The approval for large-scale induction of women personnel into the Delhi Police is being described by many as a knee-jerk reaction to the public outrage over the gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student last month.

However, whether the move would make any significant change depends entirely on the degree of sensitivity shown by all the stakeholders and efficient handling of police investigations into crimes against women, particularly rape cases.

The Union Home Ministry has cleared the proposal for recruitment of 418 women sub-inspectors and 2,088 women constables. While the constables would largely be involved in providing a congenial atmosphere to women complainants at police stations, the sub-inspectors would be entrusted with investigations.

“However well intentioned this step is, the myth that lady officers vis-à-vis their male counterparts are more sensitive towards women and girl victims must be dispelled. It is not gender but the sensitivity with which victims are treated that is vital. We have come across many instances of cold-hearted handling of rape victims by women personnel. Although involving a woman officer can be advantageous, but only when they treat the victims with care and compassion,” said Raaj Mangal Prasad of non-government organisation Pratidhi, adding that this also applied to women nurses and doctors examining the victims.

Stating that not all women officers could be painted with the same brush, a Delhi Police lady officer said they encounter an altogether different set of problems. “In many cases, victims refuge to undergo medical examination. Several of them retract their statements even before the charge-sheet is finalised. This puts us in a Catch-22 situation. At the prosecution stage too, they turn hostile. In a recent case, two minor victims of sexual abuse retracted and even accused me of having threatened them. Consequently the juvenile accused was let off,” she said.

“The traumatised victims need to be comforted and encouraged to share all details on what happened with them, which is essential for the purpose of investigations. Particularly in cases where victims reside far away from the place of occurrence, a separate room should be provided for interactions with them.”

“Also, some doctors and hospital staff should be appointed specifically for the medical examination of rape victims on a priority basis. At present, victims have to wait for long hours that add to their trauma. While it is doctors’ job to seal the exhibits for forensic examination, we are also made to do that work. Besides, many doctors who are supposed to depose in court during trial refuse to share their phone numbers and addresses,” complained another woman sub-inspector, recounting that in a recent case, a minor girl had to spend almost nine hours at a hospital.

Many woman officers said it was equally important for forensic science laboratories to treat cases of crime against women with sensitivity. “They often refuse to receive exhibits citing minor clerical errors, like missing alphabets. It takes several months, even a year, for reports to arrive causing undue delay,” said an inspector.