In 1984, Mumbai police and Tata Institute of Social Sciences established a Special Cell in Mumbai Police Commissionerate to provide pre- litigation intervention to women facing violence. In more than two decades of its functioning, it has become a unique model where police work in tandem with social workers to provide help to women facing trauma. According to a recent Maharashtra government resolution, the state will soon have a Special Cell in each district. Different forms of the model have been replicated in Haryana, Odisha, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. In an interview to Firstpost, Trupti Panchal, coordinator of the Special Cell, talks about the importance of gender- sensitive police response team, issues in all women police stations and possible ways to tackle crime against women.
Tell us about the concept of Special Cell?
This is a team of social workers which work to empower the women victims of violence to fight their own battles. We try to find out what the victim wants from the system and whether it is feasible under the law or not. Victims either come to us directly or are referred by the police stations.
What has been victims' response to the Cell in all these years?
According to an evaluation of the cell, 90 percent of victims said they would come back to the special cell as they were heard here and did not feel intimidated. 69 percent said that they were very happy with special cell. And by the way, the evaluation was done by an independent body which is associated neither with the police nor with the special cell.
What do you attribute this success to?
It works as the victim enters the system through the special cell and exits through it. This is women-centric model.
Quite different from Delhi...
Yes. Here in Delhi, everybody has to go to the system of police, counseling and then go back to the police.
What improvements do you suggest in Delhi's policing to make it better equipped in dealing with crime against women?
Firstly, there has to be visibility. Everybody knows special cell in Maharsthra but I doubt if half of Delhi's population is aware of the crime intervention cells meant for rape victims in the city. It makes huge difference in the victim's counseling and rehabilitation if she is aware of any such service.
Second, such services should be autonomous. They should work in tandem with the police and there can be a backdrop of power, but there should not be day to day reporting to the police. There should be outreach programs where social workers can go to the community to meet victims and develop rapport with them.
What is your opinion on all women police stations?
I am against this kind of ghettoisation. A woman who wants to lodge a complaint in the local police station should not be addressed to any other police unit just because she is a woman. In fact, more and more men should be trained to handle such cases so that they become gender sensitive. There are four male consellors in special cells in Maharashtra.
But the larger perception is that in cases of sexual assault, victim is more comfortable discussing case details with women.
It does not matter. If you are distressed and the other person is listening to you and can win your confidence, you will open your heart to him or her. It is the demure that matters. We will send a wrong message by saying that because men will never be able to deal with victims of sexual abuse, the victim should be sent to a place where there are only women.
What relation do you draw between changing societal norms and increase in crime rate?
We often tend to blame the rise in crime graph on external factors such as media and Western culture, but the harsh reality is that crime such as rape is an extension of how we behave with women in our houses. If a person is able to slap his wife in front of his son, you cannot expect the same person to respect other women in society. At another level, look at our attitude towards girl child! In the so called modern society, the discourse about girl child ceases to change. Even if you are welcoming her, the discourse is negative. The father has to say it loud and clear that he is happy with his daughter. Why is he supposed to make that point?
In the wake of the recent gang- rape case in Delhi, people have suggested various measures which they think can act deterrent to such crimes. These include capital punishment, chemical castration and social boycott of rapists. Your reaction?
There is no sure shot solution to such crimes. It is a grey area. It needs a multi- pronged approach. While police should take crime against women seriously, large mass education and giving a definitive message are equally important. By the latter, I am referring to the kind of upbringing we give to children and what is taught to them in the school curriculum. Bottom line is that we have to change the way we think. We will wear modern clothes but the damn mindset will not change.