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Vandana Kohli
Monday , December 31, 2012 at 12 : 09

A deterrent to rape: an Indian example abroad


(In the wake of the outrage over the rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in Delhi, several changes have been recommended to improve safety and security for women. These include changes in the law for stronger, more severe punitive action against perpetrators of sexual assault; accelerating the course of justice by making the legal system and process more responsive; and urgent police reforms. This article is a case for more women in policing).

In 2004, UN Peacekeepers in three African countries were accused of sexual misconduct. They gave local teenage girls food and money in exchange for sex. In 2005, 47 peacekeepers were accused of such misconduct in Liberia alone, a West African country of about 4 million, adjoining Ivory Coast.

Liberia was pulling out of a 14-year conflict that was characterised by sexual violence. Rape, according to the United Nations, was the foremost crime reported to the Liberian police.

In 2007, the United Nations broke new ground. A contingent of 103 peacekeepers reached the capital of Monrovia in Liberia. Immaculate in blue, these 103 peacekeepers were all women. Indian women.

Known as the "Blue Helmets", these women guarded the President office by day and patrolled crime-ridden areas by night. Their presence marked significant change.

Trained in sophisticated weaponry and combat tactics amongst other skills, the Blue Helmets' foot patrolling by night reduced armed robbery by as much as 65 per cent.

Local women felt safer; children felt safer; and men who were not involved in crime, felt safer. For once, peacekeepers were not considered invaders, which is otherwise a typical response from local communities towards an armed foreign force.

Most importantly, local women felt encouraged to report sexual assault. They knew they would neither be dismissed nor further victimised were they to report rape or other violent crime to the women peacekeepers.

Far from being "soft" which is what many expected an all women's contingent to be, the Blue Helmets endeared themselves to the local community. Their message was simple - you can trust us. They were perceived as polite and forthcoming in help, and did what they were meant to do - keep the peace.

Why women?

The world over, there is growing recognition of the fact that women bring a different set of skills with them to work, and different concerns.

These concerns are shaped by what we value and what we fear most.

To my mind, a woman's deepest fear is not death, but sexual assault. In effect, what we value most is the safety and security of our loved ones and ourselves. This is foremost on our minds, and this is what also makes us respond more sensitively towards victims of violence and aggression.

(For men too, I believe, the fear is not as much of death, as of failure. This makes them aspire harder for "success" which unfortunately is inextricably linked with control - over work, home and planet).

Even while the demarcations between the sexes needn't be as sharp as stated above, nonetheless, empowering women is now an urgent need for communities all over the world. The first step to empowerment is ensuring a safe and secure environment.

For us, we need to begin right here, right now.

Changes to consider:

Amongst much needed reform, the Union home minister has announced that there will be at least one woman in all of the Delhi's 166 Police Stations.

This, I'm afraid, will be ineffectual. For women to be effective, to express their concerns and their skills without the fear of unfounded ridicule, we need much larger numbers. One woman is an awkward proposal, for the lone lady and the men.

We need ample women forensic experts trained in collecting evidence and more importantly in storing evidence. What stops this from happening? Are young Indian women less qualified to take on such a specialised task? One needs only to look at any academic result to see that women are ahead, if not equal to their men colleagues.

As an immediate deterrent to sexual assault of any kind, what we need most of all is women in hard policing. Within the Delhi Police as an example, only about eight per cent are women. Often they fill in 'operational requirements' such as escorting wives and children of VIPs, or more directly answering distress calls at control rooms, since they are more courteous. None of this involves hard policing.

The contingent of Indian women peacekeepers in Liberia exemplifies women in hard policing. With the right training, they displayed confidence, courage and commitment in their role as deterrents to crime. Their presence has made for safer communities, and importantly, they've served inadvertently as role models to the Liberian women. In three months of the contingent's arrival, the Liberian police recorded a rise in the number of women in their ranks from six to 15 per cent.

If our women can pull this off abroad, what stops us from doing it here? (The one factor that went against the Blue Helmets in Liberia was that they were homesick and depressed. Here, even that wouldn't be a constraint).

What stops Delhi Police from having 20, 30, 40 even 50 per cent of women as part of the force policing the streets? Wouldn't such a presence not only deter would be criminals, but also compel the police itself to conduct itself more sensitively?

Obviously, this will take time. But we need to think of these issues and put them in action now for them to come into force in the future.

In the meantime, while we grapple with raging issues of women's safety and security, the potential of our women in policing, for which we have a shining example abroad, remains to be tapped.


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More about Vandana Kohli

Vandana Kohli is an acclaimed filmmaker, musician and photographer. She has recently researched, produced and directed the award-winning international documentary ‘The Subtext Of Anger’. Vandana has scripted, directed and edited projects for clients that include The National Geographic Channel, The History Channel, Doordarshan, various agencies of the United Nations and the Government of India. You can find out more about her at www.vandanakohli.com.