Have West Bengal's Women Police Stations Led to Better Crime Reporting?
West Bengal got its first women police stations less than a decade ago. They are still finding their feet.
Claim: "After 2011, we built 48 women police stations across the state. Before 2011, there were no police stations for women in the state." - Sashi Panja, Minister of State for Women and Child Development and Social Welfare, Govt. of West Bengal
In West Bengal, the Bharatiya Janata Party has attacked the ruling party saying that under the tenure of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, the state has become increasingly unsafe for women. The government has countered this by highlighting its record in setting up women police stations (WPS) and the impact this has had. While it is true that all the WPS established in the state were after the All India Trinamool Congress came to power in 2011, the actual effect this has had on crimes against women and its reporting is debatable, according to both crime data and experts who work on the ground.
According to the Bureau of Police Research and Development, West Bengal had zero WPS in 2011 and it was only a year later that its first ten WPS were established. The West Bengal Police website currently lists 40 WPS, and not 48 as the minister has claimed.
According to a study done in June 2018, WPS has not only employed more women in the police force but has also eased up the reporting of offences like domestic violence, rape, child marriage and other forms of gender-based violence that were hitherto under-reported. But many women are still hesitant to speak up against the atrocities that they undergo in their homes due to the social ramifications. Moreover, "since women police stations are understaffed and ill-equipped to deal with certain kinds of cases, they are hesitant to take up every case," said activist Tinku Khanna of Apne Aap Women World-Wide Trust.
Panchali Kar, the Vice-President of All India Queer Association (West-Bengal branch) pointed out, "Cases of child abuse, domestic violence are systematically avoided even if the WPS are approached. They threaten the family once to stop such abuses and violence against the woman and close the case. Unless government organizations like Human Rights Commission or high-profile outfits get involved in the case, it never gains adequate attention among the cops."
The National Crime Record Bureau shows that registered crimes against women have increased in the years from 2010 to 2018 (the latest available data) in the state of West Bengal and incidences of rape cases show a declining trend from 2311 in 2010 to 1069 in 2018. Police disposal of criminal cases against women in 2017 stood at 44501 and in 2018 it was 41404. As Tinku Khanna said, "The concept of WPS is still unpopular due to their infrastructural weaknesses" i.e lack of expertise to deal with specific cases and understaffed police stations. Moreover, awareness among people about the existence of dedicated police station for women is also limited.
Domestic violence cases have shot up sharply during this pandemic in West Bengal. Parental domestic violence has risen excessively against both dependent and self-dependent women, according to Panchali Kar. The helpline numbers were hardly of any help during this time and even if such cases are reported in the police stations, the cops advise the victims to come up with some kind settlement or understanding with their families to mark an end to the case, she said. She further added, the use of unparliamentary language by the police personnel has further led people to abstain from filing cases with the police stations. Issues concerning homosexuals are not taken up even in a WPS. Offensive questions are posed to the victims from the LGBTQA+ community, said Panchali Kar.
Experts say systemic corruption and lack of unbiased monitoring has dampened the impact of the WPS in the state. The gaps prevailing the public justice systems can only be checked through proper monitoring, evaluation and training of the police officials to deal with cases that they are faced with.