All women bike squad tackling rape crimes in India
As many as 70% of married women in India between 15 and 49 years of age are victims of beatings or rape. Over the last three years, there were over 24,000 reported dowry deaths in India and almost half of all women between the ages of 20 and 24 years were married before the legal age of 18. In 2012 a 23-year-old female Jyoti Singh Pandey, was beaten, gang raped, and tortured while travelling on a bus with her friend, Awindra Pratap Pandey in Munirka, India. There were six others in the bus, including the driver, all of whom raped the woman and beat her friend. Eleven days after the assault, she was transferred to a hospital for emergency treatment but died from her injuries two days later. Five years after the Munirka gang rape a group of fearless women are on a mission to fight for the women of India.
52 police women patrol the streets of India protecting women, preventing crimes like rape, molestation and assault. They don’t just take on the big crimes, they are out to stop any kind of harassment women are getting no matter how small. Two women Jaipur and Udaipur formed the squads in 2017 and lead the women to the most dangerous parts of India. They zig-zag across the cities on motorbikes intercepting crimes when they see them happening on the streets.
‘We’re on the road in direct touch with the women – and we can take direct action for them,’ explains Nirmala. ‘The cases we register are handled by the police station no matter what. So the power is in our hands. If you’ve harassed a women in anyway, you will be arrested.’
Each woman on the squad has completed a month-long training programme, which included martial arts, fitness, meditation, learning sections of the law needed in the field and horse-riding. They are armed with guns, pepper spray, stun guns and body cameras to make sure they can tackle anything.
‘We knew the lady patrolling units might face men bigger than them and it could act as psychological deterrent,’ explains Gaurav Srivastava, the Additional Commissioner of Police spearheading the project. ‘So the purpose of the horse riding was to show them with the right kind of approach and mindset you can control something even more powerful than yourself.’
Last year an eight year old girl was raped, tortured and murdered in the state of Jammu, only a few months after that two teenage girls were raped then set on fire in Jharkhand. Both stories shocked the nation confirming just how important this women squad is to the women of India.
‘We feel safe when we see the female patrols around,’ says 32-year-old Sheetal Rathore, who watched the man being carted off outside the shopping mall. Her 3-year-daughter, Devanshe, watched the whole thing, too. ‘Women understand the problem more than men but you can’t really trust anyone,’ she continues. ‘I always leave the house with someone – like my husband or brother – because men won’t spare me because I’m married. These people don’t even spare little girls.’
Not only does it impact the women on the streets but also the women whose roles are now to tackle the crimes. Having more women in charge creates a bigger balance between themselves and men showing them just how powerful women can be. ‘When I wear the uniform, I become confident,’ says Jhooma Meena a women who joined the police force nine years ago ‘Before this I would have been afraid to go outside, I would have been scared and nervous to leave my house. Now there’s no reluctance or fear. Men don’t stare at us. When they see us in the uniform, they don’t look at us in the wrong way.’
The squad is aiming to double its numbers, but it’s still a way off. And while Jaipur has four police stations (of 60) specifically dedicated to women’s issues, there aren’t always enough female officers to staff them. ‘52 policewomen is not enough to cover the entire city of Jaipur,’ says Srivastava, the Additional Commissioner, ‘and lots of places are still uncovered.’
But women are no longer willing to be quiet. In Delhi, as thousands of protestors took to the streets, the crowd was brimming with teenagers and twenty-somethings demanding justice. Their strong, strident chants heard minutes before you’re struck with a sea of ‘Punish The Guilty’ and ‘Stop Protecting The Rapists’ signs. ‘We need to call rape out for what it is – a hate crime,’ says 27-year-old Preeti Gulati, who attended the protest with her friends. A PHD student who grew up in Delhi.
‘India doesn’t do enough to protect women, but no country in the world does. Patriarchy has existed for 2000 years. Raise your men better.’