MUMBAI: Police commissioner Hemant Nagrale on Tuesday announced the formation of a 'Nirbhaya squad' at every police station to prevent instances of sexual harassment in public places, even as a team of cops from Sakinaka was felicitated for solving the brutal rape-murder case of a woman within 12 hours. The Nirbhaya squad will patrol crime hotspots, besides gathering intelligence from areas where women's hostels and shelters are located. Activists pointed out that the initiative needs to sustain in the long run and should not fizzle out.
The Nirbhaya squad will comprise a woman officer and two constables-- at least one of them a woman-- besides a driver. The personnel will undergo training, which would include the use of recording equipment, such as pen cameras, to help collect evidence in stalking cases. Spots where crimes against women are frequently reported and isolated stretches would be identified and patrolling rounds scheduled as per crime patterns. The squad is required to keep tabs on movements of individuals who have been booked for sexual offences in the past five years. Women safety cells will be formed at each police station.
The state and Mumbai police have been under immense pressure after the gruesome case came to light. Instead of starting new squads, the police force needs to be sensitised to be more humane in their approach to citizens, irrespective of their class or background. Usually, people hesitate to lodge a complaint as it could be a tedious process, especially when cops are unhelpful. The living and working conditions of the force would also have to improve to bring about a change in attitudes.
The squad is to impart self-defence training in schools and colleges and install 'Nirbhaya boxes' for female students to submit complaints confidentially. Nagrale also wants Nirbhaya squads to prepare a list of elderly women living alone and visit them to redress their grievances. "The squad should maintain a separate register on action taken by them and a nodal officer will go through the register periodically. Regional additional commissioners will hold review meetings every month to iron out any issues," a circular issued by Nagrale said.
In 2014, after the murder of techie Esther Anuhya, the Mumbai Police
had launched a free SMS service for ensuring safety of women travelling alone at odd hours. Before taking an auto/ taxi, a woman could message the registration number of the vehicle to a dedicated helpline. Police had said they would keep track of the vehicle and would get the woman's location through GPS. As time passed, the initiative was scrapped. "Mumbai Police have limited manpower so forming new squads is going to add to the police station's burden. Another problem is the personnel's disinterest in lodging complaints, particularly where the complainant is poor or illiterate. Typically, complainants are cross questioned so many times that they'd rather leave than press charges," said RTI activist Anil Galgali.
The police department has also tied up with an organisation, Mpower, to counsel victims of sexual assault and child sexual abuse as well as juvenile delinquents. (The victim's identity has not been revealed to protect her privacy as per Supreme court directives on cases related to sexual assault)