The Police Are Working Against Us: Custodial Rape in India

In a country that is fighting the grave issue of sexual and gender-based violence, justice seems to be at odds with survivors. In March, a 29-year old young woman who worked as a model came forward to the press about surviving violent rape and extortion at the hands of the Mumbai police. In her interview, she recounted her experience saying:

He left his chair, came across the table and stood near the chair where I was sitting. I asked him why the others were asked to leave. He gagged me, threw me on the table and forced himself on me. Mujhe happy kar de (Make me happy), he kept on repeating as he sexually abused me. I was crying. I tried pushing him away but he was too strong. He later zipped himself up and opened the door.

Sexual offences committed by the police seldom come to light as survivors are too scared to speak out and do not have the relevant avenues to request legal advice and fight for justice. This leads to a lot of cases being settled outside the court and without an investigation. Unwilling to endure the humiliation of pressing charge, survivors are left without hope for justice.

This is not a new incident by any means. Vrinda Grover, a prominent human rights activist made a powerful statement after the horrific Delhi gang rape in 2012. “If you’re a woman in distress, the last thing you want to do is go to the police,” she said, speaking to the New York Times.

In India, there is a serious lack of trust in judicial process and in the police and most survivors prefer to not report the crime as they fear worse at the hands of the police. In an effort to curb violence against women, the Delhi Police launched an app called “Himmat” (courage) that would allow women to report sexual assault through their smartphones. In addition to this, the Centre also allocated a special ‘Nirbhaya’ fund to set up more CCTVs in Indian trains. Yet, all of these measures seem short-sighted and highlight how little the government is willing to assess its own structure in curbing sexual violence.

The recent case of custodial rape is by no means the first that Indians have heard about. In June 2014, a woman was gang-raped by a police station officer and two constables within the premises of the Sumerpur Police station in Hamirpur district, Uttar Pradesh. In 2011, yet another case of brutal custodial rape occurred at a police station in Murshidabad District in West Bengal. She was also forced to prepare a false statement so that the police could walk free. In 2010, members of the police allegedly raped 4 tribal women by threatening to expose them as Maoists in the Baaluguda village in Vishakapatnam.   

Cases reported seldom come to light as most survivors do not have a way to press charges when the only access to justice they have is the police. Legal provisions for custodial rape are vague and barely implemented in India. The Asian Centre for Human Rights reported that there have been 45 cases of custodial rape in India between 2002 and 2010 but in reality, this figure could be much higher.

These are a few areas that the Indian government needs to look into immediately to bring an end to instances of custodial rape:

Gender-sensitization training: Until recently, the Indian police completely lacked any gender-sensitization training to handle complaints from sexual assault survivors. Now, there has been some initiative to assess and train police to become more sensitive when dealing with vulnerable communities and individuals. Victims of sexual violence often include men, women, children, LGBT adults and children. The Centre for Social Research, in partnership, with UN Women recently launched a large-scale gender sensitization drive by conducting training in police academies across UP, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Amnesty International India has also launched “Ready to Report” in an effort to encourage more women to engage positively with the police. Earlier sensitization initiatives such as the People-Friendly Police project, a partnership between UNICEF and Karnataka State Police, have failed. So India is yet to implement a robust programme that is suitable for academies across states.

Lack of legal provisions: The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, mentions that public servants (police officers, staff of jails or member of the armed forces) who commit rape, shall be punished with a rigorous life imprisonment which shall not be less than ten years but which may extend to life imprisonment. Indian law ignores the fact that victims of custodial rape include men, homosexuals, transsexuals, children and other vulnerable communities. Since existing laws are seldom implemented and survivors lack the power to report sexual violence if they face threats by the police, there is little or no scope until better legal provisions are framed.

Inclusion of women in the police force: In the past three years there have been several attempts to increase the number of women in the police force. However, the number of women in police service remains embarrassingly low. In 2013, a survey revealed that of all the personnel working in the state police forces only 5.33% are women. Given India’s internal struggles within a rigid patriarchal structure, women face tremendous challenges in integrating with India’s police system. There is also little or no incentive for them to join police work. Most women are also pushed to take ancillary work such as attendants while on duty while very few of them get to work on the field.

It will be big step in the right direction if India's government takes decisive action to resolve the barriers to ending custodial rape. We must urge India to act now. #EndCustodialRape

Meera Vijayann,
Youth Ambassador for India

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