A police force that neither ‘cares’ nor ‘dares’

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By Sandeep Sahu

A video going viral on social media since Sunday evening serves as a timely warning for existing and potential eve teasers in the Twin City and the state at large. The one minute and 39 second long video that shows a young girl first slapping an eve teaser and then hitting him with a chappal at the crowded Badambadi area in Cuttack city is yet another proof of something that has been evident for some time now: that the demure and vulnerable girl is now well and truly a thing of the past. You cannot take liberties with the modern young woman and still hope to get away with it. So better learn to behave in public, if not out of fear for the law then the fear of public humiliation that is going to haunt this street Romeo for the rest of his life.

What makes the brave act of the girl even more noteworthy is the fact that unlike her counterpart in Bhubaneswar who chased and took on three miscreants a couple of months ago, she was not an expert in martial arts but just an ordinary girl who summoned the courage to challenge the man playing footsie with her. I have a gut feeling that more and more ‘ordinary’ girls without any physical training on how to ‘fight’ eve teasers and molesters would start emulating the Cuttack girl in the days to come.

There are two things that encourage rogues to stalk, harass and sexually assault girls and women on the street. The first – as we saw in the Cuttack case as well as the Nandankanan Road harassment case in Bhubaneswar earlier in the week – is the indifference of the people around, who prefer to look the other way, are busy relishing the discomfiture of the hapless girl or are too timid to challenge the street Romeos. It is hard to say from the video and the accounts in the media of the Cuttack incident whether the girl mustered the courage to confront the molester because of the confidence that the sizeable crowd of onlookers present would come to her rescue if the molester hit back. But the video does not show any of them taking charge and coming to the rescue of the girl. They are all mute and amused spectators of the whole scene.

It is, of course, true that the indifference of the public is not limited to cases of eve teasing and extends to any unfortunate incident on the streets – an accident, physical assault on someone – man or woman – or drunken nuisance/violence by loafers. The worst part is the size of the crowd is often 10, 20 or 50 times the number of the trouble makers (more often than not they are not gun wielding goons). All it needs is an initiative by one man and I am sure the rest of the crowd would follow suit. And yet, no one dares to ‘bell’ the proverbial ‘cat’.

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The second reason that emboldens the sexual predators is the attitude of the police. As the incident on Nandankanan road in Bhubaneswar the other day showed, the commissionerate police – or any police, for that matter – are yet to get over their medieval mindset which sees any young woman accompanied by a man as a slut. The disturbing account of her ordeal with police – which she said was worse than her encounter with a group of eve teasers – posted by the victim on Facebook just goes to prove that for all its “We care, we dare” bragging, the Twin City police is no better than its counterpart elsewhere in the state when it comes to having a misogynistic mindset.

While no one can do anything to force a crowd to come the defence of a hapless victim of sexual harassment, there is a lot that the police bosses can do to make sure that their subordinate staff, the men who do the actual policing on the ground, respond to such situations as a modern police force should respond – by quickly getting into action, apprehending the trouble makers and reassuring the victim and not by making the already traumatized victim feel even more miserable through lessons on morals and unsolicited advice on how they should conduct themselves in public, what clothes they should or should not wear and who should or should not accompany them when they are out on the streets.

After all, whether the girl is wearing a skimpy modern dress or is accompanied by a male friend is none of the police’s – or anyone’s, for that matter – business. Even if a slut alleges harassment, it is the duty of the police to take the harasser into custody and deal with him as per the law. The least the police bosses can do is to drill this into the minds of their subordinates and warn them that any laxity would not be tolerated. But the lengths to which Twin City commissioner YB Khurania went to refute the charges of delayed response leveled by the Nandankanan victim while triumphantly announcing the arrest of three of the culprits ‘within 36 hours of the incident’ on Sunday does not inspire much confidence on this score.

Here was an opportunity to make an example of the policemen who allegedly reached the spot 40 minutes after being informed and then started grilling the victim instead of acting on her complaint and suspend them pending an inquiry. But in appearing to defend its men instead of taking them to task, the commissionerate police proved once again – if any proof was needed at all – that it neither ‘cares’ nor ‘dares’!

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