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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  1. In the meantime, I would advocate for women in India to arm themselves with things like pepper spray or mace. Though some would that’s being “too extreme” yet women are the ones who are responsible for preventing rape. *rolls eyes*


    • In reply to RenKiss

      Totally. Though I wonder if the benefits of such measures are more psychological than real…


      • In reply to bhagwad

        While Pepper spray would help, I fear it may not be of use in some cases, specially sometimes where the victim knew the rapist (it seems 98% of cases) – like maybe where the victim was related to the rapist, or maybe if the rapist was a person in authority and where the victim wasn’t sure if it wasn’t their fault or if they feared the consequences if the ‘incident’ or attempt became public (shame).


      • In reply to Indian Homemaker

        Yeah, then number of cases where they might be useful is tiny. Still, there is some measure of self confidence it may promote…


      • The Gender Nazi says:

        In reply to bhagwad

        And pepper sprays are totally useless in gang-rapes. It can even be used against the victim. According to me, pepper sprays can only come in handy on public transportation and roads against wandering hands and roving eyes. But if the victim is outnumbered, its of no use :-(.


  2. Suneetha says:

    Prevention is better than cure any day…!!! Hence kids wil hav to b prepared mentally to b bold and not fear intimidation and voice their troubles and b more vocal abt ppl who they fear or not want to b with… And the parents shd pay heed to their voice instead of asking them to b mum and b the ” good girl / boy” as every one expects them to b…!!! Offenders fear exposure…..!!! And it wd b a good idea to incorporate. Changes in the attitude of schools so they make space in their curriculum for mental grooming of kids on these lines… conducting periodic debates within class on topics related to boy / girl etiquette and making note of teenagers who r aggressive and unduly offensive to fellow classmates especially girls and to b pulled up and reprimanded / warned regarding the same …etc….!! Such incidents in school is likely to cause deep understanding of wat is acceptable and want is not acceptable behaviour ….!!! Encourage kids right from primary schools to take care of plants and pets……wil teach them the value of life and to b empathetic abt the pain of trauma and loss of some one who u cared for…!!!
    Hav always been in awe of the Parsi community that has almost a Nil criminal record…..not a single name to quote…( except the recent Ness Wadia incident) . Ther must b something in the moral fabric of the community that is anti criminal in nature which needs to b identified and incorporated widely….!!! Am not for religion or practice of rituals but this one factor is worth paying attention to for the good of society @ large…!!!


  3. While I agree that police reforms are sorely and urgently needed in India, there will not be much change in overall crime against women unless there are major social reforms. We, as a society, have actually gone backwards in some aspects since Independence. For example, we did not have such awful sex ratios nor did we have this sort of intense social gender segregation that is seen in some States today.

    Unless women’s rights and human rights are taught as part of the curriculum in schools and these aspects are put into a child’s head really early, we cannot hope to change society any time soon. Rapes will continue to happen because families, neighbours and friends will continue to blame women for stepping out of their boundaries. Police, politicians, teachers will continue to tell women to suck it up and take it because they are women. Legal and administrative reforms can only go so far.


    • In reply to Fem

      Yes, I agree that social reforms and education are critical to the long term reduction of crimes against women. However, I’m of the opinion that a lot of sexual assault cases take place because the criminals are not afraid of either getting caught or getting convicted. I base this on the premise that criminals are cowards who don’t like risks and want to avoid the consequences of their actions.


      • Suneetha says:

        In reply to bhagwad

        True the criminals don’t want to face consequences……and they are backed by politicians who make statements like “boys will b boys” and the police bullying the victims rather than the criminal adds to their advantage……so they r not motivated to change….!!!
        But if society decides to ostracise the criminal and expose his family members who help him escape by publishing their family photos and boycotting all relationship with the family including refusing to Mary into the family and staging dharna in front of their house on every occasion and telling their kids wat the father did ….all this may sound radical but can fasten change in the mindset of the perpetrators and they wd b forced to change….!!! Provided it is done with enuf legal and NGO backing….!!!


      • In reply to Suneetha

        I think you’re absolutely right. I guess it’s a question of the type of reforms. The first is legal, and the second is social. While legal reform is difficult and fraught with politics, it is at least concrete and measurable.

        Social reforms on the other hand will take decades – if not more. I also feel that societal attitudes take a cue from the legal system. Just like decriminalizing homosexuality will eventually cause a greater acceptance in the minds of most people. That’s because we often look to the laws to determine what is acceptable and what isn’t. Swift punishment and stringent laws send out a strong message that these acts are unacceptable and will accelerate social reforms.


  4. I completely agree with the points mentioned in your post. But can the police force still be vigilant and be omnipresent like God? No. They cannot. So it is necessary for the existing cases to be tackled fast and abusers punished to instill a kind of fear in prospective abusers. A pepper spray may or may not be of help depending on the situation, the relationship between the victim and the abuser and the number of abusers. Such cases can only be brought down by speedy processing of cases and immediate punishments. Death is not what I advocate for such abusers. That’s an easy one. They need to suffer for their lives. Nothing less than life imprisonment. But with the rate at which cases are being handled (rather mishandled) I have very less hope of an improvement in the security situation. Just think about that 6-year old who was abused within the school premises. Is it not lack of fear of getting arrested or getting punished?


  5. We don’t need a police state! We need a change in the current pervasive mindset, first of all, giving women such an unequal status in society!


  6. I really agree with what you said – that these acts are probably more because so many KNOW and are confident that they can get away with it. They threaten the victim and take rape videos as blackmail, there is the social stigma….and the police are insensitive and useless really. One of my friends’ mothers was assaulted inside a police station by a policeman. How would she even report that?
    It is crazy, the laws need to toughen up, and good citizens also need to stand up for each other and help each other. I feel the entire police force needs to be examined. It should not be a boys’ club.


    • suneetha says:

      In reply to A. Madhavan

      True that…the police force s useless in India…
      Aamir khans Satyev jayate season 2 had extensive research and insight to y our police force s reduced to this insipid levels in comparison with their counterparts in the rest of the world. Those of u who haven’t watched it can surf the YouTube fr it…!! It helps us to reduce expectations Frm the police evr….instead of getting a heart burn..!! Self help is best any day…I mean v have to equip our women and kids mentally and by all other possible means to warn their perpetrators to beware of wrong move… Using mental and physical combat… And getting legal help, NGOs and a media person on hand before approaching police… Wen they approach the police with a lawyer and NGO it makes a difference… In India… Not until then…!!


  7. AnotherView says:

    There are some issues here.

    Minor ones:
    In many cases false FIR’s are registered. This is usually in political or real estate matters. But to cancel such FIR’s you have to go to the high court. But when there are individual cases filed by vindictive people, it creates a headache the police simply don’t have the time for.

    Basic issues:
    The constables in any police station do not have powers to register an FIR. They may assist later but they cannot register or initiate an FIR. That is why the public are told to come back when the big sahib is available.
    The next rank is ASI and then SI. They are authorized to register an FIR and investigate the alleged crime. However, they spend the majority of their time (80%) on bandobast duty for religious processions, political rallies and have only the bare minimum (5-10%) time to spend on criminal investigation.

    More basic problems:
    All police stations run out of stationary (paper, pens, staplers, carbon sheets) within the first few days of the month and procuring new ones is next to impossible or time consuming. By law all official transactions have to be recorded on the govt. supplied stationary with carbon copies.
    Police stations do not have a proper investigation room. Hence your typical inquiry with a suspect happens inside the cells as shown in our movies. There are no rooms or space available for the inspectors to properly write their reports and do follow up phone calls.
    For sensitive cases we do have women police officers, but some semblance of privacy is needed. Victims are now forced to state their problems in full view of the public. Never mind what you see on TV serials in India, they don’t even have proper wash room facilities.

    Even more basic problems:
    Assume your FIR is recorded somehow. The ASI or SI has to make it available to the local magistrate and provide timely reports on its progress. That is fine in principle. But do you know he gets a monthly fuel allowance of only Rs.400/- (about $7.00). I don’t see how any officer can do his investigation with this amount of fuel a month.

    Sources of information:
    Some friends dads are in the police department and also from Page 38 section 8.1.5:


    • In reply to AnotherView

      These are valid problems. However, as to the police not being able to file an FIR, I think there’s more to it than that. When my laptop was stolen, I simply went to the station, filled out a form, and that was it. If only one person can actually file an FIR, then they can collect all the stationary and do it in one go when he/she arrives.

      The rest of the issues need to be solved. A lot of this seems to come down to a lack of resources. Well then…increase the resources! I don’t think Indian citizens would mind paying higher taxes to cover them.


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