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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 November 2005, 11:06 GMT
Women police battle city rape
Geeta Pandey
By Geeta Pandey
BBC News, Delhi

Female police
The scheme aims to 'ensure a safe environment for women'

High-profile cases of rapes and assault on women in Delhi have prompted many to dub it "the rape capital of India".

Worried about the bad press, Delhi police have been trying a new tactic - 40 women constables have been put on the beat in north-west Delhi in an area known for its high incidence of crimes against women.

Sagar Preet Hooda is the Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of north-west Delhi and is heading this campaign, named Parivartan (or Change).

"The main objective... is to ensure a safe environment for women and girls in Delhi," he says.

Educating mothers

The police have been using some new ways to make their point, such as street plays and pantomime that tell people how they can protect their children against sexual assault.

A woman
Women can talk more openly to female officers

In nearly 90% of cases, police say, rapists are known to the victim. And in most cases they are people who were entrusted with the care of the child victim by the parents.

So one mime act held on a street corner tells parents not to leave their daughters in the care of other men.

The campaign also involves various city NGOs, sociologists and psychologists.

But the main component of the campaign, says DCP Hooda, is to deploy women constables on beat duty.

"Women don't feel free talking to male officers, they find it easier to communicate to other women. So, with women constables we have the comparative advantage," he says.

Women constables Mithilesh Maurya and Geeta Chauhan are two of the new faces of the Delhi police, patrolling the slums of Jahangirpuri.

"We go from door to door," Constable Chauhan says, "and talk to people. We focus a lot on educating mothers. We tell them how they can keep their daughters safe."

'Changed man'

Constable Chauhan says they sit in the police booth in the area for an hour every morning, and a lot of women come to them with their problems.

Female police talking to women
The women constables have been well received

"Most women come to us because they're being harassed by their husbands. We talk to the men and give them a warning," says Constable Maurya.

"If that doesn't work, we take legal action against them. Also, if the young girls in the area are hassled by men, we sometimes arrest them and put them in the lock-up."

Constable Chauhan says most cases they deal with are of domestic violence.

"In this area, a lot of men have drinking problems, they come home drunk and beat up their wives and children."

A classic example of that kind of case is that of Harsha Saklani.

"My husband has had a drinking problem for six years now," says the petite, young woman.

"He regularly assaulted me and our two children. I complained to the police in the past, they didn't do anything about it. But after the women constables intervened, he's a changed man now," she says.

Male mindset

Constable Maurya says they had to register a case against Harsha's husband.

"We kept him in judicial custody for 15 days. And that sorted him out. Today, he behaves well with his wife and children."

Female constables
Can the women constables help change male attitudes?

The women constables have been camping in Jahangirpuri for well over a month now. So far they seem to enjoy tremendous public goodwill.

"Our daughters couldn't step out of the house earlier because there were young men hanging around here all the time," says one mother, Chhoti.

"And if we told them to move away from here, they'd abuse us."

Sanwaria, whose daughter is now grown up, agrees that the arrival of women constables has made things better.

"They are less corrupt, they don't ask for bribes, and they do their job well," he says.

Seventeen year-old Aarti Yadav says they had to live with daily harassment from young men all the time here.

"They passed lewd remarks every time we passed. We complained to the police several times in the past, but nothing happened. But now things have improved. We can talk to these women constables. They understand our problem."

DCP Hooda says the big challenge is to change the male mindset.

"We think it's the male attitude, male chauvinism, that's behind cases of crimes against women. And unless and until we change that attitude, crime against women is not going to stop," he warns.

That, many say, is easier said than done.


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