“I am lucky that I am a girl and I am studying. I am luckier that I am a girl and I am living. I am luckiest that I was not among the girls not allowed to be born. I have a hard time believing how you would celebrate Raksha Bandhan without sisters or Diwali without goddess Laxmi. Let us be born. Don’t torment us on the roads. Let us have pretty dresses, little curls. Thank heaven for little girls,” 12-year-old Harshil of DAV Police Public School in Panipat rehearses her speech for the inauguration of all-women police station on August 28 here. The state will be rolling out one such thana in each of its 21 districts on the eve of Raksha Bandhan — the festival on which vows are taken to protect sisters.
While many other states already have all-women thanas, the initiative comes rather late for a state deeply rooted in patriarchy and dubious for not only its worst sex ratio at birth in the country --- just 879 females per 1,000 males -- but also high incidence of crime against women.
In the first seven months this year, Haryana has registered 5,239 cases of crimes against women. Figuratively speaking, in these seven months alone, Haryana has reported more than five molestations, two rapes, nine cases of dowry harassment and five kidnappings per day.
Though in percentage terms, it accounted for just 2.7% of crimes against women in the country last year but in terms of its own population the figure is unnerving. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data for last year, incidence of crimes against women is a high 73% per 100,000 population of women in Haryana! And this does not reflect killing of daughters in wombs or for honour since the law has failed to catch up with culprits running sex-selection rackets or khaps whose writ runs on inter-caste and same-gotra marriages.
Since January this year, just 8 cases have been registered under the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PNDT) Act in the state. Of the 15 districts in the country having the worst sex ratio, Haryana accounts for nine, earning it the “honour” of the state from where Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s kicked off his ‘Beti Bachao’ (save the girl child) campaign.
Turning patriarchy on head
Given this backdrop, the all-women police station score on symbolism. The patriarchy seems to turn on its head as a woman DSP gets saluted by male guards at the soon-to-be inaugurated all-women thana in Panipat. Initially, men would be employed for backend operations such as guards for lock-ups and as sentries. A woman constable rides on a PCR bike and three more are being trained to drive two brand-new Taveras and two Boleros. These PCRs will also be stationed at crime hot-spots such as schools and colleges.
A DSP-level officer will head the one-stop crisis centre, including an all-women police station, a legal cell with protection officer and women cell for counselling. Some time back, the women cell in the district had no woman!
But can symbolism alone overcome challenges of deep-rooted patriarchy, khap diktats and honour killings? Located in district headquarters, how will a thana deal with rampant crimes against women in state’s hinterland, most of which still go unreported under veil of family honour. Also, how will women who make up just six per cent of total police force in state stand up for 73% women who face crimes.
A new beginning
Haryana additional director general of police (crime against women) KK Mishra, says it is a new beginning. “From a few hundred women cops in state police force, the numbers have gone up to 3,000 now. The state would soon be recruiting another 1,000 women. The all-women police station will have jurisdiction over the whole district,” says Mishra.
“We have issued standard operating procedure (SOP) on how to make it work. Whichever police station a woman or her family member lodges a complaint is bound to register a case. Once the formalities are over, the woman complainant has the choice to get it transferred to the all-women police station. It is about confidence-building and emboldening women to report crime,” he adds.
The conspiracy of silence over reporting crime is slowly breaking, says Panipat senior superintendent of police Rahul Sharma. “Most cases of crime against women are already being dealt by women cops with back-end support from male staff. They are conducting raids, filing FIRs, presenting challans in court and heading inquiries. It has helped women complainants get over their hesitation,” says the SSP.
“We get calls from even rural women on our helpline numbers which are written on a board at every village where the panchayat is convened. Soon after receiving a complaint, a woman PCR contacts them. It is helping in establishing good women-police relations. The more tech-savvy younger lot even sends us WhatsApp messages. Now women are even coming alone to register FIRs,” he adds.
While it is states such as UP, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan which report higher crimes against women, the southern states — Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka — lead in number of all-women police stations. Haryana had launched its first such station at Sonepat but it has met with little success. ADGP Mishra attributes it to the station having jurisdiction over just Sonepat city while the incidence of crime was higher in villages.
The success stories
It was way back in 1981 that the first batch of 80 women cops were recruited in Haryana police, says DSP Vidyawati, who will head the Panipat all-women thana. “Inspired by former top cop, Kiran Bedi, me and my sister both got into police. Then, women cops were stationed in Ambala and were rushed to crime spots from there. Now, they are in every thana. The younger lot is more aggressive than us,” she says.
She recounts success stories even before the all-women thana readies for a take-off with much fanfare on Friday followed by a rally through the city with women PCR drivers and bike riders leading the way. On Independence Day this month, sub-inspector Rekha and constable Reena were honoured for busting a sex-determination racket running at Meerut in neighbouring UP. “The woman constable was expecting a child. We posed as decoy customers and a meeting was arranged through a middleman for sex determination of the child at Meerut for which we paid `12,000. Before the doctor could flee, I caught him and handed him over to a team of chief medical officer and police who were following us. Being in police has made us confident and we do not get deterred by men, both working with us or those committing a crime,” says sub-inspector Rekha, who says she was inspired to don the khaki as one of her aunts was a cop.
For sub-inspector Kavita, 27, having a brother in Haryana Police, was a motivating factor. “Our father did not discriminate between a son and a daughter. I got same rights and opportunities,” says Kavita. “Women are now coming forward to report rapes, sexual assault and child abuse even in rural areas. Though at times, women register false cases too due to family dispute and hostility,” adds Kavita.
Need for sensitising women cops too
But having women to deal with crimes against women is not even half the battle won. ADGP Mishra points out that it is not unusual for women complainants to accuse women inquiry officers of being “insensitive and harsh”. So, all women cops who are to man the thanas, too, have undergone a senstisation course at Madhuban. “Women in the force, too, are a reflection of our society. Since patriarchy in Haryana is so deep-rooted, we also need to change their mindset. A two-day senstisation programme is held for all ranks of police force, both men and women, four times in a year at Madhuban. Another challenge is also to train women to file challans and replies in courts,” he adds.
Training in combat, self defence, driving SUVs and bikes to learning the ropes of judicial matters, Haryana’s daughters are standing up and getting counted. Is patriarchy under threat? Dinesh Kumar, a sub-inspector, who accompanies DSP Vidyawati in the back-seat of her new Tavera, puts it wryly. “Haryana women have conquered the space and even the Mount Everest. They are no more behind men in any sphere. At times, we have to take the backseat.”