When will the violations stop?

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Gang rape graffiti by Dijeshwar Singh 1

The emergency room was full as usual. Doctors and nurses in one of the biggest government hospitals in the country went about their jobs as a few patients lay on stretchers due to lack of beds. Their attendants occupied all the empty spaces, making the casualty section cramped even so late at night. Everybody wondered what a uniformed policeman was doing there along with a few harrowed persons.

They were gazing at the six-year-old girl who lay on the floor in a corner. Her hair was disheveled and body bruised and muddy. She was bleeding between her legs.

The girl lay on the cold floor for four hours that winter night before a doctor attended to her. Not even a blanket was provided to cover her fragile body. “Woh rape wali ladki ko le ke aao (Get that girl who has been raped),” yelled the senior gynaecologist as she walked through the crowd to her cabin. The parents’ faces changed colour — from pale to red — as all heads turned towards the girl.

There is a déjà vu feel about this incident, that occurred a few years ago. The atmospherics are the same almost each time a sexually violated girl or woman is taken for medical examination. Survivors of the recent Bulandshahr (UP) gangrape, yet another to have shaken the country at least for the time being, received similar treatment at the hospital they went to after the incident. Bruised, bleeding and shivering with fear, they were berated and asked to “keep quiet and sit in a corner” by the doctor who allegedly also accused the mother-daughter duo of lying about what had happened to them.

In our country, the psychological trauma of a sexual assault victim continues after the physical attack ends. From the time she goes to a police station to report the crime and to a hospital for medical exam, it is just the beginning of a long and tiring journey ahead. We live in a patriarchal society and this is reflected in the mindsets of all those whom survivors come in close contact with after being abused, including their own families. According to activists who work closely with children and women victims of sexual crimes, in maximum number of cases the administrative framework — doctors, police, courts and judiciary — is extremely hostile.

When a survivor goes to report the incident, she is mostly discouraged from filing a case by the police. “Going to file a complaint is where the second round of harassment begins. Policemen can be extremely non-cooperative. They try their best that a complaint is not registered,” said Smriti Minocha, a paralegal associated with Delhi-based Human Rights Law Network, who works as a support person for survivors of sexual assaults. “They often tell victims apni family ki izzat ke bare mein socho. Tumse shaadi kaun karega (Think about your family’s honour. Who will marry you if you file a case),” she said.

The police, interested in keeping the official crime figures relatively low, see such victims through a prism of caste, class and education. If she comes from an underprivileged background, it’s easier for them to convince her family not to lodge a complaint and press for a compromise. “In a recent case of a 14-year-old domestic help having been abused, the lady investigating officer asked the girl’s parents who were daily wage labourers to get her married to the offender and finish the matter. If the victim comes from a poor and uneducated backdrop, there are more chances that the case might go unreported. For police it’s easier to shoo away victims who are poor and from lower castes especially Dalits,” Minocha said.

Even in cases where victims and their families are aware of their rights and adamant on filing a case, the police may not record the victim’s statement properly, which has a negative effect on the case. At times they also compromise on the statutory sections they slap on accused in the FIR. For instance, they seldom apply the SC/ST Act in case the victim is from a Scheduled Caste or Tribe, or they may fail to apply the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012 in cases of minor victims. Even in July’s Bulandshahr gangrape case, POCSO was not included in the FIR despite one survivor being a minor.

In a large number of such cases, there is victim-blaming and character assassination from all and sundry. If the woman is unmarried and sexually active or a sex worker, the kind of shaming and mockery she is subjected to increases manifold.

Rape protest by Arun Sehrawat (1)

Dr Rajat Mitra, a clinical psychiatrist who has counselled hundreds of rape survivors in the past 18 years, said the tendency to blame the victim for the assault is rampant. “In a lot of cases, policemen hold the woman responsible. For example, in a particular case a young woman was abducted from a roadside eatery at 2 am and raped. The cops were so angry at her. They said it was her fault as she had ventured out so late at night. This hurts and angers the survivors.”

He said the police has no training in dealing with sexual assault victims. “A survivor of such a crime is already physically and emotionally devastated and is in dire need of support. Policemen can be very rude and arrogant. While talking to such victims, you have to ask sensitive questions. Maximum investigators we have come across don’t even understand the concept of sensitivity. Many survivors are asked such uncomfortable questions by investigating officers that they do not want to put up with it,” said Dr Mitra, who runs NGO Swanchetan in Delhi that works in the field of mental health.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 1,32,939 cases of sexual assault including 36,735 cases of rape were registered across the country in 2014. The real number of incidents could be much higher as a large number of them go unreported. The decision to go to the police is not always taken by the victim but by her family and community members in most parts of the country. Fear of dishonour and pressure from police and the community dissuade many families from taking recourse to the law.

A question of honour

In patriarchal societies such as ours, a woman is not considered an independent person but as someone who carries the weight of the family’s and community’s honour on her shoulders. Sexual crimes against women are not seen as violations of their bodies and a personal trauma but a beating to the family’s honour. Many victims face hostility from not only the police but their own families who sometimes hold them responsible for the assault. “We have seen parents slapping survivors, blaming them for being raped. In fact many rape survivors themselves are embarrassed for their families. They believe they have become joothan and that nobody would marry them — such archaic notions have been so deeply instilled in them,” Dr Mitra said.

There are also cases where communities and panchayats decide to take matters in their own hands and not involve the police. “Hamari ladki hai hum dekh lenge (The victim is our girl and we will see what to do)” is the usual retort when NGOs or the police approach them. In communities where such tribalist mentalities prevail, a woman is treated like family property rather than a person in her own right.

For women who have been subjected to violations of their bodies, maintaining the fight for justice is an uphill task. Even in urban areas and metropolitan cities where such women and their families are educated and more aware of their rights, they are compelled to withdraw cases because they simply cannot continue to cope with the enormous pressures. The whole system is so devastating that at some point in time they break down.

According to some lawyers and activists, the socio-economic backgrounds of women have little effect on whether or not they will put up a brave fight. People’s shaky faith in the criminal justice system deters even educated survivors from pursuing cases. “It’s not necessary that educated women from socially unorthodox families are more forthcoming in the fight for justice. Sadly, victims across various socio-economic groups in the country don’t have faith in the criminal justice system. They realise sooner or later that the system is going to fail them,” said a Delhi-based lawyer who has worked on cases of sexual violence against women and children. Requesting anonymity, this lawyer narrated the ordeal of his friend, a woman lawyer, who was sexually assaulted.

“Initially she put up a brave front but later she faced hostility from the system. She knew that the person who assaulted her was very powerful and that he would buy off the police. She felt she wouldn’t last very long because her perpetrator was a powerful man. When a key prosecution witness went to testify, he was harassed. The questions asked of him were irrelevant. They (defence lawyers) literally tried to break him down and the judge didn’t do much despite protests by the witness. I could feel that everything was not going well in the case, that influence was used at different levels,” he said.

Courtroom ordeals

In a sexual assault, the crime scene is the woman’s body. It cannot be treated like a regular crime scene such as a room or a road. It is difficult for a woman whose body has been violated to describe the criminal act objectively. Sometimes survivors are made to recount their ordeal numerous times in front of strangers with utmost insensitivity. In many cases they are called by the trial courts to give their testimony five or six years after the crime has taken place, which is unfair to the woman who wants to get over the incident and move on.

“In India, laws for protection of women are in place. However, the problem is of implementation. These cases are not dealt with in a time-bound manner. It makes no sense for a rape case to go on for 10-20 years. The victim has to go to court throughout these years and feel humiliated. Cases of sexual assault fall in a separate category all together. There have to be fast-track courts specifically to deal with these cases,” says advocate Shilpi Jain, who has worked on many cases of violence against women.

She said that a parochial mindset affects the judiciary too. “We live in a male-dominated society and this aspect is noticed in judges as well. Many judges have a biased mindset. For instance, in cases of sexual assault, they sometimes ask what kind of clothes the victim was wearing. It’s not right for a judge to say this,” she points out. This is why Jain feels that along with police, even the judiciary needs to be sensitised in dealing with victims of sexual assault. “Such victims go through a lot of agony during the testimony in court. They are already physically and emotionally ravaged. For them there is a very hostile environment in courts as judges and public prosecutors can be equally insensitive. They should ensure that they talk to the victim in a soft pitch. Sometimes their tone is so harsh, they are almost shouting at victims. These women should be made to feel comfortable in courts. Witnesses are not allowed to sit but rape victims should be given a chair to sit, she should be allowed to drink water from time to time. Testimonies can take hours and their ordeal becomes worse. These small gestures can go a long way in making the victim have faith in the judicial system,” she said.

Psychological trauma

Dr Mitra, who has also given legal testimony on the basis of his psychological assessment in around a hundred cases of sexual assault, points out that investigators and the judiciary need to be given psychological training in dealing with cases of sexual violations in order to improve the way such cases are death with. “Survivors of sexual assault are very ambivalent. In many cases the judges feel that victims are being dishonest. But victim ambivalence is a known fact in psychiatry. They feel conflicted. But our judges don’t know this. In our society and culture, it isn’t easy being a survivor of sexual assault. You constantly need support. In our country women don’t find that kind of support.”

“Police and judges think that if a woman is silent after an atrocity, she is being dishonest. This is a common yardstick. But the fact is that women don’t scream and shout in trauma but they freeze. In trauma, part of the brain that generates speech goes silent. Being frozen is a very common reaction. 99 percent of the girls freeze because they are not able to react. Many policemen and judges don’t know this psychological fact and they need to be told this,” he said.

Faced with sexual assault, most women don’t fight aggressively but in a passive-aggressive way. Dr Nidhi Tikku Mitra, also a psychiatrist working with Swanchetan, said that such reaction is because women are not taught to confront a man in the first place. “Most women don’t even know how to actively put up a fight. They have never been taught to resist or to stand up to a man. Since their childhood women are taught that they are always under a man’s protection, be it their fathers, brothers, husbands or sons. They are taught to never answer back a man or argue with him. In our country when a woman is taught that she shouldn’t even look at a man in the eye, how can she put up a fight when a man attacks her?”

The police and judges are sceptical of the allegations when a survivor hasn’t actively resisted the attack. “They blame the woman and ask her questions as ridiculous as why she didn’t protest the rape attempt. They need to know that women will protest if they are taught to be aggressive and assertive than feminine and coy,” Dr Tikku Mitra says. However, assertiveness is not a quality people want women to possess. Many NGOs who have counselled young girls and taught them to be assertive and not shy, have faced protests from their parents who feel their daughters are being spoiled.

Dr Rajat Mitra emphasises that professional counselling of assault victims and their families is highly essential. “Survivors need to feel listened-to. Due to lack of support from society and the system, they feel let down and guilty. There is a sense of hopelessness. Professional counselling is highly important because it provides support to the survivor and gives back that sense of self-worth and confidence.”

Psychological support to victims should become part of the statute and not just of guidelines. In many rule-of-law countries such as US, Australia, Japan, South Korea, and those in Europe, it’s mandatory under the law for psychologists to counsel rape and assault victims.

‘Most women don’t  know how to put up a fight. They have never been taught to resist or stand up to a man. Since their childhood, they are taught that they are under a man’s protection’

Rape protest by Arun Sehrawat

Patriarchal attitude

The backward patriarchal mindset in the country has resulted in a spike in sexual violence against women. As more people are migrating to cities and as the demography of small towns is changing, there is a clash of cultures. People from orthodox backgrounds are unable to cope with the culture shock they get when they set foot in a modern environment. When a person who is used to seeing women not being allowed to go out of their homes without permission starts to interact with women who wear short clothes and go out at night, he fails to comprehend that it’s a normal thing to do.

Sexual assault is a behavioural crime. It is a crime in which the perpetrator feels that he is more powerful not just physically but also because he is a man. According to psychologists, sexual offenders don’t see their victims as persons but as objects. Many men have been conditioned to see women as objects. The man’s upbringing and immediate environment play an important role. If he has since childhood seen women being intimidated, he will continue to believe that women are lesser beings.

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What’s the root cause?

Crimes against women have been blamed on westernisation, caste prejudice and retrograde khaps. Banga MG peruses the latest research on the subject.

‘Where Bharat becomes India with the influence of western culture, these type of incidents happen. The actual Indian values and culture should be established at every stratum of society where women are treated as mother’

— Mohan Bhagwat, head of the RSS, commenting in December 2012 on the Nirbhaya gangrape

This comment resounded globally as the Washington Post, the Guardian and bloggers portrayed the problem like an East-West divide. Contradicting this, Satish of the US’ Yale Law School wrote in the Criminal Law Journal that rape cases in rural India outnumber those in cities. His conclusion was based on analysis of those cases tried between 1983 and 2009 in which at least one court (trial court, high court or the Supreme Cour) had convicted the accused. This led to an intense debate in India.

Former IPS officer and activist Kiran Bedi commented, “What Mohan Bhagwat has said, is what appears when you are actually not close to ground reality, The ground reality is: when does the rape victim report her crime? When there is a police station available, when there is sensitive officer to report the crime, when the family takes you to report the crime, when there is a doctor to examine you, when she knows the accused will not be bailed out and will not harass her… these facilities just do not exist in Bharat. These exist in India, i.e., in Delhi, in Mumbai,” she added.

Stirring call: ‘If women don’t rise, atrocities will increase’, says the writing on the wall, a reminder to society that silence is not an option
Stirring call: ‘If women don’t rise, atrocities will increase’, says the writing on the wall, a reminder to society that silence is not an option

Research done by Sudhir Krishnaswamy et al from Azim Premji University explored the relationship between urbanisation and the incidence of reported rape. The study could not find any conclusive evidence that urbanisation increases incidence of rape. Results were diversified. For example, in Haryana, the initial urbanisation leads to increased rape cases. However, once urbanisation goes beyond 40 percent, the incidence of rape goes down. Highest rates of rape are noted at much lower urbanisation levels of around 5 and 20 percent respectively. Thereafter, the rate of reported rape appears to drop significantly.

Krishnaswamy’s team also held that Satish’s findings also have a lot of infirmities as the assumptions made in the research limits the scope of study. It takes into consideration only reported crime. But under-reporting of sex crimes is a well-known fact. Countries where surveys were conducted reveal high levels of under-reporting of violence against women; for instance, the rate of under-reporting of rape is around 54 percent in the USA, while it may be as high as 85 percent in the United Kingdom for cases of serious sexual assault. It is unclear what such a survey might reveal in the Indian context; especially regarding potential variations in the reporting of rape in urban and rural areas.

Bhagwat’s statement was inevitably given a political colour of BJP ideology but most politicians across the region and parties have often made comments that reveal their deep-rooted biases about women.

For instance, Botsa Satyanarayana, transport minister in the Congress-ruled government in Andhra Pradesh, said women should stay indoors after dark. “Do we roam in streets at midnight as we got Independence at midnight? It would have been better if the girl did not travel by a private bus at that time.”

Reicha Tanwar of Haryana’s Kurukshetra University laments, “When female foetuses are routinely killed, it is not surprising. Adult women are also viewed as disposable.” No wonder that as per the Census figure of 2011, Haryana has the worst sex ratio (877) and lowest child sex ratio (830). Men have a privileged position in the state. Patriarchal values, orthodox mindset and prejudice are reflected in the lowest sex ratio in the country.

As has often been reported by the media, local community panchayats known as Khaps openly issue diktats on marriageable age of girls, education of women, the way they should dress. Researchers Aditya Parihar et al have given details of the community’s startling attitudes to women in the study ‘Crime against Women in Haryana’ published in November 2015. They continue to look on male offspring as security in old age and perpetuators of the lineage. Girls, on the other hand, go to their ‘real’ homes after marriage.

It is also in Haryana that for the first time, gangrapes occurred during the quota reservation stir — besides violence, looting and arson. In this infamous Murthal case, 30 people forcibly took out three women from a car and raped them in an open field. Later, the women their families approached the police, who allegedly told them that nothing would happen to the rioters, even if they file a police complaint.

In response to a query in the state Assembly, the government said that during 2013 an average of 758 crimes against women were registered. In 2014, a total of 2,715 cases were registered as per the National Crime Records Bureau report, a three-fold increase!
Paradoxically, Haryana has produced the most number of female sportspersons in sports like wrestling, which is considered a taboo for women. The government has to think innovatively to correct its image of one of the worst states when it comes to crimes against women.

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“To prevent such gender bias in men, they should be taught compassion from childhood. In our society compassion is considered a feminine quality and is discouraged in men. If school curriculum includes teaching the concepts of sensitivity and compassion to all children especially boys, this problem can be nipped in the bud,” Dr Mitra said.

“For example, if a judge comes from a highly patriarchal family, how can you train him to be sensitive and compassionate? It has to start from home and school. There has to be a certain level of values imbibed in the person as a child. You can bring out a quality that is already there in that person, but you cant teach him a quality.”

At the same time it’s also very important that women are taught to take their own decisions from a very young age. “Mental training of women is crucial. Women who are emotionally strong, outspoken and assertive can protect themselves. If a woman’s body language is assertive, the offender will be discouraged. Docile and submissive women are easy targets,” he said.

Little deterrence

Just as victims are let down by the criminal justice system, perpetrators of crime are encouraged by the low rate of conviction. The feeling that one can get away from the law leads them on to commit crime. “You need to incorporate fear of law in people. It starts with having strict traffic laws. When people know they can get away with traffic violations, they stop fearing the law. Rising crime is linked to the way people drive. In a city like Delhi, there is a lot of anonymity. If people get away after breaking small laws, there is a feeling of laissez-faire,” Dr Mitra said.

In the 1980s, New York had the highest crime rate in the world. The city authorities brought it down by making it clear that if citizens don’t follow the law they will have to face consequences. The certainty of punishment, not just its strictness, makes people afraid of the law. Even in case of policemen, if they fear the fallout of laxity in registering cases, this improves their attitude towards complainants. Many activists said there has been a gradual improvement in the attitudes of policemen, at least in the cities, in the past few years due to awareness as well as action taken against them for failing to perform. For humans, the fear of consequences can be the biggest deterrent.

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A culture of impunity

Crime against women are clearly on the rise in Bihar, reports Kanhaiya Bhelari

East Champaran district — where exactly 99 years ago, Mahatma Gandhi fought against the exploitation of indigo farmers by the British — today has the worst track record in Bihar when it comes to registered crimes against women. In the last two months alone, even cases of rape caught the headlines.

On June 11, a 13-year-old girl belonging to a downtrodden community from Jamui village in the district was raped twice by a youth from an influential family. The victim, who suffered a stick inserted into her genitals, is under treatment at Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH). A relative who is looking after her told TEHELKA, “The arrested accused Firoz has been threatening the shaken family to withdraw the case or face the consequences when he gets out of jail.”

In fact, the accused is so sure of impunity that he stormed the girl’s hut with his father and other relatives, dragged her out and brutalised her in front of her parents and neighbours. Before she was shifted to the PMCH, the minor girl was lying at a local government hospital virtually unattended for 10 days. It was people’s protests that forced the administration to conduct medical tests. The district administration did not pay serious attention to the case. However, the people collected about 3 lakh in donations to spend on the girl’s treatment — a rare but welcome example of society rallying to a victim’s help.

The Bihar police website shows that 5,738 rape cases (including 481 till 30 June this year) were registered in different police stations since 2011. Most of them are pending in different courts due to shoddy police investigations, lack of forensic reports and an inadequate numbers of fast-track courts.

Judgement of December 16 gangrape case

After the Nirbhaya gang-rape case, the Bihar government had announced the setting up of dedicated courts for speedy trial of rape cases. Sadly, there is no serious progress in the matter till today. Says senior Patna lawyer Pramod Kumar Singh, “More than 600 cases of rape and sexual assault are pending in Patna civil court alone”. He alleged that with a mere 16 percent conviction rate in the state, most of the rape accused are on bail and have little reason to fear punishment.

A senior police officer told Tehelka, “Due to lack of coordination between police and the prosecution, rape cases face unnecessary delay.” In a number of cases related to atrocities against women, the accused force victims to withdraw cases. Moreover, the meagre presence of police women creates difficulties for rape victims — Bihar has a mere 3,000 women cop.

Due to lack of coordination between police and the prosecution, rape cases face unnecessary delay. The meagre presence of women cops is a hurdle for rape victims

Anjum Ara, who headed Bihar State Women’s Commission (BSWC) for two- and-a-half years, admits, “I used to receive complaints of at least 3,500 cases of atrocities against women per year, 70 percent of which involved domestic violence. The rest were of heinous natures, like rape and sexual exploitation.” She said 99 percent of the cases were genuine. She managed to dispose of many of the complaints by holding district-level camps in all the 38 districts of the state.

Suman Singh, who runs an NGO called Sakhi, is of the opinion that crimes against women have been on the rise for the last two years. “I have information that 70 girls are done to death daily following violence perpetuated on them in Bihar. Most of these cases are not in the know of police officers”, she added.

She also alleged that the girls belonging to downtrodden sections are lured and smuggled to metros in the name of domestic help, where they face their sexual exploitation.

Remarkably, CM Nitish Kumar claims that atrocities against women have decreased by 28 percent.

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Political bungling

Unfortunately, even our politicians have a biased mindset against women. Time and again many of them make statements implying that women are responsible for the crimes committed against them. Our leaders publicly criticise female victims. Some call them adventurous, some say they were wearing the wrong clothes, and some say they were out of their homes at a wrong time.

These politicians, both men and women, put the onus of rape and assault on women themselves while believing that men are instigated by the “loose” behaviour of the opposite sex. When it comes to putting in place preventive measures, they come up with solutions that put restrictions on the free movement of girls and women but none on men. To make matters worse, some male politician often make sexist jibes at their female counterparts. There have been instances where female parliamentarians have been publicly compared to prostitutes, referred to as “naachne gaane wali aurat (a derogatory connotation for a woman who dances and sings)” and have been told that their physical beauty is a treat for male members of the House. Unless our elected representatives consciously distance themselves from such regressive attitudes, they will be unable to teach progressive values to the masses.

As for society, it’s a comprehensive system and change begins to happen when each individual makes a conscious effort to be that change.

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Dismal state

Maharashtra is showing signs of going downhill in the matter of women’s safety, writes Prateek Goyal

Maharashtra, once known for social reformers who worked for the uplift of women, has attained the status of a state with sizable number of rapes and cases of assault on women. According to a report of National Crime Records Bureau, in 2014 Maharashtra recorded highest number of cases of assault on women ‘with intent to outrage her modesty’. In fact, during a 2015 Lok Sabha session, Union Minister of Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi named Maharashtra as the state with highest number (13,287) of cases of rape and assault on women in the year 2014.

The recent gruesome rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl in Kopardi village of Ahmednagar district which created tension throughout the state gives credibility to reports of rising crime against woman in the state. According to local police officials, the minor was on her way home after visiting her grandparents in Kopardi when she was raped and killed by the three accused. As per the postmortem report, girl was brutally tortured during the act of crime, her hair pulled out, teeth smashed and arms dislodged from the shoulders. Three suspects, identified as Santosh Bhawal, Jeetendra Shinde and Nitin Bhailume, have been arrested.

A hue and cry was made by politicians across party lines in the ongoing monsoon session of the Maharashtra Assembly. Leaders suggested punishment ranging from castration to punishment under Sharia law but couldn’t come up with a solution for curbing crimes against women. The BJP government will expedite the hearing of the case in a fast- track court and will demand capital punishment for the culprits.

According to the latest records of Maharashtra criminal investigation department, 3,438 cases of rape have been registered in the year 2014 which shows an increase of 12.24 percent over those in 2013. In the same year, 10,001 cases of molestation have also been reported.

Women and Child Development Minister of Maharashtra Pankaja Munde said,” It was a horrific incident and we need to curb such incidents. We are planning to start an awareness campaign for crime against women in cooperation with the state home department and women’s commission. It’s good that people are coming forward to register complaint against such crimes but we need to take more measures for the self-protection of women in the state.”

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Highways to hell

The SP government in UP offers little hope for women’s security, reports Mudit Mathur

The conscience of the nation was shaken by news of the gruesome gangrape of a mother, 35, and her minor daughter, 14, in front of their horrified family members by seven-eight armed men in western Uttar Pradesh. This was no one-off case. When it comes to rising crimes against women, the situation in the state is grim. Deep-rooted gender bias and social inequality aggravate the situation.

In the face of sharp criticism of his government’s inability to control rising crimes against women from all the political parties — BSP, Congress and BJP — Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav enhanced compensation from the 3 lakh announced earlier to 10 lakh each. The CM also allotted them a flat in Noida, besides ordering quick arrest of all the accused. Police arrested three persons the next day.

Critics say this new practice of the state government — granting huge amounts as compensation — dilutes seriousness of the crime. It comes across as a cynical damage control measure to earn goodwill and silence the victim. On the ill-fated night of 29 July, the two women were dragged out of their car in Bulandshahr district’s Dostpur area. The family was travelling from Noida to Shahjahanpur when criminals thrown an iron obstacle before their running car. When they stopped, they were overpowered at gunpoint and taken to a secluded spot where men were tied up and the women raped for over two hours. They fled with 11,000 in cash and jewelry.

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Masked misogyny: UP police produce two of the three accused in the Bulandshahr case in court on August 1

In a show of judicial activism, a division bench of the Allahabad High Court comprising Chief Justice Dilip Babasaheb Bhosale and Justice Yashwant Varma handed over the investigation of Bulandshahr gang rape case to CBI with immediate effect on August 12, 2016. After examining the status report file by the state government, the court expressed its dissatisfaction the way investigation progressed after the heinous crime.

The Judges showed displeasure the way case was handled. The Court also took cognizance of similar crimes reported on this highway earlier and those matters would also be heard.

Uttar Pradesh DG Police Javeed Ahmed had earlier promised better policing. He said, “To prevent such unfortunate incidents, we have planned a special highway security system, which will be implemented in the next few days. All vulnerable stretches of highways have been identified across the state for providing adequate security.”

It may be recalled that the distressed family desperately dialed 100 and 1090 (women’s helpline) even as the crime was being perpetrated for more than two hours. To no avail. Later too, their tale of woe was not properly heard at the police station. The police swung into action only after the family contacted the media, who informed senior officers.

The incident exposed the ground realities of state policing despite much publicised flagship schemes designed to check crime and speedy help to citizens in distress. These schemes are the main focus of the CM’s public speeches when he boasts about his government’s achievements.

Meanwhile, state police has found the report of the alleged rape of a Bareilly school teacher totally fake. She seems to have concocted the story and filed an FIR when her family came to know of her clandestine relationship.

There are newer threats to women. “It is a matter of grave concern that CDs of real rapes are being sold openly in markets of the state. Police officials know about it,” comments a woman activist who prefers not to be named.

Expressing concern over rising violence against women, state president of NFIW Asha Misra stresses, “Due to collapse of justice delivery system and with poor rate of conviction (just around 11 percent), criminals move scot-free in society without any fear of the law. They commit crimes again and again with impunity.” She expressed pain at ill-treatment of women when they approach policemen to register a crime. In most of the cases, police put the blame on her. “Despite formation of Women’s Commissions and enactment of stringent laws, the government has not become sensitive and mature enough to understand and redress their plight,” she adds.

Critics say the practice of the UP government to give huge amounts as compensation dilutes the serious nature of the crime. It comes across as a cynical damage control measure

Former vice chancellor of Lucknow University Professor Roop Rekha Verma formed an organisation Saajhi Duniya to fight for women’s issues. She campaigned against powerful culprits having strong political nexus who gangraped the minor girl of a ragpicker in Lucknow in a moving car in 2005. She aggressively led the historic battle against main accused Gaurav Shukla till April this year, when he was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in jail.

Highlighting the weakness in the judicial system, Prof Verma says, “It took more than 10 years to establish that the main accused was not a juvenile at the time of commission of offence of gangrape.”

The state president of All India Democratic Women Association (AIDWA) Madhu Garg led a delegation of her organisation to Bulandshahr and wrote a letter to the CM raising the issue of safety of women. She emphasises, “Unless fundamental structural changes in policing system and its working is done, criminals would continue to flourish like this.”She said that Highway 91 is a toll road but there is no proper lighting. Even the names of roadside villages are not displayed. The letter also points out poor police patrolling, as a result of which spots under bridges have become shelters for crimes.

Activist Naish Hasan blames political apathy for rising crimes against women. She said political patronage to police has ruined its ability to deter crime. “Women are not safe even in the areas adjacent to the chief minister’s bungalow. Recently, a class 12 student was brutally raped and murdered just 250 metres from his official residence. What to say about villages when they are not safe in high security zone?” she questions.

The irresponsible stands of political leaders also encourage criminal-minded elements who see them as their protector and role model. It was just two years ago that Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav said at a rally in Moradabad, opposing capital punishment for rape, “Ladke, ladke haingalti ho jati hai (Boys will be boys… they commit mistakes).” He also blocked the Women’s Reservation Bill in Parliament.
With such a leadership, gender inequality is perpetuated.

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‘Control rooms will bring accountability’

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Uttar Pradesh will have the first integrated Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) in India that will enable a new era of effective policing and monitoring at the highest levels of administration. Hexagon’s software will deliver map-based views of calls, events and units in the field to 246 call takers and 114 dispatchers. It will replace the age-old legacy and fragmented systems that have become obsolete and lack accountability.

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Javeed Ahmed, UP Director General of Police

DGP Javeed Ahmed, in an interaction with TEHELKA, claims that it is wrong to say that crimes against women are on the rise in the state. He says there was a phenomenal decline of 12.75 percent in registration of rape cases in 2015 as compared to 2014. After investigation, the real percentage further declined 9.93 percent. He gave the credit for this to 100 and 1090 lines.

Ahmed admits that there are behavioural problems when dealing with women at police stations. Gender sensitisation is needed, but new control rooms will bring accountability. Response time monitoring will be done at senior level to judge performance.

“We have started the concept of e-FIR online and made various structural changes in the functioning of the police station to make them people-friendly. We have designed apps to register petty crime, including lost articles online, and do passport verification,” he adds.

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