The massive protests that broke out after the rape and murder of a woman in New Delhi in December 2012 forced the Centre to amend India’s criminal laws to strengthen the provisions against sexual violence. An equally gruesome sexual crime last week in Cyberabad, just outside Hyderabad, where a 27-year-old woman was raped and then burnt to death, has shown that stringent laws will not help if law enforcement is weak and insensitive.
As the facts of the case slowly emerged, it was clear that the Telangana police force resorted to an old strategy: it asked questions about the woman’s character before seriously considering a possible case of violence.
After the mobile phone of the veterinarian went unreachable on Wednesday night, just hours after she spoke to her sister and said she was scared to be stranded on the highway with her scooter broken down, the family went to the police station to lodge a complaint.
Officers in two police stations tried to claim that the area did not fall into their jurisdictions, delaying a case being registered. When the family insisted that they immediately act as the woman could be in danger, the officers repeatedly asked the family if the woman was having an affair with someone and if there was chance she had eloped.
“The police spoke to us very rudely, in a disgusting manner,” the woman’s mother told The News Minute. “They kept saying she would have gone with someone. I kept saying my daughter is not like that, but they didn’t listen. Their apathy cost us our daughter. They didn’t do what they should have.”
The next morning, the woman’s charred body was found under a bridge.
The disdainful response of the police runs against repeated warnings from the Supreme Court, which has directed that jurisdiction should not matter if the crime is of cognisable nature. Every police officer had the duty to register a case once a cognisable offence comes to their notice and act immediately.
The Cyberabad police has now suspended three officers for dereliction of duty. But this incident highlights a systemic flaw. Despite crimes of this sort taking place repeatedly, state police departments seem unable to respond with alacrity. If this was the response of a police station near a state capital, in heart of an information technology hub where thousands of women work, one can only imagine how the police force functions in smaller cities and villages.
Unless the police officers are trained consistently and their attitude towards women changes, India will remain an unsafe place for women.