt to sort out the ‘dispute’ and bring the family together.
Women complainants in rape cases are forced to relive the trauma of the incident as they recount it over and over again to the police, receiving little empathy from those meant to uphold the law.
Public opinion, especially amongst women, about the police and the police station, is at an all-time low thanks to insensitive practices by the foot soldiers on the ground, say activists.
“I don’t believe in these people’s (referring to police) justice,” women and child rights activist Lubna Sarwath told The Lede. “First, they don’t know to use the right sections. For example, in a case where a 4-year-old girl was molested in Azaan International School, they had filed the wrong sections. That girl has still not got justice.
I feel very bad when government officials say that she should have dialed 100 instead of calling her sister. Someone said she should have downloaded the app. I want to ask how many people have smartphones and how many women in Telangana actually even have phones. My maid does not have any phone with her. How will she call for help if she is in a bad situation?
Instead of solving the problem from the roots, why are you blaming the lady?” she asked.
Sarwath instead asks why the police did not do their job as regards the parked truck which was used for the crime. “I want to ask why the truck is parked near the toll gate from 2 am for nearly eight hours and what the police patrolling is taking care of if they were drinking in the truck.
Drunken driving is an offence isn’t it? Why didn’t the police do anything about that? Selling loose petrol is prohibited but still people are selling it. These criminals got loose petrol. What do they say about this?
The Telangana DGP says that this is a rarest of the rare case and he will take serious action. I would like to tell him that all these incidents which have happened to women till date are all rarest of rare problems. Treat every women’s problem as a rare problem,” she said.
Law enforcement officers did not wish to comment on the lack of empathy displayed in police stations towards women complainants.
However, their view is that there is a loss of fear towards the police from both criminals as well as citizens. “This gruesome murder is a classic example of fearlessness of the depraved scoundrels of society towards the law enforcement agencies i.e. police and judiciary, ineffective police patrolling and crime control. A very, very disturbing trend that seems to have increased in intensity since 2012,” former DGP Noel Swaranjit Sen told The Lede.
As per the latest National Crime Records Bureau report of 2017, close to 47,000 rapes had been reported in India in 2016. There are close to 1.5 lakh cases pending trial in the courts. The conviction rate nationally is a low 32.2%.
Telangana fares relatively better in terms of crimes against women. For instance, in 2016, there were three cases of murder with rape or gang-rape cases. This is a far cry from Uttar Pradesh where 64 such cases have been reported.
There were 552 rapes reported in Telangana that year alone. Madhya Pradesh tops the list of rapes reported with 5562 cases.
Of the total number of person arrested for crimes against women in 2016, 545 were convicted, 60 were discharged and 10,030 were acquitted.
The problem with securing convictions ranges from wrong sections used in the chargesheet, as highlighted by Sarwath, to poor quality investigation and evidence. Judiciary too is burgeoning with cases and a lackadaisical approach to traumatic rape cases often mean the perpetrator is able to get away with the crime.
“In India, if police are interested then they will file an FIR, if not they will not. We also lack genuine investigation,” Vice Chairman of the Telangana Bar Council, Sunil Goud told The Lede.
“The entire country depends on the police. They should be more responsible and should not be influenced. Most of the cases are decided under influence. I feel administration and law and order should be separate, only then can we solve the process quickly. There should be dedicated people in administration to solve these cases. For example, if a person solves one case and in between if he is asked to go for security for ministers or so how can he concentrate on the problem.
Also in court we lack sufficient judges. We have put in a request to parliament to consider this. They are many cases pending because of mixing law and order and administration. If we give summons to any accused there should be sufficient people who can work only on this. Unless he gets the summons, we can’t move the case forward. Thanks to issues like this the case may extend for years,” he explained.
While the 100 number is available for reporting any crime, the Telangana police also has She Teams which are women-only teams of police to tackle crimes against women. Apart from this, the Hawkeye app too has been provided to help citizens connect faster with the police.
Despite all of this, not just Telangana’s women, but India’s women still shy away from reporting crimes against them. And this is the fundamental problem – that of empathy, perception of the police as being women-friendly, of being and being seen as genuine upholders of the law – that the police force across India needs to address.
The answer certainly is not to peddle a narrative blaming the victim for not dialing 100 or for going out alone at night or for wearing clothes of her choice.
The ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) when contacted, said they were quoted out of context.
“We are not blaming the victim, we are here to support the family. We take the responsibility of this case,” TRS Member and former Chairman, State Minorities Commission, Abid Rasool Khan told The Lede. “The message that we tried to say was wrongly quoted. We just want to bring the awareness to the public.
We are creating more awareness camps, showing women easy and comfortable ways to file a complaint like the use of She Team’s online FIR filing system. We have appointed a lady constable for women to feel comfortable in the stations.”