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For Women's Safety, We Need Women Police;
But Who Will Protect Them?
|by Renu Rakesh|
There were five stabs on her body - three on the neck and one on each breast. There were two gaping cuts on her head. Her fingers were chopped off and a bunch of hair was yanked out of her scalp. It was indeed the most brutal murder Rajasthan had seen in the recent past. Two policemen had raped and killed young constable Maya Yadav, 22, in a police guesthouse room at the Chechat police station in Kota district.
Yadav had finished her duty at 6.30 pm on September 29, 2010. She saw driver-constable Deshraj, 35, going to the market to fix the tyres of a police jeep. She wanted to pick up some groceries so she hitched a ride with him. After returning from the market around 7.30 pm, Yadav went to her room, 20 metres from the police station. In an hour, she reported back for wireless duty. Later, she retired for the day at 10 pm.
Meanwhile, Deshraj, who had left for night patrol with another constable, returned with liquor. He was joined by the police station cook, Tulsiram Rathore, 25, in a drinking session. The room they were drinking in was separated from Yadav's room by a small pantry and a toilet.
No one knows when the two drunk cops decided to kill Yadav in cold blood. The next morning, when she did not report for duty, a constable was sent to her room where her mutilated body was discovered. When the news spread around Chechat, the 700-year-old village was filled with outrage. A mob of 500 gathered outside the police station demanding the suspension of all the staff. Agitators turned violent and at least six policemen sustained injuries in stone pelting. Finally, tear gas had to be used to control the situation.
Chechat is a few kilometres from Khemaj, a small town on National Highway 12, between Kota and Jhalawar. Villagers agitated for two days before word reached Jaipur, the state capital. On October 2, Chechat Station House Officer (SHO) Amilal Chaudhary and sentry were suspended and the remaining staff was sent to the Lines. A "shocked" Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot took 48 hours to order a compensation of Rs 10,00,000 (US$1=Rs 44.3) and a government job to one member of Yadav's family.
The gruesome nature of the murder has ensured that it will not be forgotten for some time to come. But just six days later, on October 5 at around 7 pm, Pushpa Jat, a constable posted at the Jaitaran police station in Pali district, consumed sleeping pills when she failed to fend off the advances of the SHO. She was rushed to the hospital and then sent on 'medical leave'. There was no hue and cry in the village so the police could easily hush up the matter.
But cases like that of Yadav and Jat are not isolated ones. Sexual harassment of women constables at the workplace is increasing in the same proportion as their numbers in the force. Today, women constitute 5.6 per cent of Rajasthan's constabulary and this change has largely come about because of 30 per cent reservation for women in the recruitment of constables. Eventually women are expected to make up 30 per cent of the constabulary. This of course is a positive trend. The 'Safe Cities For Women & Girls' campaign's Bogota Declaration specifically called for and increase in the number of police officers, especially to attend to cases of violence against women and girls. The 'Safe Cities For Women & Girls' is an international campaign, which is partnering Jagori, a national women's resource centre, in India.
The question however, is, who will protect the policewomen themselves from violence and sexual harassment? For policewomen, the joy and pride at making it into the police force comes with an often horrific consequence: The risk of discharging their duties at odd hours surrounded by foul mouthed and drunk colleagues. Says Nina Singh, Inspector General of Police (Planning, Modernisation and Welfare): "Twenty years ago women constables were a rare sight in police stations across Rajasthan. Today, things are changing in what used to be a predominantly male institution. The duties and presence of women constables have conspicuously increased. Among other benefits, this has had a sobering influence on the attitudes and behaviour of their male counterparts."
Police officers admit that the sexual harassment of women constables does occur but most cases don't get reported. "When women discuss it with their colleagues, they are advised to keep quiet and be more careful in future," says a Superintendent of Police (SP) unwilling to be named. Another district police chief claims that he has, post-Chechat, made sure that women constables are posted only in pairs at police stations. "The idea is that the presence of another woman at the workplace will give them a sense of security," he explains.
A woman constable has to perform all the duties that her male colleagues do. Every SHO wants at least 50 per cent of police station staff to be on call so they insist on these women staying at the station's premises. It is for this reason that women's rest rooms are now being constructed at police stations for women constables.
Incidentally, Singh - the senior-most lady officer in the state - although she detests the prefix 'lady' and maintains that "a cop is a cop, lady or otherwise" - is in charge of welfare activities for the force. "In the modernisation plan, too, there is an emphasis on constructing separate barracks, toilets and rest rooms for women constables."
Today, out of the 711 police stations in the state, about 350 already have rest rooms for women. But Singh admits that there's a lot that still needs to be done to create a more enabling environment for women in the force.
During the recently concluded two-day Collector-SP conference, Chief Minister Gehlot had observed, "If a crime is committed next to or inside a police station, nothing can be more shameful than that. This incident has shaken me." Following the statement a circular was issued by the Director General of Police (DGP) making SHOs directly responsible if a policeman is found inebriated on the premises of the police station, during or after duty.
Ironically, the Vishaka guidelines (to prevent sexual harassment of women at the workplace) have their genesis in Rajasthan. Bhanwari Devi, a social worker (saathin) at a state government development programme aimed at preventing child marriages in villages, was gang-raped by five men in front of her husband in September 1992. The trial court acquitted the accused, but Bhanwari fought on, her determination inspiring fellow social activists and women's groups across India to launch a campaign for justice. In December 1993, the Rajasthan High Court sentenced the accused for gang-rape.
Women's groups and NGOs then filed a petition in the Supreme Court(SC), under the name of 'Vishaka', asking the apex court to give directions on sexual harassment at the workplace. The SC responded by drawing up the Vishaka guidelines on August 13, 1997. The guidelines not only defined sexual harassment at the workplace but also stipulated the creation of an appropriate complaints mechanism in every organisation.
The measure has still to be mainstreamed across the country, and the institution of the police is no exception. The 'Safe Cities For Women & Girls' campaign's Bogota Declaration calls for an attitude of service and civic responsibility within the police "in order to ensure a more adequate response to the needs of women and girls who are victims of violence". But in order to do this, the police authorities must also ensure that the women in their ranks do not themselves become victims of violence and assault, like Maya Yadav and Pushpa Jat.
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