Atanu Panigrahi, a sub-inspector at the Muchipara police station in North Kolkata, was recently tasked with filing a First Information Report in a property dispute between tenant and landlord. Panigrahi recorded the name of an adolescent involved as “Dharshita”, the Bengali term for rape victim. He claimed that he had merely duplicated what was written in a handwritten complaint filed by the tenant.
Copies of the FIR were circulated to the tenant and landlord, before becoming public knowledge and causing outrage. The Kolkata police stepped in and had the sub-inspector transferred to a police station at the far end of the city. The city police now claim to be investigating whether Panigrahi’s deed was intentional or a slip up.
The incident took place in the build-up to International Women’s Day on March 8. This year’s campaign theme is Pledge For Parity, which includes “rooting out workplace bias”. But for the Kolkata police, events in recent years would suggest that there is a long way to go before it can claim to be a gender sensitive force.
Lakhs of rupees have been spent on sensitising the police on gender and teaching them basic courtesies in cases where women are involved. However, little seems to have changed.
The Kolkata police website lists making derogatory remarks against women as an offence. However, if reports about events at the Muchipara police station are to be believed, its sub-inspector appears to have crossed the line. When the adolescent’s father went to the police station to protest over his daughter being branded a rape victim in the records, Panigrahi allegedly told him that he had given the girl a new name.
Sunanda Mukherjee, chairperson of the West Bengal Women’s Commission, reacted with helplessness and frustration. “The ground has crumbled under my feet,” she said. “The police is not qualified to provide security to its citizens. Where is the world headed?” Mukherjee has now sought a meeting with the state’s home secretary, Malay De.
The Kolkata police has a dubious record with regard to women. In 2012, the force concurred with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who had called the Park Street gang-rape a “staged incident” aimed at maligning her government. The police transferred Damayanti Sen for launching a hunt for the five men who had raped Suzette Jordan in a moving car, implying that she had disregarded the government’s instructions in the matter. As head of detective department, Sen had succeeded in breaking the glass ceiling in the Kolkata police.
The city once had a reputation for being safe for women. But the state’s steady decline in terms of women’s safety has gone hand in hand with the police’s increasingly brazen approach to women.
In 2014, the Kolkata police issued this 12-point advisory for women:
1. Dress decently
2. Have emergency speed dial numbers on your phone
4. Be aware of people around you
5. Avoid late nights
6. Carry pepper spray
7. Be well behaved
8. Stay in groups
9. Avoid travelling in a crowded bus or train
10. Avoid going to isolated place
11. Walk in well-lit and frequented areas
12. Be street smart
In recent years, the city police have also been accused of thrashing women students inside university campuses, manhandling women protestors on the streets, harassing women who have approached police stations to file a complaint, and routinely using abusive and foul language even in the presence of women. Now, it appears that the force’s top brass is trying to shield wrongdoers within its ranks over claims of sexual harassment.