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Insensitive In Uniform

By Devesh K. Pandey.

A woman is gangraped by four persons at Timarpur in North Delhi and she reports the matter to the police. But despite their names finding mention in the victim's complaint, the culprits remain at large even five months after the incident. On the other hand, the traumatised victim is subjected to regular questioning by the police.

This could be the story of any victim in Delhi where on an average one rape case is reported every day.

Except for a handful of cases such as that of a Maulana Azad Medical College (MAMC) student that rocked the Capital recently and caught media attention, activists working in the field of crime against women feel the behaviour of the police towards rape victims leaves a lot to be desired. It was only the media pressure in the MAMC case that made the police nab the perpetrators in quick time.

Recalling the agony of a rape victim at Patel Nagar in West Delhi, a member of the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) says the victim was made to stay in the police station till late in the night and asked "unpleasant" questions at regular intervals. "The woman could not even speak. What information could she have revealed about the accused in such a state of mind," the member asks. Problems in dealing with the police lead to many cases of rape going unreported. Another DCW member, Reny Jacob, says in several cases the Commission has had to summon the investigating officers following charges by the victim that the case was being sabotaged. On a few occasions, the victims even alleged that the investigating officers openly refused to help them saying that they had been offered a good sum by the accused. Delhi police statistics put the detection rate in rape cases at 93.8 per cent, whereas the conviction rate is estimated to be about 47 per cent. The detection rates in rape and molestation cases is high as in over 70 per cent of the cases the accused are relatives or someone known to the victim. However, it has been observed that most such cases go unreported primarily due to the "complications" involved in the police investigation.

The aversion that rape victims have for the police can be traced to the lack of proper sensitisation of the investigating officers and non-availability of resources for scientific investigation. The inherent stigma attached to the victim in the social set-up is another reason why many such cases go unreported. Senior police officers say the issue calls for immediate attention in the field of infrastructure development. The former Joint Commissioner of Police, Crime Against Women Cell, A.S. Khan, says lack of adequate manpower in the department results in investigation of many of these cases by local police who lack proper training and sensitisation in the matter. According to Mr. Khan, the CAW Cell does not have the infrastructure to take up its responsibilities.

While emphasising the need to sensitise male police officers and make them work in tandem with their women counterparts, the present Joint Commissioner of Police, CAW Cell, Vimla Mehra, too admits to non-availability of manpower. However, irrespective of the gender of the investigating officers, they should be trained on regular basis to handle such cases of sensitive nature, she adds.

Even as the role of the police in cases of crimes against women is put under the scanner, the Joint Commissioner of Police, Crime Branch, U.K. Katna, observes that the police tread a thin line between duty and sensitivity while investigating rape cases. "Despite the knowledge that investigations in these cases could have a negative impact on the victim's psyche, an investigating officer is compelled to establish a communication with her at the earliest to gather clues."

In cases where there are no eyewitnesses, as happens most of the time, the investigating officer has no other option but to study the scene of crime and get information from the victim. Mr. Katna says the police try to extract information about the culprits from the victim soon after the incident as with lapse of time the victims in many cases — where the accused are closely related to them — try to hide their identity due to family pressures.

Activists say amateurish investigation often leads to acquittal or delay in disposal of cases. As a result, the victims end up regretting that they had even reported the matter to the police, they add.

Claiming that things were changing, Mr. Katna says the police have realised the importance of "victimology" as a means for dealing with sensitive cases. For their part, the police too have a grievance that many a time in spite of their nabbing the culprits, the victim backs out and refuses to pursue the case.