Monday, December 15, 2014

Rape: A lot has still not changed

A lot has changed since December 16, 2012. But a lot has yet to be. Let's look at what has changed.
Women are comparatively reporting much more now. This is indicative from rise in reporting of cases of rapes or molestation or what is called "eve-teasing". Earlier, they would hesitate to report and get their statement recorded as they were not sure of the police response. Now they know police has to record their complaint and act immediately. They also know that if they do not report, the accused will go scot free. And who knows can even come back to them, but would most certainly be out of legal bounds. Therefore, if they want the culprits caught and exposed, they have to report. They are taking that risk now. The police, too, are registering more willingly now.
They are not afraid of reporting rise in figures in this crime as they know it is safer for society as well as the department. They have also been sensitised to an extent. Also this has been mandated by law; since not recording is also punishable now and certainly the police do not want to risk that. As a result, the police response to arresting the alleged perpetrators is also brisker owing to better coordination. This is evident in the recent case, where the cab driver: the offender was quickly traced and nabbed. Police, at least in metros, do not want to get negative exposure. Senior officials also step in early to take stock of all the events in such incidents. Media plays a big role by making it a 24x7 news event and creating pressure on the system. Courts are stiffer as we have tighter law in place. But... But...
A lot has not changed yet, which is causing a repeat injury to women in particular and society at large. It is all about the mindset towards women. No collective-synergised effort in the form of a social revolution is visible. This is clearly demonstrated by the crimes against women, which have now assumed epidemic proportions. Despite this, it is still not everyone's cause. There is also no appropriate coordination amongst government agencies to make public spaces safer. Whether it is public transport or public dark spots; licensing or enforcement; regulations or deployment; or use of technology, - there is still no unity of purpose, wherein we are assured that all accountable agencies will truly and sincerely work in tandem to fulfill a common objective. Mere meetings are not enough unless there is no mission statement of - "no more..." Had that been been the feeling, the message would have travelled down the line.
The judiciary needs to punish and enforce future prevention, by releasing no sex offender on bail easily (as Rampal Yadav clearly was). The judiciary should conduct day-to-day trials, (still not the case, though ) and if ever released, such accused should be under strict safety and surveillance.
The criminal tracking electronic data system pending since 2009 with government of India, has not seen closure. Hence, police verifications of tracking past criminals remains disjointed (this happened in the recent case when Delhi Police did not know the past record of Yadav in Uttar Pradesh).
Verification of past offenders is still not an essential operating procedure in all police stations across India as an essential tool of basic crime prevention. If this was a practice, such crimes would have been prevented. We have still not evolved when it comes to the mindset — how to treat women with respect. And this disrespect starts from nowhere, but our home where women are seen as dependent housekeepers (as seen in most cases). Parents and teachers have to take this up as a social revolution. Media must think twice before airing item numbers during peak viewing hours! Or why broadcast them at all? Transport administration, municipal agencies, police, courts and prisons too must take it up on a mission mode. Many of the public statements made by newsmakers should also reinforce the message - respect for women, instead of airing their own biases, prejudices and ignorance of facts.
In the midst of this atmosphere where women are not respected enough, we still have a long road to recovery. We can fast forward this journey though, only if we follow the six Ps - parents, principals, politicians, police, prosecution, prisons, and press. With leadership as hubs to effectively coordinate the efforts of all the above mentioned six Ps - individually and collectively; only then can we expect to change substantially before the next December 16.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Open response to Prime Minister's 'Mann Ki Baat'

Thank you sir for bringing into focus the challenge of drug abuse through your radio broadcast, 'Mann Ki Baat'.While you addressed the nation as an educator, reformer and a transformational leader, I add, for your consideration, a comprehensive strategy for dealing with the menace as the prime justice enforcer of the country.
Here is a strategy which we could employ to deal with the menace.What I am offering comes from my experience in law enforcement during my time with the Delhi Police, Mizoram Police and Narcotics Control Bureau, running drug abuse treatment centres under the Delhi Police and later by my NGO, Navjyoti India Foundation, treatment inside Tihar Prisons as IG Prisons, followed by my PhD in drug abuse and domestic violence.

I propose the solution under four main heads- supply reduction, demand reduction, treatment and rehabilitation and evaluation.
First ---Supply reduction
This step falls in the realm of law enforcement with community support. The primary objective is to cut off the supply of drugs.
To take this step, the local politician, which includes the municipal councillor and village heads, must be made primary stakeholders. The state government should send a clear message that drug abuse will not be tolerated, thus ensuring police performance and accountability in enforcement.
Every police station must have a thana-level committee where key stakeholders of the area come together once a month to review crime prevention measures, which include the issue of drugs.
This will ensure that all law enforcement agencies, dealing with narcotics enforcement, pool in intelligence which will hit at drug traffickers and weaken supply lines.
Second---Drug demand reduction
This step, sir, is what you spoke about. There has to be an increased sense of responsibility among parents and teachers to ensure primary prevention or early detection.
School children who become addicted to drugs tend to lag in academics and even drop out of educational institutions. They must know where to get help from.
As announced, the country must urgently set up a national helpline and outsource it to non-police personnel on the lines of the Punjab helpline-181- where any person can report or seek help. A call ensures the ambulance takes the addict to a hospital for treatment and informs police too. It also seeks a report of the action taken and satisfaction of the complainant to know the quality of service rendered. State authorities need to promote the idea further.
There is a pressing need for a national telephone number, with information about possible help centres. An added advantage of the centres would be that information about drug sale would be forthcoming.
Third---Treatment and rehabilitation
Major homework needs to be done at this step to set up standard procedures and good practices. Centres need to be registered and worthy ones must get reasonable financial assistance. Currently, government support to run a proper de-addiction centre is inadequate.
Also needed is a linkage of such treatment centres with skill development, an issue you are concerned about. Those under treatment should be taught skills for early rehabilitation. The step is therapeutic as well as cost effective to check relapse. Political leadership can ensure due resource generation from the government or community.
Abusing drugs, even for personal consumption, is an offence, though under certain conditions, such as addicts indulging in violent behaviour, which almost all of them are involved in. These people can be jailed and treated inside the jail for reasons of restraint required.
Prisons in India must be made smoke-free and with drug abuse treatment centres.
Addicts should be released on the condition that they will remain drug-free and regularly report to treatment centres in collaboration with NGOs under directions from courts. Enforcement agencies must be moved for forfeiture of sureties in cases of breach of bail conditions for money should not go in the hands of terrorists, as you mentioned.
A database of traffickers and abusers must be maintained for law to take its course. This will send a clear message that drug crimes will not pay.
As already mentioned, police must work in tandem with the Narcotics Control Bureau, the Border Security Force, Customs and other intelligence agencies. For this, the state police leadership or bureaucracy is vital. Local administration such as district magistrates and superintendents of police are important hubs for action at the grassroots level.
I recall that as a crime prevention measure, we used to track addicts to arrest them and send them to organisations for treatment and if they were found selling drugs, they would be sent to prison for treatment.
For the first time, the Delhi Police had to open their own treatment centres to meet the demand. This was the prevention and welfare role of the police. We worked closely with the community for support services.
Crime prevention cannot be achieved without the support of the community. For this, we created border groups and worked regularly with local bodies. We also opened toll-free phone lines where people could inform us of sale or consumption of drugs.
The judiciary too has a vital role in expediting drug cases and awarding stringent punishment to the guilty. Delayed trials make drug cases 'rewarding' as by the time conviction is achieved, substantial money has been made. Bail granted to drug addicts must be conditional on attendance at a government institution for regular checks to ensure the person is drug free.
Regular update in law training is essential for enforcers too. We used to keep track of all drug trials and keep past criminals and addicts under local watch. If they slipped, we went back to court to cancel their bails which meant stricter penalties.
Fourth- Evaluation
An annual evaluation of the above mentioned efforts must be conducted by law schools, universities and management institutions as part of their internships, projects or theses.
This will help all agencies stay up to date with evolving challenges. It is also important to provide accountability of all stakeholders which will open up our criminal justice system, while removing the drought of empirical research in the fields of criminology, psychology, sociology and medicine among others.
As you rightly said sir, the problem of drug abuse is multi-dimensional.
However, public representatives must take the lead. Unsparing and impartial police, caring parents and strict teachers, responsible community participation and an expeditious judiciary must work in tandem.
From Mann Ki Baat, the issue will become Samaj Ka Kartavya, providing relief to millions of families and youth.
Respected sir, I would feel blessed to serve my nation and to oversee the coordination of a programme that makes Indian youth healthy and homes free of the violence that accompanies this menace.
Jai Hind..

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Rohtak fightback a mirror to society

The incident in which three well-built men were molesting two college girls in a running, crowded Rohtak bus and no passenger helped the victims in the fightback is a mirror to Indian society. The driver and the conductor didn’t do their duty, which was to drive the bus straight to a police station to turn in the culprits. The mirror shows a society with a culture of “male entitlement”, a nation of onlookers, and callous public servants.
Repeatedly it is getting established is that women in general are insecure in public places and even within the four walls of their homes. This is a sad commentary on the social milieu and a cause for serious indictment for every Indian. We, perhaps, do not realise the huge social, psychological and economic cost of ignoring women’s safety, now and in the future.
Three Indias
While we address the mistakes, we have to put in place composite redress mechanisms to respond now and correct these in the long term, to minimise reoccurrence, if we have to stop it eventually. In my life, I have seen and experienced the Indian mindset, backward, medieval as well as modern. My parents, were modern and visionary, my grandparents medieval, and neighbours backward. India has lakhs of people in all three categories. The challenge is to reach out to the population without further loss of time, beginning with the minds that are closed and medieval.
After the Nirbhya case aboard a bus in Delhi, girls seem to be awakening, becoming conscious of their rights, place, and responsibilities; but boys seem to have been left behind in adapting to the changing times. Are some parents ignoring change? Are the teachers paying attention to the need to fill the gaps? Are their own mindsets updated? Are the political and social leaderships in tune with the times? Do they realise that society isn’t about vote banks alone but also people lives, and their words and actions will live beyond them. I hint at the need for them to be responsible in making public statements.
Bringing up boys
Today all what people say on television or radio or in the print media is stored for perpetuity in the “cloud” and retrieved easily. Earlier, we did not pay attention to the holistic upbringing of girls, because of which they were being left behind. Now we seem to be correcting, sometimes perforce, that historical wrong; but while doing so, we are overlooking the boys apparently and not working with them for nurturance. Today’s parents seem to be afraid of guiding their sons. The fear is of the son’s running away or answering back, being rude or violent, or taking to drugs or rebellion. In that case, what would happen to their old-age security, is the fear. The son is considered prime support in old age, while girls remain a migrant population still.
Women’s mobility
Girls have had enough and now will tolerate no more. It is evident from the way the two brave sisters fought back their molesters with their belts. They were in easy jeans and light footed, not always the case with girls aboard public transport; that too girls from a rural place.
The real harbingers of change are the parents, grandparents, teachers, social leaders, public servants, political activists, and the media’s unsparing alertness. India holds back her demographic dividend by limiting women’s mobility. It limits their potential and world. Whose loss? Everyone’s.
For clean society
We have to drive change by education, relentlessness, and sustained mass movements. Put in the culprits the fear of being caught, identified, exposed, and penalised heavily. Along with Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, we need a Swachh Samaj (clean society) Abhiyan, starting from every home, school, college, university, religious place, social institution, or congregation. We need a new wave of care and respect for all, to replace the old apathy of indifference and being onlookers. Let schoolchildren starting from Class 9 learn to serve, be it in senior citizen’s homes, cancer hospitals, orphanages, shelters for the poor, Shram Daan campaigns, neighbourhood watch, literacy programmes, environmental drives, rural work, blood donation, or for any other cause.
Smart solutions
Use technology to put the fear of detection in molesters. Install cameras in public places and buses, as in Delhi Metro. In some developed countries, bus drivers can see the entire coach and have a wireless connect with the local traffic police. This will help us prevent and detect crimes against women; respond to the situation, and give exemplary punishment to miscreants.

All change makers have to begin from wherever they are. There’s no time to lose in waiting for others to start it. We all do with whatever we have, whoever we are, and be non-sparing in our effort. We have nothing to lose but everything to gain by contributing to a better quality of life. Here’s for a healthier, happier Indian society.