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Women’s Safety in India: Be It Nirbhaya or Kanjhawala, Why Do Cops Keep Failing?

The Kanjhawala case yet again exposes the horrible fault lines in women's security and police ineptitude in India.

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The Nirbhaya case that happened almost 10 years ago in December and the hit-and-run case in Delhi's Kanjhawala share eerie similarities, namely public outcry, police inaction, and laxity of the worst kind. The police claimed to convert all of Delhi during New Year's Eve into cantonment areas with every square inch covered by patrol cars, intensive patrolling and picketing, and effective nakabandi, but none of it was observed in the Kanjhawala and Sultanpuri areas.

It is alleged that all the policing was concentrated in Lutyens' Delhi while other areas were left to fend for themselves.

The eyewitness of this gruesome incident, Deepak Dahiya said that the Baleno passed the jurisdiction of four police stations and 24 petrol cars but nobody seemed to have reacted. The delay in securing the scene of the crime was another major flaw which led to forensic and other experts missing the opportunity to collect valuable evidence.

Therefore, the question arises, what exactly has happened in the last 10 years? The 13th Criminal Law Amendment Act was introduced based on Justice Verma Commission's recommendations that made major changes in the Criminal Procedure Code in the Indian Penal Code and the Indian Evidence Act. The Nirbhaya fund was supposed to reinforce policing and ensure a pro-active approach. Nothing like this seems to have happened at the ground level.

On the contrary, there is a shocking report that the vehicles bought from the said fund are being used for VIP security. The Nirbhaya fund continues to be underutilised, misused, and remains in abeyance in most of the states.

Section 166A of the Indian Penal Code was introduced so that police officers negligent in matters pertaining to sexual assault, etc, are taken to task via a case registered against them and sent to jail for six months. None of it materialised whether it was in the case of MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar or Hathras or anywhere else.

In this case too, one of the accused happens to be an office-bearer of the BJP. But there are allegations that the police is soft-pedaling because of him which by and large, doles out the perception that the high and mighty always get away.

Women’s Security in India Remains Under Threat

There are horrible fault lines when it comes to women's security in India. Whether it is the Nirbhaya fund or the faithful implementation of the recommendations of the Justice Verma commission. I was part of a TV show in which, of about 100 women present in the studio, 50 percent were teenagers who responded to the question of how secure they felt when Nirbhaya happened and now. It was shocking to gather that there was negligible change in the insecurity level between then and now.

In spite of lofty ideals, the conduct continues to be slowly because of inept policing, insensitive approach, lack of proper training, and sensitisation at the police station and at other levels.

The cult of masculinity that prevails in police stations needs to be checked immediately and at least one police officer should be posted in every police outpost and police station. The 30 percent reservation for women and the vacancies need to be filled up immediately.

On one hand, we have large scale unemployment, and on the other, we have gaping vacancies in the police department, especially those with respect to women police officers. The least we can do is to put these sensational cases, hire best prosecutors, ensure expeditious investigation, and get conviction to fast-track courts so that a message is sent right across the country that there is zero tolerance.

To talk of that, we seem to have a sense of permissiveness. And the signal that goes around and the message. There was a neta in Rajasthan who said the state belongs to Men. I really don't know what this pearl of wisdom meant but he got away, rather easily without any punishment.

Police, Courts Must Act With a Sense of Urgency

Last but not the least, there has been an increase in the number of FIRs lodged by women who have been victims of sexual harassment and rape to which the senior leadership says, that it is perhaps, because of a sense of security that women are coming forward to report the cases. But the sense of complacency has no place under these circumstances because the convictions have gone down and acquittals have shot up.

So if there really was an improvement in the status of women's security, the reverse would have happened in which convictions went up and acquittals dipped. Every case of acquittal should be enquired into as to how it happened, whether it was poor prosecution, a shoddy investigation, or both. And there should be consequences for those who did not do what was expected of them to ensure a convincing conviction.

Obviously, there cannot be a cut-and-dried solution to ensure women's security. There are multiple dimensions and the problem will have to be evaluated in totality, whether it is a societal course-correction, teaching and ensuring proper orientation of adolescents and teenagers, trading of police officers and policewomen, ensuring proper percentage of women in the police, prosecutors, and women judges.

But yes, all this will have to be put together and a message put across that "actions speak louder than words," and that we have zero tolerance as far as women's security is concerned. And, any lapse should not go by default but those behind the lapse should be dealt with in the strictest possible manner, in the swiftest possible span of time.

(Dr Vikram Singh is an Indian educationist and retired Indian Police Service (IPS) officer. He joined the IPS in 1974, and held the post of Director General of Police in the state of Uttar Pradesh from June 2007 to September 2009. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)

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