Feroze Varun Gandhi’s The Indian Metropolis — Deconstructing India’s Urban Spaces: The female force

If India can’t have enough women police personnel, deterring crime against women will continue to be a tough ask

March 10, 2023 09:01 am | Updated 10:21 am IST

A mural on women safety #IItsNotOk campaign in New Delhi.

A mural on women safety #IItsNotOk campaign in New Delhi. | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

Varun Gandhi

Varun Gandhi | Photo Credit: Sandeep Saxena

In his new book, The Indian Metropolis: Deconstructing India’s Urban Spaces, Varun Gandhi rues the apathy displayed towards urban infrastructure in India. He traces India’s journey towards urbanisation going beyond the metros, discusses multiple issues threadbare, from water, healthcare, transportation, housing, employment opportunities to crime, particularly crimes against women, and offers solutions to problems. An excerpt.

Reshma, working as a sub-inspector in Kochi, typically ends up working over 10 hours daily, for seven days a week — much of this is field work, but a significant part is also desk work, where she needs to listen to the concerns of local women who have faced violence. In Kerala, for the police force in 2017, only 2.1% of all police officers were female. Not having enough women can be challenging, says Reshma, as local women and children find it easier to approach female police personnel without inhibition. Surprisingly for a State that is considered progressive, Kerala has historically trended in the opposite direction with regards to more female presence in its police force. The litany of violent rape cases over the past few years (Nirbhaya gang rape, Shakti Mills case, Badaun sisters case, Rohtak gang rape case, etc.) seem to draw a picture of the country in midst of a violent crime spree, particularly against women and children.

India’s women continue to remain victims of their circumstances. Of the metropolitan cities covered, in 2019, 45,485 crimes recorded were against women, with cities like Delhi (12,902), Mumbai (6,519) and Hyderabad (2,755) being at the top. With millions of rape victims in India, our criminal justice (police and judiciary) and healthcare institutions need to continue to be restructured to reach out and support victims. We need to promote school-level and premarital counselling on healthy and sustainable relationships. A ‘broken windows’ approach, as adopted in New York, cracking down on offences euphemised as ‘eve teasing’ shall reduce [an] offender’s courage for sexual crimes.

Eye on numbers

Even our daughters have not been spared. Over 7,005 cases of kidnapping and abduction were recorded across monitored metropolitan cities (19 in total). We deliver violence to them from birth; when growing beyond puberty, they remain at risk from lecherous eyes. Adolescent girls between 15 and 19 years of age, on an average, comprise 24% of all rape cases. A study on sexual violence and rape in India highlights that in 2014, only 1% of victims of sexual violence actually ended up reporting the crime to the police, partially because marital rape is not a crime in India. The same study highlights that in 2014, 10% of married women were reported to have endured sexual violence from their husbands. About 2.5 million adolescent girls were stated to be the victims of sexual violence in India in 2014.46 Meanwhile, crimes against minors continue to rise as well. Our society does not hesitate on utilising minors from underprivileged backgrounds as labour, leaving them open to sexual violence. Social shame rarely deters child trafficking (89% of 1,255 cases in West Bengal and 88% of 1,494 cases in Assam).

Students with placards calling for women’s safety at a rally in Mumbai.

Students with placards calling for women’s safety at a rally in Mumbai. | Photo Credit: Vivek Bendre

Part of the challenge is also the lack of enough women in our police force to lend a more sympathetic ear to complaints of such crimes. For many women, approaching male policemen for such crimes, especially in urban/semi-urban areas, can be challenging, with many victims anecdotally highlighting that they prefer to report to women police officers. It is estimated that women comprise 7.28% of India’s police force, with about 90% working as constables and just 1% in senior roles. Part of this is also a societal belief that policing by its very nature is a male domain, with little role to play for women.

Women police officers take out a two-wheeler rally in Kottayam.

Women police officers take out a two-wheeler rally in Kottayam. | Photo Credit: Vishnu Prathap

Doing more to recruit women into the police would help. A simple fact is telling: various committees have recommended that the police force have a composition with 33% of its personnel being women. Currently, as of 2019, about nine States are likely to take at least 50 years to get to this share — a State like Odisha is estimated to be about 111 years away, a consequence of decades of apathy. Even Tamil Nadu is about 43 years away, at the current growth rate. If we can’t have enough women police personnel, deterring crime against women will continue to be a hard task.

The Indian Metropolis: Deconstructing India’s Urban Spaces; Feroze Varun Gandhi, Rupa, ₹1,500.

Excerpted with permission from Rupa.

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