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Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Police Can’t Be “Women Friendly” Without Being "Citizen Friendly"

Police Can’t Be “Women Friendly” Without Being "Citizen Friendly"
 
Madhu Purnima Kishwar


Our colonial minded police has emerged as the biggest threat to the security of life and liberty of citizens of India- because of their deep nexus with not just political mafias but also petty criminals and lumpen elements. Therefore, merely subjecting them to special training courses on “gender sensitivity” cannot transform them into lawful instruments for protecting citizens from harm.


I illustrate this from one of many personal experiences because I am convinced such abuse is taking place on a large scale. But it remains hidden because of the silence of victims.

On 13th July 2012, my brother AK was shocked out of his wits when in the middle of the night at about 1.30 a.m. Sub Inspector Jasveer and constable Jogendra Singh of R.K. Puram South Campus police station told him that they had come to arrest him on the complaint of one Rahul David alleging that my brother had sexually assaulted him earlier that evening, thereby making him liable to arrest under Section 377 of the penal code which treats “unnatural sex” as an offence punishable with up to 10 years in jail plus fine.

David alleged that AK had met him in Munirka Market outside Bikanerwala, made him get into an auto and took him to a park in Shanti Niketan where AK sexually assaulted him. David showed some superficial self-inflicted bruises and cuts to support his allegations. My brother told the SI that several neighbours could testify that he had spent time with them that evening. Moreover, the CCTV cameras installed at the entrance of the housing complex records every entry and exit to the gated colony.  The SI would have none of it and insisted that AK had to accompany them to the South Campus Police station right away or else they would drag him forcibly.

When AK went to change his clothes, the SI whispered to his wife RB that he could get the case settled right then and there if they paid David the demanded sum of money. My sister-in-law was outraged at this brazen blackmail since it amounted to accepting guilt. At this point my brother phoned me and narrated the bizarre happenings. I asked him to let me speak to the SI and asked him why could he not wait till morning so that they could investigate the authenticity of the charge? The SI replied rudely, “We come when we receive a complaint. You better not interfere in the performance of our duty unless you want to invite trouble!”

We realized we had no choice but to do their bidding. Fortunately, I was able to get a lawyer friend to come to the R.K. Puram South Campus Police Station at that unearthly hour.

Here is a glimpse into the background of Rahul David: My sister in-law’s father was bedridden due to a paralytic stroke he suffered in January 1991. Since then, her parents who live in the same housing complex have always kept a male attendant to take care of the father.  Rahul David came through a nursing agency and worked at their home for about 4 months in late 2007.During that period, a number of valuables, including cash, jewelry and electronic items went missing.  David had a very lavish lifestyle. Things he flaunted indicated that apart from stealing in this particular house, he was into other thefts and illegal acts.

Therefore, David’s contract was terminated without reporting the thefts he had committed over 4 months to the police because of lack of hard evidence and also because they feared he might harm them out of vindictiveness.

Even though there were gaping holes in his story, the SI seemed determined to push us towards a “settlement” and “compromise. “When I asked the policemen why they were reluctant to examine the veracity of David’s version, Jogendra Singh told me, “Madam, all of these ‘human rights walas’ have tied the hands of the police and rendered it powerless. We have no choice but to go by his version—right or wrong—and register a case against whomever he complains. Otherwise we will be hauled up for dereliction of duty”.

My brother stood adamant for a long while insisting that they go ahead with the MLC of David and that he was willing to fight the case. But our lawyer friend told us that the whole drama was well scripted and there seemed solid complicity between David and the two policemen. If we did not yield the demanded bribe a criminal case would be registered against him under a non-bailable offence. This would not only mean immediate suspension from his government job but also a long drawn legal battle to prove his innocence. Since all this was happening in the dead of night and we knew that the police were capable of fudging the MLC as well to trap my brother if he did not yield to their blackmail, I persuaded my family to let me pay up lest my brother end up being sent to jail for no other crime except resisting blackmail by a small time thug. 

They first asked us to pay Rs 15,000 but later scaled down the demand to Rs 10,000. (We found out later that from most others victims David managed to extort much larger sums. Policemen made a relatively lighter demand on us because we were resisting blackmail and were insisting that the case be investigated.)

After receiving the money, the SI made David sign a statement that he had made a mistake about AK’s identity and that he had no complaint against him or his family. Our family was deeply traumatized by this incident because this was the first time any of us paid a bribe.

I succumbed to the pressure because I am already saddled with the burden of facing a whole array of false counter cases on account of my policy reform work for street vendors which brought Manushi, the human rights organization I work for, into conflict with political mafias who prey on the illegal status of street hawkers. Every time I or other Manushi volunteers were subjected to murderous attacks from politically patronized gangsters, the goons succeeded in filing fake counter cases against me and other Manushi members involving serious criminal charges (including attempt to murder, Section 420, impersonation, extortion and fraud) with a view to forcing us to abandon our work. (For details read http://www.manushi.in/articles.php?articleId=1586&ptype=campaigns).

One of our most active and valuable member has also been implicated in a bogus “attempt to rape” case through the use of call girls. These cases, filed in 2007, have gone on and on without an end in sight. They have caused us endless grief, humiliation, harassment and a waste of time in addition to financial burden.

For my brother the consequences would have been much worse since he is in a government job. Even one day in jail would mean automatic suspension from his job and endless ignominy.

The eagerness of the police in brokering a “settlement” convinced me that this kind of misuse of the sodomy and sexual assault law we experienced is not likely to be a solitary incident. Therefore, I personally met the DCP of South Delhi to apprise her of the facts. Since she assured me of action, I sent her a written complaint by e-mail.

Within two days I got a midnight call from the DCP saying their investigations had confirmed that even in recent weeks David had lodged similar complaints against dozens of men in several thanas of Delhi and managed to extract huge pay offs. One of the victims happened to be a well known TV anchor known to me. I called the person and he confirmed that David had extorted hefty amounts of money from him on several occasions using a similar strategy. After the second incident, he had filed a police complaint but nothing came of it and David targeted him yet again.

I persuaded him to lodge yet another complaint. Thanks to the DCP’s personal intervention, we succeeded in getting an F.I.R registered on 23rd July 2012. However, even though in my complaint I had specially mentioned the devious role of the two policemen, the F.I.R made no mention of them.

When my sister-in-law went to the police station to collect a copy of the F.I.R, she was shown transcripts of a number of calls made by David to the police control room from different localities such as Hari Nagar, C.R Park, GK II, Safdarjung Enclave and several others to register similar cases against numerous men. However, in the case registered against David, only two cases of blackmail were mentioned even though the DCP herself told me that David had blackmailed dozens of others in the preceding few months.

I insisted that the DCP should investigate the role of the policemen who accompanied David in blackmailing our family on 12th July as well as other families on earlier occasions because a petty thug like David could not have dared walk into respectable homes and extort money without active help and complicity of the police.

However, the “internal inquiry” by the S.H.O held that the two cops had “acted in good faith”; that the charge of blackmail does not appear valid since “Madhu Kishwar as a well-known activist cannot possibly be intimidated or blackmailed.” Needless to say, Rahul David managed to be out on bail within no time. We were not even informed when the case came up for hearing, or the name of the public prosecutor appointed to appear on our behalf. I am certain David and his police accomplices are back in business as before.

I am also convinced that he is not the only crook to have discovered this method of blackmail. It is likely to be happening on a large scale indicating that even men can be entrapped in a culture of silence to protect themselves from social disgrace.

I narrate this story mainly to highlight the point that you cannot make our police “gender sensitive” by subjecting them to special training sessions or sermons unless they are made “citizen sensitive”. This too doesn't happen by subjecting them to occasional sermons. It happens only by institutionalizing principles of accountability and transparency in the very structure of the police - including better recruitment criteria, and creating incentives for honest work.
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This article is also available on the Manushi website : http://www.manushi.in/articles.php?articleId=1670