In an interview on a local television channel, the boyfriend of last month’s brutal gang rape victim gives a harrowing first-hand account of the event. He was with the 23-year old woman when they were attacked by 6 men while travelling on a private bus. He was the only witness to the crime.
“We were lying on the road for nearly two hours, naked, bleeding and crying for help. Many people came and went but nobody helped. People passing by in auto rickshaws, cars and bikes would slow down to take a look but after seeing us they would quickly move on. A group of about 30 people stood at a distance watching, commenting and passing judgment. They could have offered us clothes or taken us to hospital.
Today people are protesting and holding candle-lit marches in support but no one offered a helping hand when it was so desperately needed and could have made all the difference.”
He also criticizes the police for what he calls their casual and insensitive attitude in dealing with the situation.
“Somebody called the police and after a while three police vans turned up. But instead of attending to us, the officers kept arguing about which police station the case belonged to. Some said it was this police station, others said no.. it was that one; and this continued for a long time. We shouted for attention, begged them to give us clothes or at least call an ambulance to take us to hospital but they said let us first decide about the police station. I was more worried about my girlfriend because she was bleeding profusely, but they didn’t call an ambulance.”
The police denied this saying that they responded as soon as they were notified of the incident and helped the victims as much as they could. But it’s not an isolated case.
Two weeks after the Delhi gang-rape, a 17-year old girl in Punjab, committed suicide after being kidnapped and gang-raped by three men. The victim’s mother says it was the police that pushed her daughter over the edge.
“The police refused to register the case for 45 days. It was only after my daughter’s death that they acted and arrested the accused. Earlier, whenever we went to see them, they accused us of lying and even threatened us with arrest. They said my daughter had not been kidnapped; she had willingly gone with the men. Even the villagers had started saying bad things about my daughter. When she realised that nobody was listening and the police were instead harassing us, she lost all hope of getting justice and poisoned herself.”
Most cases involving violence against women go unreported in India. Those reported either drag on in the courts for years or rarely end up with a conviction. About 40,000 rape cases are pending in Indian courts and these types of cases have the lowest conviction rate.
Jagmati Sangwan, vice president of the All India Democratic Women’s Association says the police’s sexist behaviour is the main reason for the lack of convictions.
“All the measures that have been developed for women’s safety and security in this country are working not in favor of women but against them. They side with the criminals and encourage crimes against women. The police’s role is particularly negative. The police believe that women are asking for it, that’s why they don’t even register cases. They often take bribes from the accused and then try their best to force the victim to compromise using all sorts of tactics including threats and actual use of force. And if they register cases then the investigation is carried out in such a way that the victim is made to feel as if she is the culprit. They are asked humiliating questions, intimidated and put through an unending and extremely tiring and traumatizing legal procedure in order to discourage them from pursuing the case.”
Two years ago, a New Delhi-based weekly news magazine, Tehelka, carried out a sting operation to expose the police’s attitude towards rape victims. Most of the officers, some very senior ranking, blamed the victims for their plight. The exposure led to a national uproar and calls for reforms to the police.
But Teheleka’s editor Shoma Chowdhari says nothing actually happened afterwards.
“There were officers caught on camera and every bit of the conversation was on record and so there was no leading conversation, you just have to stop and ask what was the action taken against them. The talk then from very senior seasoned people was this is their opinion and we can’t really take action against them and nothing has happened. So what everybody is speaking of is that we do have to outlaw certain attitudes when you are in uniform.“
The police claim they have been running gender awareness programs. But even senior officers agree that it hasn’t made much of a difference. Calls for reforms have also been coming from within the police force.
Prakash Singh is a former Director General of Police. He fought a long legal battle and succeeded in getting a Supreme Court judgment ordering the government to introduce police reforms. In 2007, the Supreme Court listed some of the most urgent reforms. They included modernizing the police force, the separation of law and order and greater gender awareness amongst police officers.
Singh points out that the police are still regulated by a colonial era Police Act.
“As long as the British were there, they were interested in maintaining the colonial structure whatever it was. They had every justification for it. You can’t blame them for the Police Act of 1861. They wanted it that way, they wanted an agency which would uphold the imperial authority in India. The regret is that after 1947 while government of India thought of changes in different spheres of life and government activity at different points of time, but every party found it convenient to retain the Police Act of 1861.They thought that here was an agency which would be at their behest and which could be used and misused to further their political agenda. What we have today is the rulers’ police; what we want through reforms is people’s police.”
To date, nothing’s changed. The demand from police reforms has increased in the wake of allegations of carelessness in the handling of the Delhi gang-rape case.
And it’s the key to real change, says Anup Trivedi, political editor of the Hindi News Daily, Nai Duniya.
“The police reforms are long overdue. But now it has become an immediate necessity. It wouldn’t only make other initiatives far more effective but would also be a true tribute to the Delhi gang rape victims and many others waiting for justice.”