After the nation and world's attention turned to the plague of Indian gang rapes, a women-only police unit was founded in Bhopal with one central objective. Some say they go too far.
BHOPAL – This city in northern India recently launched the Nirbhaya Patrolling Mobile Service. This female patrol was named for the physiotherapy student who was gang-raped in New Delhi in 2012, Nirbhaya meaning fearless one. The squad consists of 6 female police officers and they patrol the city in a van from early in the morning until late in the evening.
According to India’s Crime Records Bureau, the state of Madhya Pradesh reported the highest number of rape cases in 2011. “India is not a safe place for half of the population,” says Inspector General SK Jha adding that the patrol aims to lower that number.
“After the gang-rape case in 2012, there was a growing awareness among Indians of crimes against women. It’s a tribute to the case. Their slogan is ‘of women, for women and by women’. We want to provide help for women and girls.”
Sitting together equals sit-ups
But many say that the patrol squad is going too far. Young girls and boys sitting together in a park can be punished: Boys are ordered to do sit-ups while the girls are told to tell their parents that they’ve been caught by the squad.
A 19-year-old student Nirmal Pathak was once caught sitting with a girl in a park. He was told to do sit-ups and was taken to the police station. “Do you think it’s a crime to sit with a girl in a park? I don’t think they have the right to take such actions. We live in a society where we are free to choose who we sit and walk with. The squad’s actions are totally wrong.”
The squad’s head, Namita Sahu, defends their actions. “We are not policing morals. The squad was formed to protect women. We ask girls and women not to sit in secluded places, because there they have more chance of being harassed.”
Another college student, Asma Khan, says the squad only creates fear among young people. “We’re really scared of the squad. They should realize that scolding young couples is not going to change the situation against women in a city like Bhopal. They have created fear instead.”
Fear instead of awareness
The squad receives the full support of some Hindu hardline organisations. Ashutosh Jaiswal is from the right-wing Hindu organisation, Bajrang Dal and agrees with the squad: “I strongly support their actions. They’re here to preserve Indian culture and tradition. After all, people should not be allowed to do what these couples are doing. They engage in vulgar acts in parks. We’re not going to allow such things to happen.”
But some women are critical of the group. “They should realise that sitting in a park or any other place, is not a criminal act,” says Vijya Pathak from the women’s group, Mahila Virodhi Uthpidan Morcha.
“If a boy and a girl sit together, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they have bad intentions. The squad has to use their heads.”