news Wednesday, February 25, 2015 - 05:30

The News Minute | October 31, 2014 | 4.06 IST

During the last three days reports have appeared in the media about the “shocking” response of police officers in Uttar Pradesh to an RTI query about sexual offences reported in the state.

But it appears to be a classic case of asking a stupid question and getting stupider answers.

Uttar Pradesh-based RTI activist Lokesh Kumar had sent RTI queries to the Uttar Pradesh police and had received responses from 62 districts. One of the questions was the possible reasons for the rise in rapes.

Public officials are notorious for trying to weasel out of replying to legitimate RTI queries, and it is baffling that this particular question received so many responses from the police.

Media reported on the replies given by the police and section of the media sought to hold the police accountable for the rise in the number of reported sexual offences in the state, and also criticized the police for their attitudes.

But there was no pause to stop and consider whether asking the police for the reason in the rise of reported rapes, falls within the purview of the RTI act. Or even if a question itself was a valid one.

The purpose of Right to Information Act as stated in the law is: “to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority”.

According to RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal under the Right to Information Act, information is any kind of record that the government keeps and not “opinions or comments” of officials. However, he maintained that the reasons could be sought in an appropriate context and by framing questions appropriately.

The million dollar question: Can sexual offences be curbed or stopped? 

Sexual violence comprises a range of offences, all of which are not recognized by Indian law. For instance, marital rape or sexual offences committed against men.

Similarly, the people committing such offences are motivated by a range of thoughts. If one were to try and understand the backgrounds of people who commit sexual offences against others, we have limited data: that of sexual offences against minor girls and boys and adult women.

According to NCRB data, in slightly over 90 percent of rapes registered across police stations, the alleged offender is known to the victim. The proportion of women being raped by strangers is relatively less.

Unless, someone advertises their intention to commit a sexual offence against any person, it is near impossible to prevent a person from committing a sexual offence unless one stumbles upon a crime in progress and is successful in rescuing a victim. 

Better policing, better patrolling will improve the overall law and order situation and improve safety on the whole. But it cannot specifically mitigate the commission of sexual offences. 

Khurana appears to see some correlation between the thoughts of police personnel and stopping crimes. "These atrocious thoughts on rape betray a retrograde mindset that blames largely women. How can they stop rapes?" said Lokesh Khurana.

He too appears to be under the impression that the police’s job is to stop rapes. Police work is crucial in obtaining justice for victims and survivors of sexual violence, but they usually come after the offence has occurred, and that is why their attitudes are important.

An insightful attempt and getting to know police attitudes towards sexual offences was made by Tehelka in April 2012.

For two weeks, two reporters Abhishek Bhalla and G Vishnu spoke to senior police officers in the Delhi-NCR region. Those conversations revealed a cynical misogyny towards women: four basic justifications for all the reported rapes, and in each one, the woman was at fault.

So where does that leave us with stopping sexual offences against people of all castes, classes, communities, cultures, sexual orientations and genders?

Ideally, we would want to reach a point in future where nobody would go through such violence. But if we are to take steps towards that, we will have to start with the basics. Respect a woman, a Dalit woman, an adivasi woman, an indigenous woman, a homosexual person, for who they are. We need to take a good look at our prejudices against all of these people. We also need to recognize that they all have dreams, desires and aspirations to live their lives on their own terms.

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