The gang rape of a 23-year-old student in Delhi brought the nation together in a way hardly seen before. Protests and candlelight vigils were held in various cities, from Bangalore to Agartala. The incident became the spark that fuelled the fire of anger and frustration towards a system that has yet again, failed to protect its female members.
In the first part of our series, legal, political, forensic and mental health experts pointed out the flaws in the system and ways to rectify them. The suggestions ranged from meting out the harshest punishment possible, updating outdated laws, building a police force that knows how to preserve DNA evidence, and teaching boys from childhood that women are equal to them. In the concluding part, city’s top police officers make their own suggestions.
P S Pasricha, erstwhile Director General of Police
The sensitisation of the police and judiciary is very important on all aspects related to crimes against women. The victim’s psyche must be understood - the humiliation, the drop in self esteem she suffers, the fact that her own family may blame her, these are aspects we must understand so that we can find a way to help her deal with that trauma. The visibility of the police force – foot patrol, motor patrol etc – and the response at police stations must be such that they instil confidence in the public.
We do need a larger police force to achieve this, but in the meantime, let us consider if the police is really required to look after everything from social legislation to security arrangements for so-called VIPs and at events like cricket matches. Can’t cricket match organisers organise private security so the police may focus exclusively on crime management and reinstating law and order? That’s how it works in other parts of the world. Why not here? Why is the police force used to enhance the social image of retired officials - we have 20, at times 40 policemen assigned to safeguard people the public has long since forgotten about.
Fast-track courts and, I believe, the presence of a female judge in such proceedings in consideration of the way the victim is usually grilled – it’s like she’s the one to have committed the crime - by insensitive lawyers, would be helpful to some extent. Chargesheets must be filed within 30 days in rape cases and justice delivered within 90 to 120 days’ time - usually such cases take seven to eight years to go to trial by which time the victim may be killed, may have married or may have moved on and be unwilling to revisit the circumstances of the case.
What about public effort and involvement? In this case, for instance, where the girl was lying on the road, almost naked, what were the passersby doing? Community involvement is imperative and the public must work hand in hand with the police force in order to tackle these crimes. But yes, the average man must first begin to trust the police and for this it is up to the police to take two steps forward for every step the public takes. It’s only through collective action that we will be able to achieve cure in this aspect.
Recording rape trials on camera may deter unethical lawyers from unfairly grilling the victim and the crime must be made a non-bailable offense so the accused cannot get out and hurt the victim or witnesses. Arrest of a person accused of rape is immediate today but by law, the police is only allowed to keep the accused in custody for up to 24 hours after which he must be produced before a magistrate and then it’s up to the court to decide what to do. Courts that allow bail must be made to justify their stance to their superiors.
Himanshu Roy, Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime), offers a similar list of suggestions but he also adds, in the interest of erasing another misconception people have of the police, “When a woman is raped by someone she does not know, a police lineup or parade is part of the procedure of gathering evidence.
The accused is lined up with 10 other men and the victim must identify him. When we cover an accused person’s face, people erroneously assume we do this to safeguard his identity. This is not true! If his face is shown on TV or in newspapers before the victim has had a chance to identify him, that piece of evidence we collect in a lineup loses its value as the defense counsel would then argue that the victim recognised the man she saw on TV or wherever. That’s why we cover their faces.”
Roy also recommends severe sentences for rapists. Says he, “The concern for the human rights of the accused are often given more importance than the rights of the victim. There is a process of trial and false complaints would be recognised almost immediately so there’s no reason to hesitate.”
Play your part:
>> Visit your local police station: Form a neighbourhood committee to routinely check if the police station in your neighbourhood is equipped with functioning closed circuit television systems (CCTVs) and a female division. If your local police station refuses to set up such a system and you simply never see any female officers around, write to the Commissioner of Police or your local corporator.
>> Don’t contaminate the crime scene: If you’re in an area where a rape has been perpetrated, the very least you can do is to clear out the area. DNA samples offer critical evidence, so don’t let your hair and fingerprints contaminate the crime scene.
>> Let’s get it on tape: CCTVs are not expensive and if you set up a neighbourhood security committee, you could organise these without delay.
>> Bring our beat bobbies back: Says Priya Dutt Roncon, member of parliament (MP), “We have a great police force; we simply need to learn to trust it again.” The beat chowki system, says Dutt, where a single policeman was put in charge of a particular area so he became a familiar face in the neighbourhood had strengthened the public’s faith in the police system, “but the system faded away. The problem is we don’t sustain anything. The beat chowki system would build a camaraderie.” Write to your MP and send a petition to the Chief Minister to push for these measures.
>> The party’s over: Make it clear to political parties that you will not vote for them if they give seats to criminals or people accused of crimes. We pay their salaries and we give them their jobs - let’s hold these politicos accountable.
>> Don’t cripple our cops: Youth wings of political groups have offered the city’s women a helpline. Of the 30 women we spoke to, only seven said they’d ever consider dialling it (and for six of them it was because they hailed from the same community as these groups), 12 said they were as afraid of the members of these groups as they were of the cops and 11 said they would feel safer taking on their assailant themselves. If these groups that routinely reject the law of the land are genuinely interested in safeguarding the interests of women, perhaps they should start by showing some respect for our cops. Mocking our law enforcement officers only cripples our cops and fuels public mistrust.
>> Community efforts: Work with the officer at your local police station and put together a neighbourhood security committee that will promote positive interaction between the cops and the youth
>> DNA bill: Start a petition to push for a DNA bill that lays out how such evidence must be dealt with and opens out databases for forensic laboratories so as to facilitate the conviction of assailants.
>> Change the laws and procedures: If you want to endorse our experts’ suggestions or have any of your own, write to the Justice Usha Mehra Commission today at any of these addresses:
>> Justice (Retd) (Ms) Usha Mehra, Room No 331 and 331 (A), Vigyan Bhawan Annexe, New Delhi 110003; fax: 011-23022364; email: usha.Mehracommission@nic.In
>> S M Aggarwal, Convenor, Room No 330, Vigyan Bhawan Annexe, New Delhi-110003; Fax number and email address are as above.
Justice Mehra and Convenor Aggarwal can be contacted Monday-Friday (except on gazetted holidays) during office hours. The panel, set up on December 26, will submit its report within three months... so start writing now.