Let us show a rape survivor we’re on her side: A cop’s letter to his colleagues
Eight residents of Delhi write open letters discussing sexual abuse and rape. In Part 5, a Delhi policeman writes to his colleagues.
My dear colleagues,
The night of December 16, 2012 is not easy to forget. A young professional with high ambitions, who could have been related to any one of us, lost her life because six men turned savage.
There are new rules, guidelines and amendments added in our law after a nationwide protest, but I feel that effort is worthless unless we change our mindset towards women.
In the process of researching the history of Delhi Police as part of my job, I visit police stations and meet station house officers — most of them my batch mates, sub inspectors and constables. Though I find you all reasonably sensitive, allow me to share my thoughts and experiences, and offer a few suggestions.
We, as custodians of law, need to sensitise ourselves while dealing with rape survivors. It is our duty to ensure that they trust us. Many victims don’t want to come to our police stations, not because they are scared but because some have an impression of us as insensitive.
And they are not to blame.
As investigators, it is our responsibility to build trust in the victim, assuring her that we will hear her out and help her in all possible ways, no matter what situation she was in, who was she with, and how she was dressed.
She, who approaches us for help, is one who has faith in us and it must be mutual. Our challenge should be to live up to her expectations. Let us not disappoint her by making her feel as if she made a mistake coming to the police station.
For us, it may be just another case file piling up on top of many others, but let us be considerate to understand that she has just been through her worst nightmare, which may scar her for life.
Understand that when she comes to us she feels defeated and vulnerable, and, as first respondents, it is our responsibility to put her at ease. Offer her a glass of water, hear her out.
Imagine the courage she must have gathered to talk to you. The thought of how you would react must have crossed her mind a thousand times.
A sexual assault is sudden and unexpected.
Let us never assume that she could have prevented rape by taking precautions, resisting more forcibly, avoiding drinking and so on. A rape is a rape. It is not the time to lecture her. Explain to her the legal process, her rights as the complainant. Let us convince her that we are there to nail the rapist.
I understand we have immediate legal tasks to perform, such as recording of statements, medical examination, and starting the investigation, but let us give her some time, some space. Her level of cooperation could be different. She could be numb, in shock, having difficulty expressing or comprehending what had happened. She may be angry. Let us be patient.
In some cases, her families, too, could blame her for her suffering. But we have to be supportive. I remember a case when I was a sub-inspector in Seelampur many years ago. A woman came to the police station to register an FIR but she was very reluctant to give her statement. When a woman officer took her to a separate room to find out why she was hesitant, she said she could not narrate her ordeal in front of her mother. She was shy.
Friends, on our part, let us refrain from asking awkward questions that may make her uncomfortable. For us it may be a technical query, but for her it is much more than that.
After December 16, 2012, Delhi took the lead in registering cases of crime against women and we all should be proud of that. It means we are succeeding in getting women to complain against abuse. In a way, we are empowering them.
Many started calling Delhi the ‘rape capital’. In my opinion, that is a misinterpretation. The number of rape cases have shot up, not because there were more incidents but because more women are now fearlessly coming forward to register complaints and report cases. We should take this as a compliment. Still, a lot needs to be done and the efforts are on.
We can either be immature and make the victim’s experience worse, or help her recover physically and heal mentally. Friends, she may or may not overcome the trauma in her lifetime but a little healing touch on our part will remain imprinted on her mind forever. The decision is ours.
Rajender Kalkal is a police officer posted in the Delhi police museum as an inspector (research). He has lived in the city for over 25 years.