Visakhapatnam

Visakhapatnam’s all-female police squad is making the city safer for women

The recently formed ‘Shakti’ team is working around the clock to curb instances of sexual harassment against women in the city

“My father served in the police and something about the khaki uniform and the power it wielded was very attractive to me,” says the 28-year-old Lavanya, who proudly dons her own uniform today.

Dressed in crisp navy blue shirt and khaki trousers, Lavanya is a member of ‘Shakti’, an all women’s police team specially formed to address issues like sexual and workplace harassment, molestation, bigamy, fraudulent marriage, and adultery.

Officially flagged off in April 2019, the team is responsible for patrolling the city and creating awareness.

“Before ‘Shakti’, the police force had several squads like Rakshak mobiles, beach patrols and highway patrols; but nothing especially crafted for women. From experience we have learnt that women are more comfortable talking to female police personnel; hence the idea of an all-women’s squad,” says R Srinivas, Assistant Commissioner of Police, in-charge of Women’s Police Station.

The 35-member team consists of assistant sub-inspectors, head constables, home guards and police constables.

Apart from the nine months of induction training, all the members were trained for an additional three months at the Police Training Centre in Vizianagaram where “We were taught driving, swimming and legal knowledge on issues related to women and children. We were also taught the working of a car so that we can handle breakdowns or minor repairs on our own,” says Lavanya.

The team has been provided with five cars and 20 two-wheelers equipped with VHF radio sets, manpack, GPS and pepper spray. Divided into five groups of seven members each, their work begins at 8.00 am every day and covers North, East, West, South and Dwarka divisions.

Whenever the Control Room receives a call from a woman, they trace the nearest Shakti team member patrolling in that area and direct the complaint to them along with the location and other details. “We have to reach as soon as possible either to prevent the crime or catch the offender in real time. Reaction time is usually a matter of few minutes,” says M Vasanthi who joined the police force in 2018.

Spreading awareness

The team believes that ‘Prevention is better than cure’ and so invests several hours every day to counsel students and the general public about crimes against women and the legal repercussions that follow.

“The motto of the police should not be to register crime but to stop criminal activities. Hence routine awareness programmes are a major part of the team’s responsibilities. Apart from educational institutes, the teams also counsel people in public spaces like bus stops, parks and beach areas,” says ACP Srinivas, also the Nodal officer for the Shakti team.

The content of awareness programmes varies depending on the audience. Children below the age of 10 are taught about good and bad touch; teenagers are given lessons about sexual harassment and the consequences. Ask about reactions to these programmes, Lavanya says “Their eyebrows shoot up and eyes widen in surprise when we tell them that even winking at someone could land one in jail. We also tell them that having a case against you will lessen the chances of visa or passport approval. The deters them from indulging in such activities.”

Creating a safe environment

Frequent patrolling has helped the team reduce sexual harassment in several places. “We have observed that more girls approach our vehicles and voice their complaints rather than calling the helpline number,” adds Vasanthi.

Going beyond their assigned duties, the team has also been helping trace missing kids or deal with children begging.

More about Shakti
  • Shakti was the brainchild of former Andhra Pradesh DGP R P Thakur who wanted this to be a State-wide programme.
  • The team consists of 35 members
  • They deal with women-related issues like domestic violence, sexual and workplace harassment
  • The team can be reached on 100, 1090 (local numbers) or 112 (national number)

“On Sundays, we focus on Beach Road, as it is crowded on holidays. This week we came across a toddler who was visibly panic striken and talking to two teenagers. On enquiry we found out that he had been separated from his parents,” says Lavanya. They finally managed to unite the child with his parents at Children’s Park.

With the team being barely three months old, not many people are aware of its existence. So they have been conducting familiarisation sessions in educational institutions and among fisherwomen, daily wage labourers and sanitation workers. “The aim is to make women feel safe. They need to know that there is a squad that will help them and come to their rescue for any problem,” adds ACP Srinivas.

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2020 2:10:13 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Visakhapatnam/visakhapatnams-all-female-police-squad-is-making-the-city-safer-for-women/article28349283.ece

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