Increase number of women and Dalits in the police to make women safer

With women comprising just eight percent of the Indian police and 68% of the posts in UP Police reserved for SC not filled up, atrocities on Dalit women in the state should not come as a surprise

Increase number of women and Dalits in the police to make women safer

Uttam Sengupta

Upper caste Hindu men did not allow untouchable men to enter their bedroom but they seldom had second thoughts about sleeping with Dalit women. Some were raped and a few were taken in as mistresses, described colloquially as ‘kept’. There was no disgrace as long as the women accepted their lot. Any resistance would invite ridicule, derision, beating, gang rapes and in some cases, death. Has this situation changed?

I write this from my personal experience of reporting in Bihar and working in several other states in northern India; I am told it is not very different in the South.

In Palamu, a district with a very high percentage of Dalits, upper caste landlords would often visit the Harijan Tola in the village and tell the men to see that their wives or daughters have a bath before spending the night at the ‘Kothi’. In villages with feudal lords who were a law unto themselves, Harijan women would spend their wedding night at the ‘Kothi’. When I think back to the encounter with Harijan college students in a Harijan Hostel, who broke down while sharing the stories, I still find it difficult to breathe and my blood turns cold.

Years later the then Jehanabad District Magistrate Ashok Kumar Singh, a Rajput, told me that some Thakur landlords found it stimulating to rape Harijan women in their own houses. “Some of these rogues force the women’s husbands to lie below the cot while they fondled and raped the women with their rifles lying next to them on the cot. Any noise made by the husband would provoke them to shoot them dead.”

I would like to believe that the situation has changed in the last three and a half decades. But most of these rapes were never reported then and are possibly not reported even now. With empowerment of Dalits and the spread of education, with more Dalits getting into government and police, chances are that such cases of abuse have declined.

But unfortunately, we do not seem to have any authoritative information about the number of Dalits in state police forces. But Uttar Pradesh Government did claim in March, 2018 that as many as 25 senior police officers in the state were from the Dalit community. No break-up was given but the same report in The Times of India claimed that as many as 25 District Magistrates and seven Divisional Commissioners in the state belonged to ‘Dalit or OBC’ communities. Chances are that most of them would be from the OBC.

In sharp contrast, another report by India Today from November, 2019 quotes ‘India Justice Report’ saying that in Uttar Pradesh, 68% of the posts in UP Police reserved for Scheduled Castes were actually vacant.

As in other areas of the Government, police in India is overwhelmingly dominated by upper caste Hindu men. Women constitute just 7.28% of the police with 90% of the women serving as constables and less than 1% in supervisory positions. Only 3 to 4% of the police strength comprise minorities. The percentage of Dalits is unlikely to be much higher.

What influencers and policy planners need to realise is that changing the mindset of upper caste Hindu policemen is next to impossible. These men grow up in a patriarchal society, watching women at home being abused and beaten. Their attitude towards women cannot and does not change after they put on the uniform.

That is why we see so many video-clips of policemen jeering and leering at women, shouting at them, stomping on them and of course hurling abuses. This may happen more in northern states, the cow belt and in the countryside, with women from poorer sections bearing the brunt of their boorish behaviour and worse, brutality.

The social reality is that upper caste women in the villages lead far more protected lives. They might face abuse, beating and rape within the household but they are unlikely to get gangraped outside the house. The high percentage of upper caste men in the police is almost certainly one of the deterrents.

Clearly a solution staring at the face is to dramatically increase the number of women in the police. Raising the percentage from the current seven per cent to 40% can be done by creating new posts. The extra expenditure will be justified on the ground of job creation and will also have a salutary effect on women’s safety. Special all-women police stations can be set up to deal with crime against women.

While education and training, counselling and sensitization, sex education in the schools and the villages are some of the long-term solutions which have been tried or continue to be tested, one other obvious solution is to make changes in the law to ensure that the family and relatives of the rapist lose financially.

True, this will be as radical as public lynching or castration and will have to be carefully implemented. But there is nothing like the realisation that misbehaving, molesting or raping women will bring retribution from the state on the entire family. Blacklisting people from government jobs, subsidy and government schemes might have a more immediate and more effective impact.

The challenge is to wipe out the smile and the smirk from the face of men—from police constables in Hathras who laughed as the gangrape victim’s pyre burnt or the ADGP in Madhya Pradesh who justified beating his wife.

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