Can the Police Ensure Women’s Safety in India?

Can the police ensure women's safety in India?

Swift punishment is more important than excessive patrolling or stricture laws.

Politicians in Uttar Pradesh repeatedly put their foot in their mouth with their statements on the escalating rape culture. From the CM to the Governor Aziz Qureshi, they point out that it’s not possible to “prevent” rapes completely. Apparently, even if God himself is incarnated, he won’t be able to ensure women’s safety in India. This has predictably pissed people off even more. It seems as if he’s just putting up his hands and saying “Screw it. Whatever will be, will be”.

But does he have a point? I mean it isn’t actually possible to put a policeman on every street or ensure the safety of every single woman everywhere. Too much vigilance might even backfire if the government resorts to measures like banning women from bars and other public places late in the night, or imposing a curfew on everyone outright. Police presence only works up to a point. After that, it’s counterproductive.

Women’s Safety in India – A lost Cause?

I think most people realize that it’s not possible to prevent rapes entirely by sheer police presence. As it is, India has one of the lowest police to population ratios in the world, not to mention that the men in khaki are notoriously overworked and have perverse incentives and pretty horrible living and working conditions. But this does not mean that women’s safety in India is a lost cause!

I’ve often said that people rape because they don’t fear swift punishment. So many obstacles get in the way between a rape and a conviction, that it’s a reasonable assumption for the criminal to assume that he’ll go scott free. Here are some of the hurdles:

  • Most rapes are never reported
  • The police refuse to register an FIR
  • Women are repeatedly called upon to answer hostile questions and suspicions
  • Bullshit aspects like her “character” and her sexual life are examined
  • Court cases take forever to meander through the justice system
  • No witness protection program
  • Families try and “hush up” the incident
  • etc etc.

Honestly, it’s a miracle that any rapist is ever convicted. No wonder there’s no fear of the law! Criminals are cowards, but when there’s nothing to be afraid of, where is the deterrence? I come across people clamoring for barbaric punishments like castration, or public lynching, but they refuse to see that it’s not the quantum, but the certainty of punishment that matters.

We don’t want the death penalty for rape. It’s not going to happen and there are too many problems with it. What we need instead, is police reforms. Separation of the investigative and enforcement arms, autonomy for the police force, and better payscales are just a few things that need to be improved. Band aid fixes like curfews and increasing the amount of punishment are not “solutions” at all. They will make precisely zero difference to the number of rapes in the country.

Women’s safety in India is an issue who’s roots reach far back to the way our police and judicial systems work. Nothing is ever as simple as “patrol more!” or “set up a helpline!”. Effective punishment, the swift and fair delivery of justice, and an independent police force are what will improve the situation not just for women, but for everyone else as well.

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