Four years after the December 16, 2012, gang-rape of a physiotherapy student that India knows as Nirbhaya, the administrative overhaul promised is fading, according to our investigation of the reform process that was to make women in India’s capital safer.
The holes in police reform, and the slow progress to fill them
One of the important changes to the law recommended by the Verma Commission tasked with reforms post Nirbhaya was that female officers should record crimes against women and handle their statements.
Since that meant more female officers, the government had to allow the hiring of more women, so that they fill 33 per cent of what are called “non-gazetted” ranks, from constable to sub-inspector. That approval came in March 2015.
There has been some progress: the female constabulary of the Delhi police grew from 3,572 in 2011 to 4,582 in 2015, according to the Data on Police organisations reports 2011-2015 of the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD).
But women are less than 9 per cent of the Delhi Police and 6.4 per cent of the police force nationwide, according to 2015 BPRD data. A 2014 BPRD study on national police working conditions suggested that nearly 20 per cent of female representation would lead to better policing.
Training on “gender-sensitivity” has been slow, although police officers said there has been progress.
Howevr, there are no special funds set aside, “no separate head for budget allocation and utilisation for gender sensitisation”, as Varsha Sharma, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Special Unit for Women and Children, Delhi Police put it.
Gender-sensitisation programmes aim to bring in help-desks staffed by women, training in schools, neighbourhoods and ensuring the police immediately resistor crimes against women, said Sharma.
In terms of crimes against women, none of this has helped.
Rapes reported have tripled. Better reporting or more rapes?
Rapes reported in Delhi have increased 200 per cent since 2012, the year Nirbhaya was raped, setting in motion mass protests, political promises and efforts at reform.
A comparison of Delhi police reports from 2014 and 2015 revealed a rise in the rape cases withdrawn, from 81 to 104, possibly indicating a lack of faith in the criminal-justice system, especially as cases fail judicial scrutiny.
Other crimes against women rose 50 per cent over the same period, from 208 to 1498, according to Delhi Police data.
Growing violence in a city of 18 million people and 866 women for every 1,000 males may be inevitable, but it is clear the police need to do more to protect women.
Women help desks are working, but many question quality of help
While the Delhi Police now have 161 help desks staffed by female officers, overwork is evident, with 70 per cent of female officers reporting for over 8-hour shifts per day, according to a 2014 BPRD study on national police working conditions.
Those who deal with these help desks question their competence.
“Women help desks are generally manned by new recruits, rarely having training on legal and social aspects,” Shikha Chibber, a New Delhi-based human rights lawyer told IndiaSpend.
The view is disputed by DCP Sharma. “Women help desks are manned by lady constables who are given training as police officers and frequent training rounds. Since they have been started recently, they will gain experience with time”.
Chibber, the lawyer, said NGOs provide the gender-sensitivity training in police training schools but there is no standard plan or curriculum, and officers do not take it seriously.
There is an “imbalance” in such training, said Pratishtha Arora, a trainer at the Centre for Social Research, an advocacy. “Lower ranked women are not as empowered as their male counterparts to voice themselves,” said Arora. “Thus, training itself depicts a deep patriarchal bias.”
Arora said male officers often complain, during training sessions, that female colleagues do not work as hard. “A peculiar patriarchal statement we often get to hear is, ‘why pay them equally when they are not even hard working’.”
Nirbhaya fund: A promise of quick response winds its way through the bureaucracy
After the Nirbhaya outrage, geo-positioning satellite (GPS) technology was supposed to be used to set up a computer response system that would locate women in distress, according to a reply in the Lok Sabha in August 2014.
The Nirbhaya Fund, started in 2013, was to fund other measures, according to a report to the Lok Sabha, including helplines, hiring professional counsellors for police stations (Rs 6.2 crore) and a building (Rs 23.5 crore) to house a special unit to address crimes against women and children.
Also, Rs 322 crore was set aside for the nationwide emergency response project in 114 cities and crime-prone districts, but three years after approval, bidding for the project continues, according to a 2015-16 report — the latest available — from the union ministry of home affairs. While Delhi already has a helpline, the new system was supposed to be an universal emergency response for women in distress.
While the special unit has its building, there are four helplines available for women in distress: The police control room (100), an anti-stalking helpline (1091), another to report obscenity (1096) and yet another (181) to help women in distress.
Complaints to these helplines declined 21 percent from 74,944 in 2014 to 58,956 in 2015, according to an answer in the Rajya Sabha in 2015.
A senior police officer, requesting anonymity, summed it up rather well: “While the contours of the (reforms) policy seem exemplary, at the implementation level, it has slowed down badly….in other words, failed.”