Despite gender sensitization, recent example show Karnataka police just don’t learn

Police have accepted cases of harassment only when activists intervene
Despite gender sensitization, recent example show Karnataka police just don’t learn
Despite gender sensitization, recent example show Karnataka police just don’t learn

The behavior of the Bengaluru police when a woman recently attempted to lodge a complaint of sexual abuse against her father shows that the state police still have a long way to go in dealing with crimes against women.

Earlier this month, the Bengaluru police refused to register a case when the 21-year-old girl accused her father of sexual harassment. Media reports suggest that the police not only refused to register a complaint, but also harassed the woman. When she and her brother – both adults – attempted to move out of their father’s house with the help of a neighbour, the police turned on all three of them.

The woman then approached the Karnataka State Human Rights Commission accusing the cops of siding with the father and attempting to influence the victim. “The accused police officials have been asked to give a statement of explanation on why a complaint was not registered immediately. Currently protection and support is being extended to the victim,” said a member of the Commission who requested anonymity.

State Vice President of the Janawadi Mahila Sanghatane KS Vimala, says that the reluctance of the police to take action increases when the accused is a powerful member of the community or a family member.

Instances of complaints against religious leaders attracted a particularly vicious kind of attitude from society and lack of will on the part of the police. This had remained unchanged despite the passage of three decades.

Recalling a prominent case in the 1980s, Vimala said that a woman in the Hyderabad-Karnataka region had accused the seer of a Mutt of sexual harassment. She was stripped and paraded naked by the villagers. Although the police registered a complaint, nothing came of it. “The victim did not get justice. Very little has changed since then,” Vimala says.

She said these patterns had repeated when women had accused the seer of the Ramachandrapura Mutt Raghaveshwara Bharati of sexual assault and abuse.

Vimala, who helped the second victim file a complaint against the seer, recounts that the police were very uncooperative.

“There was an inordinate delay in registering the complaint when the victim came forward. Now there is a delay in the probe too. If this is the situation in high profile cases, the police are only making it difficult for other women to come forward,” she said.

Since the woman was a minor when the alleged abuse occurred, the elapsed time was used to discredit her, Vimala said.

Such attitudes are counter-productive, says Shanta Sinha, former chairperson of the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights.

“It takes a lot of courage to bring such crimes to light. Most cases go unreported because the complainant is sent back by the police. But according to the law, the victim should be given support and security by the government,” Sinha said.

Sinha said that women or children in general don't come forward voluntarily to report cases of sexual assault. “In the case of children, police must take it seriously and register a case failing which they would be violating the POCSO Act. This will also amount to abetment of crime and such officials should be legally handled,” she added.

Vimala says that the police often actively discouraged women from filing complaints of sexual assault or abuse.

“They scare victims by saying their reputation would be ruined in case news reached the media,” she said. Pointing out loopholes in this logic, Vimala pointed out: “Firstly, they can’t reveal such cases to the media unless victims themselves want to. Secondly, it also amounts to dissuading the victim from reporting the crime,” she said.

These incidents and experiences show that the government’s gender sensitization programmes have not had enough of an impact on police attitudes and practices.

Since 2001, the Karnataka State Police have implemented the Gender Sensitization and People-Friendly Police project (GSPP) in collaboration with the UNICEF. It began in-service training for police personnel in 2003 and expanded it to police training schools and academies in 2005. At the end of 10 years, police said 25% of the force had been imparted gender sensitization training. The Karnataka police have about 75,000 personnel.

A study titled People Friendly Police Practices in Karnataka A case study on Gender Sensitization of Police Personnel on the impact of this programme showed that the results were encouraging, but not enough to make a dent in the face of structural biases against women.

For instance, the study found that GSPP-trained personnel were 47% more likely to agree that it was important to allocate more resources for crimes against women, and 41% were more likely to recognise the “criminality of domestic violence”. But, 34% were likely to put women’s cases on the backburner when busy with other operations.

A significant finding of the study was that there was a difference in the attitudes of male and female GSPP-trained personnel. The study said that the male personnel were 21% less likely to recognise domestic violence as a cognizable offence than female officials. But even this was not without its contradictions. While they were less likely to think that allocation of resources for crimes against women was more important, male officers appeared to take women’s complaints more seriously than female officials.

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