The cases of sexual assault on Indian policewomen by their seniors and peers are rising and it takes place at two levels.
The story of a woman constable in UP’s Bulandshahr district this week represents what is now a fairly familiar routine. On February 25, she lodged an FIR against police inspector Sandeep Chowhan, who she alleged had raped her on the pretext of marriage. The accused is posted in Ghaziabad, an adjacent district in UP and a probe has been initiated.
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Last month in another case, a woman police constable posted in Lucknow put out a video clip on the social media in which she alleged sexual harassment by her seniors. The woman, in her uniform, is seen sobbing uncontrollably, saying: "How can I console other victims when I am not safe in my own police department? How can I even think of ensuring justice for other victims when I, a victim myself, have not got justice?" No soon as the video went viral on the social media, the district police ordered an inquiry and directed Ruchita Chaudhary, a SP rank officer, to probe the allegations and submit her report within three days.
The cases of sexual assault on Indian policewomen by their seniors and peers are going up. It takes place at two levels. One, sexual misdemeanours occur during office hours with lecherous seniors who are in a position to throw their weight around and get away with it. The other takes place during public interaction, where anti-social elements find police women vulnerable.
Says Prakash Singh, a former UP DGP and an ex-BSF top boss, who has been at the forefront of police reform in India: “Though no figures have been compiled, I know for a fact that women joining the police forces are vulnerable. Particularly imperiled are women at the lowest rung, the constabulary. Officers, including sub-inspectors, can take care of themselves, but young girls who join the force are at risk.”
The contrast is a bit ironical. Just when women are to be used in combat roles in the Indian Army, the vulnerabilities of women in the police services are coming out in the open.
According to the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD) data issued in 2019, recruitment of women in the Indian police has shot up by 21 percent. In absolute terms, the number of policewomen rose to 1.69 lakh on January 1, 2018, from 1.40 lakh a year ago in 2017.
It still remains a small percentage of the workforce though. As of January 1, 2017, the strength of women police in India stood at 7.28 percent of the total police force. This low representation is despite state governments setting reservation targets for women in the police ranging from 4 percent to 38 percent. Of the 7.28 percent, 0.85 percent belong to supervisory ranks, 9.76 percent to investigative ranks and 89.37 percent to the constabulary. These numbers are reflective of the exclusion of women in policing, especially at investigative and leadership levels. Some believe it inordinately affects the quality of policing.
The Border Security Force (BSF), which starting inducting women into the force in 2008, arrived at a significant conclusion. “The foremost challenge is the human resource management of the women constables as the organization has a predominantly male-oriented culture and adapting to the changing dynamics of a mixed gender organisation will take time,” noted K Ganesh, a BSF commandant.
In some other state police forces, actions against deviants are slack. Human rights activist Meenakshi Ganguly says it is very welcome that more women are joining the police force. ``However, the police should have committees that hear complaints and support staff in cases of sexual abuse. I am afraid it is very likely that those structures have not been put in place,” she points out.
For instance, nothing seems to have come out of a 2016 case where incredibly, 24 police women accused a Delhi Police inspector-level officer of sexual harassment.
In 2009, the Union home ministry set 33 percent as the benchmark target for women’s representation in the police. Apart from the Union Territories, only nine states adopted 33 percent reservation, five states 30 percent, Bihar 38 percent and five other states below 30 percent. Nine states are yet to set targets.
In 2013, the Union government recommended each police station to have at least three women sub-inspectors and 10 women police constables to ensure women help desks are staffed at all times. But as the results show, mere Union home ministry advisories may not be binding on states, which ultimately control policing.
Interestingly, both BJP and the Congress promise police reforms in their election manifestos. While the Congress pledges to `ensure’ that the benchmark target of 33 percent is achieved in recruitment and promotion of women constables and officers, the BJP manifesto is silent on the subject.
UN data across 39 countries reveal that the presence of women police correlates positively with reporting of sexual assault. It shows the value of women in policing, not just in handling violence against women, but other aspects of policing. It reveals, for instance, that women police officers use a style of policing that relies less on physical force, and more on communication skills that helps defuse potentially violent situations.
Retention of women police is equally important. BPRD data reveals the high attrition rate among policewomen due to sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Clearly, unless state governments make the institutions gender-friendly and create facilities that cater to the needs and roles of women, retention of women police is challenging. This includes setting up creches, preventing sexual harassment at workplace and building separate rest-rooms. Sadly, even police training schools do not have these facilities, not even those as basic as separate washrooms.
Ranjit Bhushan is an independent journalist and former Nehru Fellow at Jamia Millia University. In a career spanning more than three decades, he has worked with Outlook, The Times of India, The Indian Express, the Press Trust of India, Associated Press, Financial Chronicle, and DNA. Read his columns here.
First Published: Feb 28, 2020 11:27 AM IST