The Commissioner of Police, Delhi, is in the eye of a storm. The horrendous gang rape and torture inflicted on a young woman in a Delhi bus resulting in her death has shocked the conscience of the nation and ignited widespread public anger. There is all-round denunciation of the Delhi Police for its failure to ensure safety and security of women and a shrill cry for stringent punishment of the rapists.
It is a fact that there has been an exponential increase of crimes against women not only in Delhi but all over the country. During the year 2011, 228,650 incidents of crime against women were reported as against 213,585 during the year 2010, registering an increase of 7.1 percent during the year 2011. There was also a sharp rise in the incidence of rape all over the country. There were 24,206 cases in 2011 as against 22,172 in 2010 and 21,397 in 2009. Delhi has earned the dubious distinction of being the country’s rape capital. In 2012, 635 cases were reported against 572 in 2011 and 507 in 2010.
One of the tests prescribed by our ancient law-givers for judging the crime situation is that the situation is fine if a young beautiful girl laden with gold ornaments can walk at night on the roads without fear of being robbed or molested. By this test the crime situation in India, and particularly in Delhi, is quite grim. But these crime figures or police statistics are misleading and constitute only a tip of the iceberg. A large number of crimes against women are not reported and, if reported, not registered. On a very conservative estimate at least 30 percent of the cases are not registered. Because of the attached stigma or shame rape remains one of the most misunderstood and unregistered crimes and this is not a uniquely Indian phenomenon. The National Crime Victim Survey in Australia found that only 32 percent of rape victims had reported the assault.
This massive burking of crime highlights the imperative need for crime victim surveys in order to get a more accurate picture of the incidents of crime. In many European countries and in America such surveys have become an effective supplement to police statistics which are considered unreliable because a large number of cases are not reported to the police. The National Crime Victimization Survey in USA is the primary source of information of crime victimization and provides a dependable database on the nature and extent of crime in a given community. Many criminologists regard victimization surveys far more reliable than crimes reported to the police. A crime victim survey in Delhi will indicate the margin of error in official statistics and enable the authorities to chalk out more realistic crime prevention strategies.
Delhi is the national capital with a population of 1.7 million and a police force of 85000. There is demand for augmenting the strength of the police particularly at the police station levels. It has been found that the police investigation of cases of crimes against women, and particularly cases of rape, is very shoddy because of overworked police officers hardly find adequate time for investigation of cases. The police officers in many urban areas, as shown in the reports of National Police Commission, spend less than 30 percent of their time in investigation of crimes – their core function.
There is need for dedicated staff for investigation of cases and this will require augmentation of the staff as well as separation of investigation from law and order work of the police. This is also the mandatory directive of the Supreme Court in Prakash Singh’s case. Crimes against women have to be treated as special report cases to be monitored by senior supervising officers and also by the state CID.
There is also an urgent need for inducting more women police officers. Unfortunately, representation of women police officers in the police forces all over the country is less than 4 percent and in Delhi it is barely 7.6 percent of the total strength. In cases of sexual violence female victims feel embarrassed to answer probing questions by the male investigating officers and failure to get detailed information from the reluctant victims goes to weaken the case. But female officers in order to be effective have to be trained in supportive and sympathetic interviewing techniques to handle the traumatized victims. In my long police career I have come across women officers as insensitive as their male counterparts. Indeed, there is utmost need for gender sensitization of police personnel at all levels. At present many police officers including senior officers betray utter insensitivity in dealing with complaints of women and particularly women belonging to under privileged sections. All over the country police attach a low priory to complaints lodged by women and deal with them cursorily. This needs a radical overhaul.
Senior officers have to be firmly directed that disrespect and unconcern for women by the police will be an unflattering reflection on their leadership. Empirical research done by the Institute of Social Sciences has revealed that at present majority of police officers have not undergone any gender sensitization programs, but mere training programs will not help if they become rituals and will be of no avail unless values and principles taught during training are sustained by the organizational culture of the police which unfortunately remains patriarchal. Masculine and patriarchal culture of the police is a reflection of the gender insensitive culture of the Indian society where women do not enjoy respect and consideration they deserve. Many silly statements are being made by political and religious leaders regarding woman’s role and conduct. The fact is forgotten that gender inequality is only hampering human development of the country.
Demand to make Delhi police more visible and responsive by augmenting the strength of the police pickets and increasing the number of PCR Vans is justified. Indeed, our police stations have to be modernized. All FIRs have to be recorded whether complaints made by telephones or by person. Stations have to be equipped with audio visual recording facility. Telephone lines of police stations should be provided with simultaneous relay facilities to the patrol vehicles in areas proximal to the caller. It is a pity that these facilities do not exist even in the police stations of the national capital.
However, just increasing the strength and facilities of the police will not stop crime and deter criminals, particularly the sexual offenders. Research has shown that promptitude of the public to report a crime to the police is the primary determinant of detection and prevention. Hence, better rapport with the public through community policing is sine qua non for police success in detecting and preventing crime.
But not only the police but other agencies of the criminal justice system have to function with speed and efficiency. One of the most effective ways of deterring crime is quick trial and heavy punishment of the offenders. The Bureau of Police Research and Development conducted a sample survey of 100 cases of kidnapping, abduction and rape. It revealed that the trial was invariably prolonged providing an opportunity to the offenders to influence the witnesses. Rather than death penalty, swift arrest and fast track trial can instil fear of law in the minds of the people and deter commission of crimes. Criminal justice delivery system must improve.
Again the police have to be insulated from extraneous pressures in order to enable it to act effectively and efficiently. The Supreme Courts’ directives in the case of Prakash Singh are yet to be implemented by the state governments who are adopting various stratagems to scuttle them. To make police force professional and impartial it has to be unshackled from the control of political leaders who use it to further their own vested interests.
Sankar Sen is Senior Fellow, Institute of Social Sciences; former Director General, National Human Rights Commission and former Director, National Police Academy
Good article! Without law and order we are not even a civilized country, let alone being a democracy.
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