When model-actor Neelam Singh was throttled, slapped and assaulted in an autorickshaw by its driver and his accomplice in November last year, the Andheri police asked her to approach the Tilak Nagar police as the place where she was assaulted fell under their jurisdiction.
The police, it seems, were unaware of or chose to ignore a vital guideline in the police manual that clearly states that police have to register an FIR if any victim of a crime (be it a woman or a man) approaches them irrespective of where the crime took place. It is called a ‘zero FIR’. The police can later transfer the FIR to the relevant police station.
Guidelines and procedures for police personnel to deal with victims of sexual abuse are seldom followed either because of sheer insensitivity, laziness, inadequate knowledge of the law or administrative problems.
Section 157 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) states that the statement of a rape victim should be recorded at her house or any place she chooses in the presence of her parents, guardian or anyone she trusts. Also, only women police personnel can record the statement. However, this is rarely followed at police stations.
“The provision was added only in 2008 and at several police stations the police still have the old CrPC and are completely unaware of the provision. Besides, although women constitute 30% of the state’s police force, they are not always available due to administrative issues. These problems just add to the victim’s ordeal,” said YP Singh, former IPS officer who is now a lawyer.
Another problem is burking. Several times police don’t register FIRs and send the victim away after filing a non-cognisable (NC) offence report, especially in cases of molestation and verbal assaults.
For example, a man in an autorickshaw molested a 28-year-old woman while she was walking close to her Bandra residence in March last year. The Khar police, however, initially registered only an NC report although the victim, a communications executive, said that the man had groped and punched her.
“An assistant inspector took down my complaint. However, since the copy of the complaint I received was written in Marathi, I was unable to understand it. It was only later that a friend pointed out that the police had registered a non-cognisable offense report,” she said. The victim then approached the Khar police station again, following which an FIR was registered. According to the law, victims or their kin can insist that the police file an FIR.
Even when a 20-year-old girl was sexually harassed by a taxi driver who made lewd remarks after she got off the cab outside her college in south Mumbai a few months ago, the Gamdevi police only filed an NC and conveniently omitted the girl’s allegation of being sexually assaulted.
After HT brought the incident to light, the senior inspector at Gamdevi police station summoned the girl to file an FIR. However, the girl was extremely taken aback and did not want to visit the police station again.