If 2011 ended with images of the "blue bra girl" from Tahrir square – beaten by the police such that her black abaya had split open, then 2012 concluded with images of police assault on the Delhi gang rape protesters. Lathis, tear gas, and noise bombs rained down on young women who were protesting the brutal gang rape of a 23-year-old woman in Delhi. The irony was hard to miss, as law enforcers turned on the same women whom they have time and again failed to protect, when they chose to point out the same. Slowly, further details emerged on social media of arrests and harassments of female protesters at the venue.
That the police finally managed to zero in on the bus concerned, only from hafta diaries maintained by the traffic police speaks volumes about their complicity that enabled the gruesome crime to unfold. Heeding calls from all quarters for the police to undergo gender sensitisation, the Delhi Police will now be taught a course titled 'Investigation of Rape Cases' by women police officers. But how effective are such training courses and modules? For some time now, gender sensitisation has been an integral part of training modules for administrators – be it the IAS or the IPS. Following the formation of the NCW in 1992, it came up with recommendations and designed such relevant courses. The question that needs to be asked is – has this really changed anything?
Whenever a woman approaches the police with a complaint, the police start on the ground of disbelief.
To get an insight, Guardian20 spoke with Donna Fernandes of the NGO Vimochana, which in league with UNICEF, used to conduct gender sensitisation training workshops for the Karnataka police. "We did this for seven years. But let me tell you that sexism is so ingrained in the police that just last week, when I went to a station to report a case on behalf of a woman who had approached our NGO for help, the police called us 'prostitutes', and in blatant violation of established rules, put my colleague in the lock-up at 8pm at night", said Fernandes. Fernandes faults the police for not taking crime against women seriously. "The police divide all crime into heinous and non-heinous: crimes against women are accounted for in the latter category. They look at women as bad women/good women, with the understanding that good women don't approach the police. Whenever a woman approaches the police with a complaint, they always start on the ground of disbelief – beginning with doubting the complainant. Abuse of power by the police and high handedness needs to stop, and this can't be changed through 2-3 days gender sensitisation workshops", she argued. In both the Park Street rape case in Kolkata, as well as the suicide of a rape victim in Punjab, the police refused to register the victim's FIR. Outmoded colonial acts such as the Police Act of 1861 still guides how the police should behave. Police sensitivity towards rape victims can also be judged by the use of the antiquated "two finger test" to ascertain rape.
A report of the National Commission for Women, prepared in collaboration with the National Police Academy in 2000 also acknowledged the prejudices faced by women police in the country. In Delhi alone, only 5200 out of the 82,000 police force are women. There are only 442 women police stations in the country, with 13 states and union territories still without one. Shockingly, despite the high rate of registered rape cases in Delhi, it does not have a single women police station till date.
A report of the Association of Democratic Reforms released last month related disturbing statistics on MPS, MLAs, and candidates fielded by political parties who have rape cases or cases of sexual assault pending against them. It is telling that state governments have not yet taken seriously the 2006 Supreme Court recommendations regarding police reforms in the Prakash Singh vs. Union of India case. No state government has established police complaints authorities at both the district and state levels – a measure that would have hopefully prevented any more Soni Soris from suffering.