Dear Policemen,

In this letter to you, my dear brother policemen, I want to talk about rapes by our own brothers-in-arm on women in the custody of the police or who have come to the police station for help. I shall start with my own experience of such dastardly acts. I was Assistant Superintendent of Police (henceforth ASP) in Nashik in 1956-57. One day, the superintendent of police, Harishchandra Singh was transferred but his successor, SG Gokhale, had not joined. Though I had only three years of service, I was asked to hold charge of a big district like Nashik. I was playing badminton in the officer’s club when I received a telegram from an interior police station, called Surgana, informing me that a policeman on duty at a fair had raped a woman and that in the riot that followed, police present at the spot opened fire and killed one of the crowd. I proceeded to Surgana to take control of the situation.

On reaching Surgana, I learnt that a constable had accosted an Adivasi couple at the fair and sent the husband to buy cigarettes. He then took the woman behind a nearby bush and raped her. When the husband returned and learnt of the perfidy of the constable, he shared the information with his friends and very soon a crowd of Adivasis (Surgana was a forested area inhabited almost totally by Adivasis) attacked the police picket which consisted of only four men in uniform. Faced with the threat of being overpowered and probably killed, the head constable in charge opened fire with his musket, killing one person instantly. The rapist constable was arrested, tried, and sentenced to seven years imprisonment.

Many years later, when I was Commissioner of Police of the city of Mumbai, from 1982 to 1985, another police constable on duty at the Santacruz police station Committed a Similar crime. His crime was worse because the girl he raped was mentally challenged and had been kept in protective custody after she was found loitering on the road. Inquiries showed that she was an inmate of a residential school for children with disabilities run by some Catholic order of nuns.

The sister superior phoned me to say that the girl was traced after a frantic search and that the policeman on guard duty had taken advantage of her to satisfy his lust. On hearing this I was deeply disturbed. I could not believe that a policeman could have debased himself to that extent and sullied the fair name of the entire force by committing such a heinous crime. I ordered the officer-in-charge of the police station to get the constable to remove his uniform before lodging him in the lockup. Subsequently, he was charged in a court of law and sentenced to a term in jail.

These two cases which occurred under my watch have never left my conscience. They made me feel like a worm. In my wildest imagination, I had never thought that policemen who are recruited and trained to protect their fellow citizens would misuse their position to commit those very crimes that they are supposed to prevent. I admit that baser human instincts are intrinsic to every human being, to a greater or lesser extent, but civilised men overcome such instincts and policemen in particular are trained to do so. So, if at any time a policeman crosses the line he has to be dealt very harshly, much harsher than other citizens guilty of similar deeds. The punishment also should be much harsher for the simple reason that a policeman has not only violated his oath to uphold the law but also misused the authority given to him when he dons the khaki uniform.

The policeman is confronted every day with opportunities to indulge in deviant whims. A civilised individual will not harbour any such thoughts. And those who are weak can be prevented by the fear of punishment which has to be swift and severe. Their own superiors should lead by example because very often bad examples can be set by senior officers with libidinous traits.

There is another common complaint against police officers, I mean male police officers. Women activists have told me that victims do not want to register complaints of sexual abuse because they are asked very lewd and embarrassing questions by the police. “Where did he touch you? Show me the place where he touched you. What did you feel when he touched you in that place?” These are questions which are really embarrassing to the victims and meant to titillate the officer’s own libido. An officer with a perverted mind gets some sort of sexual satisfaction from embarrassing the poor victim. Even if it is relevant to record some facts it can be done in a decorous and civilised manner. The victim should not be made to feel as if she is being raped again.

There are instructions to the police to get such complaints recorded by women police officers. If there are no women police officers at that police station, a woman police constable should remain present to reassure the complainant that she is not being further harmed or harassed. If there are no women police at all, as could be the case in small and remote police stations in the interior, a respectable woman residing nearby can be requested to witness the interaction between the investigating officer and the victim.

Poor uneducated girls who are targets of lust should be treated with even greater care and courtesy. They should be made to feel completely at ease, real sympathy should be shown and they should have the ultimate satisfaction of feeling that they too have dignity in this sad world. It is a sacred duty of every police officer to approach such cases with sensitivity and human kindness. They should treat victims of rape and sexual molestation like they would treat their own mother or sisters

This is my appeal to you, dear brothers. Remember, that the people trust us to enforce the law. Do not break that trust.

Julio Ribeiro

Julio Ribeiro served in several senior positions as a police officer and was India’s ambassador to Romania. This article first appeared in the Hindustan Times on October 7, 2016.

Excerpted with permission from Hope for Sanity: Selected Writings of Julio Ribeiro 2002-2021, Yoda Press.