(New Delhi) “We, in Shakti Shalini work on gender-based violence. Anyone, a woman, or a man or even a transgender, can bring their complaints to us. Whenever a case of sexual violence is reported, we are called by the police to counsel the victims, assist them in registering an FIR, take them for a medical examination. We also have to be present when the victims are giving their statement to the magistrate. We are required to do a regular follow-up visits.
Whenever a woman has to report a case, she has a lot of apprehensions and questions. We explain the entire legal process. We face a lot of challenges from the police as well. Quite often they are rude or they misbehave. For example, there are instances where a minor girl who has eloped from home and married a boy, and now the boy doesn’t want to be with her or if she is pregnant, then police officers say that, “Madam, first she went and slept with the boy and now she is here to register an FIR. A 16-year old girl is not a kid.” The victim feels guilty and as well as harassed.
Further, the police inform the victims that a medical check-up has to be done. But they don’t specify what will be done in the medical check-up. They also scare them by saying that they are going to use a lot of medical instruments or will use the two-finger test. We respond to victims questions and assure them that they shouldn’t fear the medical examination. Another question that goes on in every girl’s mind is how long will the case go on. Often the police officers respond abruptly, “How do I know?” or “It can be a year or 2 years or 4 years or as many years as it takes”.
In one case, where a doctor had raped a girl, the doctor was sitting in front of me and the police brought tea and snacks for the doctor and did not arrest him. I asked the cops again and again why they were not arresting him. Next day, when I complained to the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW), the police responded that they went with the team to arrest the doctor but couldn’t find him. Even if you know the truth, you can’t really do anything about it. The survivor’s faith in the police and the judicial system gets shattered and her morale goes down. They call us and say, “Madam, can you please check why they have not made any arrest?” When the police refuses to answer our queries properly, the victims lose faith in us too that we are also unable to do anything.
I am from a small city (Asansol, West Bengal). I always wanted to do a Masters in Social Work (MSW). I never realised that I would learn so much through this course. My first job was based in a rural area of Rajasthan. The attitude of boys in Rajasthan is completely different; they don’t fear police at all. The attitude is that the police is ours and the ministers are ours. One of my colleague tried to hit me. I was really scared as I was in an area which was just 40 kms away from border, and there was only one bus available every 2-3 hours to go to nearest city. I got in touch with my placement coordinator and she told me to leave immediately. If I had stayed and filed a complaint, I probably would have been killed. Once I got away from the village, I started writing to the secretary and the chairperson of the organisation to take action. First, they didn’t take my complaints seriously but when they saw that I was not ready to give up, then they took action. Women should find their inner strength. There may be a lot of things which can draw you back, but you will have to remain strong through it all.”
(Shakti Shalini is an NGO in New Delhi working on gender-based violence.)