Feb 9, 2022

A Much Needed Guide To Navigating The Police System For The Indian Woman

Shonottra Kumar

Have you ever been eve-teased or harassed and not reported it because you just did not want to approach the police? Have you ever had even the slightest amount of fear to get something as simple as a passport verification done from the police? Or while asking for directions on the street, you have the option to choose between a shady looking man and a policeman, who would you choose to approach?

If you’re one of those women who would opt for the shady looking man to ask for directions, you are not alone. Most women often find it quite intimidating to interact with the police — be it reporting a crime or just making regular inquiries. They avoid interacting with the police as much as possible.

This fear is not an irrational one. There have been many reported cases of violence against women committed by policemen. Apart from this, there are many other reasons attributed it — they fear victim blaming, trivialising of offences committed against them and even just plain old misbehaviour.

In these circumstances, it is important to know that there are laws in place to help ease your interactions with the police and make the process of dealing with them, a little less daunting. Knowing these legal safeguards can go a long way in helping you access mechanisms meant for all citizens and help you achieve a sense of delivery of justice. It also promotes a culture of providing equal access for all, where the safety of women is paramount.

Reporting A Crime

In many cases of gender-based violence committed against women, such as rape, acid attack, sexual harassment, stalking, disrobing, voyeurism, etc. women often don’t report such crimes because of the fear of embarrassment. They would rather suffer in silence than reiterate the incident to a male police official.

In such cases to ease the process of reporting devoid of any shame or stigma, the law provides the victim with the right to ask for a woman police official to help file a complaint. If the affected woman is suffering from any kind of mental or physical disability, she can even ask the police officials to come to her residence or any other place where she feels comfortable to take her statement and file a complaint.

It is important to know that as a woman it is your right to ask for a woman police official while filing a complaint, and this is not a favour being done on/for you.

Being Arrested

If you are being arrested, remember to always ask for the reasons for your arrest and if they have a warrant for the same. In some cases, the police may not need a warrant to arrest you, but they are obligated to tell you why you are being arrested.

At the time of arrest, make sure a woman police official is carrying out the arrest or is at least present or witness to your arrest being carried out. This is a legal measure in place to ensure that no violence, sexual or otherwise, is committed against you by a male police official. If there was no woman present during your arrest, you can file a complaint against the police officer who arrested you.

Another important point to note is that the law strictly forbids the arrest of women between sunset and sunrise, i.e. 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. This legal provision was introduced in response to a large number of cases of custodial violence against women, mostly in the nature of sexual offences committed by police officials. However, if an arrest must absolutely be carried out at night time, the arresting officer must have the express permission of a Magistrate to do so and you can ask for a copy of this permission/order while you are being arrested.

If at any point at night a policeman comes to arrest you without the permission of a Magistrate, you must inform them of this provision and request them to return the next day. In the event the policeman does not listen to you, do not resist arrest. If you resist, the police officials may use force against you and take you into custody. In such cases, contact a lawyer. Having a lawyer present can ensure proper compliance of processes. If you believe that the arrest carried out was illegal, you can file a complaint against the police officer who arrested you.

Being Searched

If you are ever being physically searched by a male police official, you have the right to refuse such a search. Only a woman police official can physically search you. This is another provision in place to avoid sexual harassment of women by male police officials.

Even if your car is stopped by a policeman on the road, he only has the power to search your car. If he suspects you and wants to physically search you, he has to call a woman police official or a woman constable to do so.

It is a sad state of affairs that a large portion of the population is not able to trust the arm of the government that is in fact meant to protect them. Instead, they fear them. The only immediate solution to eradicate such fear is knowledge of these legal provisions in place to protect women from any further harassment at the hands of the police. You can even approach NGOs, service providers or government bodies like the National Commission for Women to file complaints or get assistance in other legal processes.

It is true that a massive amount of police reforms need to be introduced to even think of starting to rebuild that trust. But in the meantime, you should know that the law is on your side!

Originally published on Youth Ki Awaaz.

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