This post by Bhagwad drew my attention to the Delhi police commissioner BK Gupta’s nugget of wisdom on women’s responsibility for their own safety. Newspaper reports differ on the exact words of the commissioner (which is also a problem with the media. Don’t they have recorders? I’m presuming he was speaking in English since he was addressing a FICCI gathering so why the discrepancy in his words).

Anyway here is a sampling of what he purportedly said, the gist of which remains the same:

“You can’t travel alone at 2am and then say Delhi is not safe. It would be ideal if a woman takes her brother or driver along. It’s wrong to say the Capital is not safe for women” (From Bhagwad’s blog)

“You can’t go out at 2 in the night and then say that you were a victim of a crime… We all need to take some precautions. You can’t carry crores in cars with your employees knowing about it…Similarly , if you travel alone after 2 am and become victim of a crime, the police alone can’t be blamed. It is advisable that a relative or friend is with you at odd hours… Delhi is as safe as any other city. It is just about the perception.” (TOI)

“You cannot travel at 2 a.m. and say that Delhi is unsafe…You should take your brother or driver with you. These reasonable precautions are expected to be taken by all Delhi citizens” (Daily Bhaskar)

In reaction, we thankfully have a slew of women’s organizations calling the police commissioner out on his misguided comments. We also have the usual brigade ready to side with the commissioner in the interest of women’s safety armed with their trusty analogy – “be reasonable, if you leave your house unlocked and it get’s robbed, it is irresponsible no?” The reason the “lock your house” analogy annoys the hell out of me is because it is what we are told time and time again (most recently with regard to Slutwalk?). The implication of that analogy is twofold:

1. Women are comparable to houses or possessions that can be locked up for their own safety. The fact is that it is not possible to live a full and free life under these kinds of restrictions. Women are not inanimate objects or cattle. This police commissioner says 2 am, the Bangalore police says 11 pm (that they cannot ensure safety of the city if young people are out of the streets after pubbing post-11 pm), a vast majority of the Indian population might say 8 pm, and some people might say never (and who can argue with them because the fact is that women are actually unsafe on the streets at any point, day or night). This common sense is so variable it might not be common sense at all.

2. The other implication is that the victim of the crime bears some responsibility for the crime being committed. This is the implication whether you are talking about women being assaulted at night or houses being robbed. It is wrong. It is not the responsibility of people to lock up their possessions or their women as if they are possessions. It is the responsibility of people to keep their thieving hands to themselves and if they do not, it is the responsibility of the law to come down heavily on these people. It is not expected of law-enforcers to make excuses for those perpetrating a crime in order to make their own jobs easier or to excuse their inability to do their jobs.

Note that when a crime is committed people do not “blame the police alone” (as Mr. Gupta reportedly suggests in quote no. 2). Rather, the first to be blamed is naturally the criminal. If, however, the rate of certain types of crimes is very high then the police will of course also have to take some responsibility for failing in crime prevention (as would say a risk officer in a bank who failed to spot risks or frauds and do enough to ensure they don’t occur, that being after all his/her job). Who people should not be blaming even a little bit is the victim.

The suggestion that women enlist a brother or employ a male driver to escort them is not only distateful it is dangerous. It promotes the erroneous idea that women need protection from men, that a woman without a brother or a husband is exposed and vulnerable, that girl children are a big responsibility (this is what many women are told when they give birth to a girl child) and by extension a liability.

It would be more productive if we did away with this idea of women as the ‘fairer sex’ in need of special protection and brought them up to walk about free and proud, capable of defending themselves if need be (and we must depend on our police to ensure that this need will not be every night, for the rest of history) and secure in the knowledge that if someone tried to harm them, they as law abiding citizens would be supported by the police who would strive to bring the criminals to justice.

Many people have pointed out that women need to be out at night for work. I don’t think women should need to justify why they need to be out at night. So what if we want to stay late at a friends place chatting but decide to come home, yes, on our own without male escort in tow, at 2 am? Why must that be a ridiculous proposition.

Every society needs some amount of risk mitigation, and for that we have the police. Why must we be asked to enlist our own private armies for our protection? A society which requires private guards for women, even if they are called brothers, is a society in deep trouble and we need to just acknowledge that instead of making it sound like the women are stupid for venturing out without protection. Just as is a society that imposes a curfew on half its population in its capital city no less. Curfews are meant for wartime and states of emergency, not to go on indefinitely for centuries.

The propensity to commit crime is probably never going to be driven out of the human psyche. Again, for this reason we have the police. It is deemed by most societies that one of the primary jobs of the metropolitan police is to ensure the safety of the city both during day and night. If the police commissioner believed this to be an unrealistic expectation, he should have said so when offered his job. If after taking on the job, he feels unequal to the task he promised to perform, he can step down. If he feels, he has limited resources, he can bring it to the attention of the public.

It would have been more reasonable for him to have said: “I am sorry that I am unable to perform the duty vested in me by the citizens of Delhi to ensure safe passage for all its citzens at night. I would be able to perform this very necessary task if I had XX more men or XX more money”. Or he could have said: “The police of Delhi will do everything in their power to ensure the safety of its women at night. If there are crimes, we will go after the suspects no holds barred. We will not delay registering complaints. We will organise more night-time patrols. We will cooperate with citezen groups to organise neighbourhood watches. We will liaise with the government to ensure better street lighting. We pledge to respond within 10 minutes to a 999 call. We will do our best. it would help if citezens pressure the government for XX funds to execute our plan. We promise results in five years.”

It turns out that according to one report he did cite examples of what they are doing. He named women police commissioners, beat policemen liasing with neighbourhoods (and even submitting applications for electricity – something I think is quite unnecessary for an allegedly overworked police force who seems to be struggling with its primary duties to be undertaking but their intentions are good so let’s not condemn them) and conducting self defense classes for women. All very good and Mr. Gupta should have stuck with just that instead of revealing his misogyny in all its glory with his pearl of non-wisdom about women and their nightly assault-provoking adventures.

That is all we ask, that the police do their best. If they fail, they failed trying and not making excuses. At least one can respect that. Imagine the CEO of a bank saying “Arre what can I do, recession” for a decade or longer?
He/she would be out of a job. The problem lies with us and our propensity to accept excuses and mediocre governance and not demand our full rights as citizens. We are always asked to adjust and adjust we have for time immemorial (either adjust or cut corners) – women and the poor of course are asked to adjust more than anyone else, and poor women most of all. Our defense mechanism in India is to say – at least we are better than XX. Then suddenly, we realise with a shock that we are on a list of the five most unsafe countries in the world for women – sharing the limelight with Afghanistan and Somalia. (http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/india-fourth-most-dangerous-place-for-women-survey-112349)

What we need to realize in India is that a country will never progress if we set the bar at the lowest common denominator and take heart at mediocre execution. We have to look to those who are doing better and push our public servants to do the same. We need to hold our public officials to account and this does not happen by nodding in sympathy when they fail in their duties and accepting their inevitable and stale excuses.

Another favourite excuse in India is limited resources. I am not buying this anymore. We have one of the highest tax rates in the world. India believes it can afford a nuclear defense programme, something quite expensive to run. But it apparently cannot spend on a competent police force which is needed every day by everyone. Where are your taxes going really? Amit Varma has a series on his blog tracking the absurd ways in which our hard earned money is put to use. I do not believe we have limited resources because insufficient funds are collected to taxes. I believe it is because our public servants help themselves to the resources with abandon. Some resources are just left there, waiting to be eaten up.

I do not see why the police should lack resources. We should not have a manpower problem in this country. If people are calling the police with irrelevant complaints (such as lack of water supply), why not start a call centre (of non-police but trained people) to screen calls? Aren’t call centres our claim to fame? If the police budget is insufficient, the commissioner should make it clear to the people. If he felt he could not do his job with the resources provided, he should have refused to take up the job, or made it clear what he could achieve when he took it up.

That was not the only odd statement the police chief made. Here are some more (from this article):

Citing the examples of New York, Johannesburg and London, he said: “The crime rate is much higher in these cities, including that of rape.”

It apparently did not occur to him that the crime rate is higher in these cities because people actually report crimes, especially crimes like rape. They report them because they can reasonably expect their police force to act and not make excuses like ‘why weren’t you more careful’? They report them because rape victims are expected to be treated with sensitivity, not branded forever by society as a ‘shamed woman’ and raked over the coals by a justice system that has a low conviction rate for rape.

He also said: “No one in the world carries millions in a car. It only happens here. In Germany, they say if someone carries 500 euros with him, he would definitely be murdered. Strangely, here we like to carry millions with us”

Really? Will anyone from Germany verify this bit of folk wisdom? Forgive me for doubting the hearsay of the esteemed Delhi police chief. Is he suggesting that Indians carry millions with them by car because they have faith in the police force to protect them should anyone try to steal that money or because the likelihood of the money being stolen is low?

The police chief also washed his hands off thefts, burglaries and snatchings. “The bag of my daughter who lives in London was snatched more than once. It happens,” he said.

OMG! Enough said I think. So everything ‘happens’. Why do we need him, I wonder?

Finally, if I sound angry, it is because is this not an academic question for me. It is a question of daily life. It is a question of being told to adjust and adjusting and still having my breast pinched hard when I was 12 years old and walking to school in my uniform. It is a question of my friend having a guy masturbate down her back in a train. It is a question of women of all economic classes being restricted from certain jobs because it is not safe at night. Our cities are not safe – not for men, and definitely not for women. The police need to accept that instead of passing thebuck onto the victims.

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