Gender justice and police

Dr. Kavita Suri
In the recent times, there has been an increase in violence against women in India. In a country where women are worshipped as Goddesses, hundreds and thousands of women are being ill-treated every day. Violence against women and children is being manifested in various forms – physical, economic, sexual and psychological – cutting across culture and socio-economic classes. Most often women who are victims of violence and abuse do not seek help or report as the patriarchal norms operate through family and community which make women more vulnerable to discrimination and violence. Women also often lack access to the power structures, law, resources and education that would equip them to put an end to Gender Based Violence (GBV). Most of victims are not aware of law and related provisions such as free legal aid, Women Help lines, counselling centers, short-stay homes etc.
In India, violence against women begins long before they are born and continues throughout their lives. Unborn girls are terminated in the wombs of their mothers through sex selection abortions. Gender inequalities continue to be a reality in India. Gender discrimination including physical, sexual, emotional and economic violence, son preference, unequal resource distribution and unequal decision-making power, caste discrimination are few challenges before the society. The issues of Gender Based Violence (GBV) include acid throwing, bride burning, rape, domestic violence & pregnancy, dowry deaths, honor killings, kidnappings and abduction, forced abortion, forced pregnancy, forced prostitution, human trafficking, marital rape, murder of pregnant women, rape etc.
For most women, rights are denied, violated or accessed within families, clans and communities where law and policies are distant. Access to law and policy is usually controlled by family and communities. Legal processes are too expensive for most women and poor people. The State is also a violator of rights and the protector / enforcer. Rights protectors and enforcers (police, govt. officials, doctors, judges) are themselves socialized in values of inequality.
India ranks 108 out of 145 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2015. Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Ireland top the Index. India’s neighbours-Bangladesh, China and Sri Lanka-are ranked higher than India. Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan are ranked below India. Gender Inequality Index is a composite measure reflecting inequality in achievements between women and men in three dimensions: reproductive health (Maternal Mortality Ratio & Adolescent Fertility Rate), empowerment (Female and male population with at least secondary education & female and male shares of parliamentary seats) and the labor market (Female and male labor force participation rates).
Gender justice
‘Gender’ refers to the socially constructed roles of and relations between men and women, while ‘Sex’ refers to biological characteristics which define humans as female or male. Gender justice means eradicating these socially constructed differences through empowerment processes that transform both gender and social relations (caste, class, race etc.) and creating greater equality and equity between women and men within and between social groups. It is also too often used interchangeably with notions of gender equality, gender equity, women’s empowerment, and women’s rights. Common interpretations of gender justice pertain to fair treatment of women and men, where fairness is evaluated based on substantive consequences.
Gender sensitization
Gender sensitization refers to the modification of behaviour by raising awareness of gender equality concerns. Gender sensitizing “is about changing behaviour and instilling empathy into the views that we hold about our own and the other sex”. Thus a gender sensitized person not only acquires new patterns of behaviour towards persons of ‘other’ gender, rather sensitization also enables him/her to question his/her attitude, beliefs and values related to the gender concerns.
Police and gender justice
The main role and responsibility of police in India is to control crime, maintain law and order and thus keep the societies safe. While community-policing has been part of police agenda since past few years in India, yet preventing gender-based violence has not been integral to it. There is a need to make police stations more accessible to women besides acting in a gender sensitive manner in all cases relating to GBV. The increase GBV calls for a prompt and proper response from the police on all complaints.  As gatekeepers of the criminal justice system, police enjoys wide discretion in enforcement of law and thus it has a critical role in responding to and preventing violence against women. It is expected to respond in an empathetic and sensitive manner to women.  But what we see is contrary as their own socialization, patriarchy, attitudes, stereotypes and related beliefs about gender role and relations prevent them from giving gender justice to women. Police response to violence against women continues to be grossly inadequate and inappropriate.
Women come to the police station as a last resort and very often go away feeling dejected because of the manner in which they are treated. Most often she is not allowed inside or is made to sit outside the police station as asked to wait for the Sub-inspector who has gone out. Very few cases related to women and children are actually registered; `counseling’ is often seen as a substitute for registration; the prevalent attitude of most police officers is to minimize the incidence of violence and to deny the right of the complainant to seek justice. Initial complaint is disbelieved. Victim is discouraged from pursuing complaint. Intensive bullying, callous interrogation and aggressive and sexist questioning is done. Medical examination is delayed and conducted in unpleasant and threatening surroundings. A rape victim is branded as ‘of loose moral character’; dowry cases are dismissed as matters of ‘quarrelsome women’ and the victim is not supplied with basic information about her legitimate rights and support services available to her.
Role of police and gender sensitization
The increase in GBV has forced the Government of India to wake up to the desperate need to educate its police force on gender equality and sensitivity. Karnataka is one of those India states which have conducted maximum number of gender sensitization training programmes for its police in collaboration with UNICEF. Sher-i-Kashmir Police Academy at Udhampur in Jammu and Kashmir has been organizing Gender justice and sensitization training programmes for the state police personnel of the ranks of SSPs, DSPs and inspectors from time to time. The focus is on attitudinal and behavioral change of the police through an understanding of gender, power relations, prevalent patriarchal influences and changing social scenario. The objective is to bring about a perceptible positive attitudinal and behavioural change in police attitudes towards cases involving women. The training module includes themes like meaning and importance of gender sensitization, sexual harassment, domestic violence, psychological problems being faced by the women due to domestic violence and stress, status of women in contemporary society, legislation and special laws for protection of women, role of police and society in checking domestic violence etc. are discussed in detail by the experts drawn from different fields.
The police can play an important role in strengthening gender justice system. For this, it has to first build and strengthen new constructs from the ground up and listen to women; improve its communication and message and then behave in a gender sensitive manner in dealing with violence against women. The attitude of the average police has to change. Women should feel confident and comfortable in approaching any policeman or policewoman. After all, that is the role and purpose of the police in any civilized society. Specialized facilities and services for women at police stations (such as trauma units and trained counselors to handle abuse cases) would enable police officials to work more closely with professionals from relevant fields.
There has to be a better orientation towards gender issues which in fact should be core element in police training to alter approach of police officers and personnel towards women in general and women victims as well as women colleagues in particular. All State police organizations should undertake gender sensitization trainings to sensitize the police personnel at all levels and make it a continuous process and work towards an attitudinal shift and more of a change of heart regarding gender justice.
(The author is Associate Professor, Department of Lifelong Learning, University of Jammu and can be reached at