By Emily Dowling:
There are 22,083,646 police officers in India, with 105,325 women contributing to that number. That means that just 6.11 per cent of the Indian police force are female.
In 2009, the Ministry of Home Affairs in India held a ‘National Advisory on Measures to Curb Crimes against Women’. Among the recommendations put forward was the need to increase representation of women in the police force to 33 per cent; and also to introduce Crimes against Women and Children desks or cells at every police station across the country.
Currently, a total of 518 all-women police stations (or AWPS as they are often referred) operate across the country, contributing to the total number of 14,786 police stations nationally.
In 2012, three years after the National Advisory recommendations had been announced, the fatal gang rape and brutal assault of a young Indian woman, Jyoti Singh Pandey, as she travelled on a private bus in the south of Delhi, horrified the world. The inhuman crimes committed against Jyoti are confronting and inexcusable.
India was subsequently dubbed ‘the rape capital of the world’, however this is not a problem isolated to India; as of September 2015 66 women have died at the hands of their spouse or ex-partner in Australia. Violence against women is a global crisis, entrenched in and conditioned by gendered social, cultural and political norms, and perpetuated by inadequate legal systems all over the world.
Intrigued and cautiously impressed by the implementation of All Women Police Stations across India, I travelled to the country to learn more. Could India be leading the way in empowering women and girls to bring an end to the senseless violence? Does the All Women Police Station approach, translate globally?
When I arrived at the All Women Police Station in Gaziabad, Uttar Pradesh (the neighbouring province to Delhi) I was greeted warmly by the women who worked there. I noticed a large crowd gathered around a tree in the centre of the compound, who I later learnt were women and their families waiting to have their case heard.
After a tour of the facilities; a humble block of rooms with space to record personal accounts and complaints, rooms for the police officers to rest if they needed and a few rooms where counselling took place, I was brought into the main office to speak with the female Officer in Charge.
She explained that women would arrive from all over Gaziabad and neighbouring regions to have their complaint heard. Every day she and her team work their way through the line of women and children, more often than not accompanied by their parents, husband and in-laws, however if there is a large crowd and someone is not dealt with that day, they will come back the following day or week, and try again.
The Officer in Charge explained that the most common cases are disputes over dowry, such as a woman’s family wanting the dowry returned, or claims of harassment from a man’s family seeking more by way of dowry. Also common is a woman seeking help to divorce from her husband, most commonly because of forced sexual acts and assault.
Marital rape is not recognised under Indian law, but perhaps more importantly marital rape is not recognised by the majority of Indian society. Only recently have laws been amended to acknowledge rape by an object. This makes the work of officers at the AWPS extremely difficult, as they cannot condemn or charge husbands for rape or sexual assaults, even though these are among the most common complaints.
I began to realise that the AWPS’s were not so much empowering women but managing their complaints within a legal system which does not recognise their complaints. The female police officers essentially provide marriage counselling, not only for couples but their extended families as well, and work as a family/cultural liaison. It soon became apparent that the sanctity of marriage and one’s duty to honour their family, always triumphed.
The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative released a report earlier in 2015 titled Rough Roads to Equality: Women Police in South Asia, which highlights, “The value of these police stations for women in the society they have been set up to serve must come into question when it is realised that in some cases they are severely constrained”.
A spokesperson from the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative explains, “If an All Woman Police Station is not fully functional or a formally notified police station, then a First Information Report (FIR) cannot be processed at that station.” An FIR is the process of formally accusing a husband or family member of assault or harassment. The implication of not being able to submit an FIR at an AWPS is that the complainant must then take her case to a regular police station if it is to take due course, therefore defeating the purpose of the AWPS.
The situation repeats itself at the special women and children cells established within mainstream police stations. A counsellor, who wishes to remain anonymous, from the Special Police Unit for Women and Children at a New Delhi police station, stated that, “Our primary objective is to reunite families, to resolve issues between husband and wife”.
All Women Police Stations in India are making a difference in the lives of many Indian women, children and their families. Devoted female police officers and counsellors work together to ensure the best outcome for the entire family. While the world could learn a lot from India’s value of community and importance placed on upholding family values, without legal reform of marital and sexual rights, the work of the female police officers will continue to be constrained.