India’s northern Haryana state has opened all-women police stations in each of its 21 districts to encourage women who are victims of crime and violence to bring their grievances to the police, who have long been considered insensitive to women.
In one of them in Gurgaon, which lies adjacent to the capital, New Delhi, the results are already apparent.
Since it opened its doors a month ago, more than 70 women have trooped into the large, airy complex to register complaints that range from rape to domestic violence and dowry abuse.
Umesh Bala, who heads the police station, said most of the women never plucked up the courage to go to the police for fear of having to deal with male officers. But she feels they share their often-traumatic experiences more easily with women inspectors.
Inspector Bala related the case of a 20-year-old girl who was allegedly raped by her former tutor when she was a teenager. “It was continuing for the last two and a half years. First she was raped, then she was being blackmailed and told that her photos would be uploaded, and she was being misused.”
The accused man has been slapped with charges of rape and blackmail, and faces imminent arrest. Bala said it has been a major relief for the victim.
Serves all types
The women pouring in come from all age groups and economic profiles – from maidservants to educated professionals. Although Gurgaon is a thriving business hub with a large population of upwardly mobile professionals, traditional attitudes are still deeply entrenched among its older residents.
Termed a one-stop shop for women, all work here – from registering complaints to investigation -- is handled by the more than 30 women police inspectors. Other staff members, such as drivers and gardeners, are also women. A couple of male policemen are deputized to accompany inspectors who have to respond to emergency calls at nighttime.
Haryana – a state with a patriarchal culture – has one of the highest numbers of cases of crime against women in the country. Nearly 9,000 cases were registered last year – more than half related to sexual or dowry harassment and violence.
The figures do not accurately reflect the extent to which women face problems. Activists say crimes against women are hugely underreported. One of the key reasons is that India’s police force is perceived to be unsympathetic, even callous toward female victims of violence.
“The police as an institution I think has a long ingrained habit of not being accountable to any kind of constitutional norms or standards where the rights of women or other marginalized sections are concerned," said Kavita Krishnan of the All India Progressive Women’s Association. "As an institution the police tends to be definitely sexist and misogynist at the bare minimum. ”
She said that women police officers, as much as their male counterparts, need gender sensitization training.
While, the brutal gang rape of a student in 2012 in New Delhi turned the spotlight on rape in India, activists acknowledge that domestic violence is endemic and the most reported crime against women for over a decade.
Gurgaon’s all women’s police station is testimony to this. The room where a police inspector counsels women is a hub of activity, with most women bringing tales of domestic abuse and violence.
Krishna, who counsels the women, said most of the cases she handles relate to dowry harassment. But she has noticed a change; women are no longer willing to be quiet. “Women come with the same problem, they [say the men] torture me, they beat me. These days who will stand for it? Men want to suppress them, women will not tolerate it.”
The women's police station, where everything from computers to the paint on the walls is spanking new, has a friendlier and more easy-going atmosphere than most other police stations in the state.
That has not made everyone happy. A girl in her 30s, who did not want to disclose her name, has come with a complaint of domestic abuse. She feels the women’s police station fails to send out a tough message to men that crimes against women will not be tolerated. “The atmosphere is very lenient over here, there is no fear of law here. The other party, the male party also feels that nothing will happen over here, so whatever they want to do, the guys do then,” she said.
But as India confronts its dismal record of crime against women, Gurgaon’s all-women police station has made a head start in getting them to knock at the doors of a police station in a country where victims have long suffered in silence.