The opinion-poll-based survey of Thomson Reuters, whose findings were out last week, said “India is considered to be the least safe country in the world for women with the worst record for sexual violence, harassment from cultural and traditional practices, and human trafficking.” The Reuters report was dismissed by most reasonable people, not only because it arrived at bizarre conclusions, but because it was based on perceptions – that too of people outside the country.
On Monday (2 July), BloombergQuint carried a report on another survey called ‘Wings 2018: World of India’s girls – A study on the perception of girls’ safety in public places’.
This report is more reasonable, as it accounts for the experiences of girls within the country – though, again, it is a perception poll, conducted across six states in India. It is an in-depth analysis of the areas that need to be worked on.
The report highlights: “Girls are unable to achieve their full potential because they or their families are fearful of public spaces. The first step for us as a society would be to design and ensure that our public spaces are safe… for them to thrive.”
The places most feared are public transport, narrow roads leading to schools, local markets, or private tuition, and cinema halls in urban areas. Bengaluru, for instance, has seen reports recently of harassment and assault of women.
On Tuesday (3 July), Bangalore Mirror reported that Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) was granted funds it had been seeking from the centre under the ‘Safe City’ project. Currently, eight cities are implementing this project, but BBMP, in conjunction with Bangalore City Police, got the highest amount sanctioned, at Rs 667 crore.
The task now is to ensure that the funds are indeed spent efficiently for the benefit of the public.
Telangana Police has, through its women-centric initiative called ‘SHE Teams’, been systematically going about exactly the same task. It has been successful in making public places safer in Hyderabad, and is now extending it to the entire state. Stalking, passing lewd comments, inappropriate touching, phone harassment, taking pictures and videos without a person’s knowledge, and creating a nuisance generally are all dealt with in particular by She Teams.
Telangana model of women’s safety
This southern state has approached the issue of women’s safety steadily, systematically, and strategically. Two initiatives, SHE Teams and BHAROSA, have succeeded in achieving that rarely attainable goal – building people’s trust in its police. And especially the trust of women. Even the name – ‘SHE’ stands for ‘Security for Her Ensured’ – gives out a sense of calm and collected confidence, and generates faith.
It all started with the introduction of the anti-harassment SHE Teams in 2014; then, BHAROSA was added in 2016 as a holistic refuge for women and child victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. After Hyderabad and Cyberabad, these initiatives are now being replicated in other districts in the state.
Nothing succeeds like success, they say, and now several non-governmental organisations, celebrities, mediapersons, corporates, and hospitals among others are proud to be associated with these women-centric teams, and are helping take the programme forward as a people’s movement – with the intention to change the mindset of the people as a whole.
The proof of the success of an initiative like this can be discerned from these three facts:
a) The numbers – of perpetrators of harassment caught, fined, jailed, counselled.
b) It has created a faith-inspiring perception among the public.
c) It has become a model for other states whose officials, acknowledging its effectiveness, come to study the model and implement it back home.
The concept of SHE Teams is taking shape under different names in at least Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh. Odisha has also taken the guidance and material required for launching such teams, as also recently Karnataka.
When asked why other states were not coming forward to learn from the success of SHE Teams, Swati Lakra, Inspector-General of Police (Law and Order) and in-charge of women’s safety, who launched SHE Teams, told Swarajya: “A lot depends on the will of the government in power to do something, and also your seniors. That makes a lot of difference because there are so many requirements – funds, infrastructure as well as manpower. If you don’t get these, you cannot work.”
Telangana has been fortunate to have these key elements.
Birth of SHE Teams
It was 2014 and Telangana was just born. Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao had gone on tour to Singapore and, impressed with the rapid progress of the city-state in all spheres, told authorities there that he wanted to replicate their success by adopting their best practices. Reportedly, he was asked to first answer one question – were women in his state safe, could they venture out alone, and so on. He had no response then; but once he returned, he got down to work on it and formed a committee of senior officers. An Inspector-General of Police, Lakra, was handpicked and made Additional Commissioner of Police (Crime). Lakra says, “The responsibility given to me, to make the city safe, was huge. A lot of thinking, brainstorming went into it, because there was no precedent we could look up to. Proper training was the next thing, as I wanted the teams to be passionate about what they were doing.”
SHE Teams were launched in October 2014 in Hyderabad. After their success there, the model was replicated initially in Cyberabad, and is now spread across the state. BHAROSA came two years later under the supervision of the same officer – and again, it was met with resounding success.
Recently, the state has created a Women’s Safety Wing under Telangana Police, to be headed by an Inspector-General-rank officer. It will monitor the functioning of all SHE Teams across the state, as also all BHAROSA centres to be established in all districts.
Defining the success
The numbers reveal three pleasant trends:
a) Speedy justice
b) Actual reduction in the number of crimes against women, and
c) Efforts to reform offenders
There was a 20 per cent reduction in offences against women until 2016.
Changing public perception
The emphasis is on simplifying access to the police and improving delivery of services. Thanks to the efforts of SHE Teams, the people in Telangana have reached a state where they are no longer afraid of approaching the police. The public has unhindered access to SHE Teams and the number of petitions or complaints is on the rise. Of the 4,274 petitions received, a third are from Dial 100, but also several hundreds of them have come in via email, Facebook, WhatsApp, and the Hawkeye mobile app. There were also five from Twitter. This gives an idea of the outreach of the initiatives.
In a survey conducted in 2016 by an NGO called Bhumika Women’s Collective, which works in the area of women’s safety, the findings were positive: first, 76 per cent of people in Hyderabad were aware of SHE Teams and their work; second, 85 per cent of people who knew about SHE Teams felt safer and more secure; third, in an area where awareness of SHE Teams was the least of all, the areas still had 67 per cent people who knew about SHE Teams; and fourth, 93 per cent of those aware of the role of SHE Teams also knew how to approach them at a time of need.
Structure of each team: Headed by a Sub-Inspector of Police, followed by Assistant Sub-Inspector/Head Constable, one lady constable, and two or three male constables.
Culprits nabbed in two ways:
- Red-handed, with its personnel recording the offence, and
- Acting on complaints received through social media, mobile app, email, India Post, and direct walk-ins
The team members are invariably in civilian attire – mufti or civvies, as it is called.
“Hot spots” or public and private spaces where harassment of women is known to take place are identified, as also from CCTV footage. Bus stands, railway stations, school and college neighbourhoods, ladies’ hostels, parks, and hospitals are included.
Members of SHE Teams leave their vehicles at a strategic distance from the hot spots, go ahead with their task unobtrusively, and observe closely. An obvious case of eve-teasing is recorded through a discreet camera, and the eve-teaser is brought to the police station and his antecedents checked.
First-time offenders are booked under petty cases; if he is a repeat offender, or if there is a specific complaint by a woman, a case is booked against him. Juveniles are professionally counselled by psychologists, so that they can be transformed and made into willing participants in anti-eve-teasing campaigns.
1) Collecting solid, digital evidence before making any move. This has resulted in a 100 per cent conviction rate, as it proves the offence beyond doubt. Not just that, digital evidence tends to have a significant impact on wrongdoers and helps prevent recurrence of offences.
2) Consideration for and proper treatment of victims while extracting information about the case. For this, gender-sensitive policing training is given to the members of SHE Teams, with approved methods and techniques. Of course, they need to have technological and legal knowledge.
3) Counselling for minors by a panel of psychologists – and in the presence of family members, as that usually has a positive impact.
4) Maintaining confidentiality of the victims. This provides a sense of security to victims, and is a major reason why an increasing number of victims do not hesitate to approach the authorities directly.
5) Empowering women by educating them in self-defence techniques, how to steer clear of cyber crimes, and so on.
6) Creating awareness – at all hot spots, through posters, pamphlets, digital displays at traffic junctions, short films, SHE Teams theme songs, slides in cinema theatres, runs and bikeathon rallies, and legal awareness camps and programmes.
7) Conducting awareness programmes to sensitise taxi drivers, Road Transport Corporation drivers, lady conductors, and so on. Transport authorities have been approached to help the police department collect and store details of all taxi drivers to further strengthen measures designed to provide safety to women using private transport.
8) Database creation. This helps in monitoring the activities of eve-teasers and planning additional measures.
9) Using the latest technology, seamlessly integrating telecommunications, computers, enterprise software, storage, and audio-visual systems. All this has enabled the department to access, store, share, transmit, and process vital bits of information.
10) Selection of only those police personnel with clean records. In addition, all members of the Teams are changed every three months.
11) The initiative is entirely driven by the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and technology plays a key role – an end-to-end package of solutions for all operations, e-learning modules, a detailed information database related to offenders’ data, pending petitions, performance tracking, and so on. The website, social media, and email are strategically integrated for operations.
The initiative has helped stem violence against women in two ways:
First, perception among women – most people are aware of the multiple ways in which they can alert SHE Teams, are using those ways, and are certain about getting an immediate response.
Second, perception among potential troublemakers – there is a sense of fear of being watched. Deterrence is its big achievement.
Further, efforts are on for inclusion at all levels, by measures such as:
Reaching out to the uneducated vulnerable: Studied efforts are being made to involve slum-dwellers, uneducated people, and others from disadvantaged sections to create awareness about SHE Teams and the ways in which one can approach them.
Also, efforts are being made for public involvement, to get everyone on to one platform. Thus, representatives from among working women, slum-dwellers, homemakers, and students are being sought to act as mediators.
Volunteer groups: Eminent persons, doctors, lawyers, industrialists, technocrats, students, and housewives are all being encouraged to form volunteer groups, which can communicate with SHE Teams about women’s harassment.
A further, novel step: The Telangana government has introduced SHE Teams as a topic of study at the intermediate level, and it may be taught at secondary levels also. The idea is to make all growing and adolescent children aware of the ways in which they can approach SHE Teams – given the times and climes of today.
BHAROSA – an integrated support centre for women and children who have suffered severe abuse, sexual, financial, or emotional – is the other women-centric initiative in Telangana. It is funded and supported by the department of Women and Child Development. Its day-to-day operations are handled by the police department, which also includes infrastructure.
Care includes first, treatment for injuries, then providing emotional stability through psycho-therapeutic counselling – both critical for victims of domestic violence. Then steps are gradually and tactfully taken to begin police or legal proceedings. This sensitivity in tackling cases has been highly appreciated in various quarters. Shelter is provided initially and also long-term support and rehabilitation through external partners. This multi-pronged assistance ensures that a victim in distress gets all help and support at one place.
A distinguishing feature of BHAROSA is its friendly, modern, and cheerful environs – a far cry from most states’ dilapidated, dull, and intimidating domestic violence centres. It has world-class facilities, including a child-counselling room, systems that enable video conferencing directly with the magistrate in the court complex, for recording statements, and a medical unit. Again, technology is key in running it, and for maintaining and analysing data.
BHAROSA has, in two years, handled 3,722 cases, including 2,704 cases of domestic violence and 380 cases of child sexual abuse. Also, 100 statements have been recorded through video-conferencing – with victims free from court environs and able to make their statements without feeling re-victimised. This, reportedly, is a first in the history of justice delivery in India. Authorities in Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu have evinced interest in introducing similar facilities and procedures in their states.
All in all, the Telangana Police’s women-centric initiatives tick all boxes of measures needed for women’s safety, and importantly, for involving public as an effective partner in policing. There is no doubt – SHE is showing the way!
In the next part of this write-up on SHE, we bring to you an interview with Swati Lakra, whose brainchild SHE Teams is, and who is the face of the initiative. She has received several awards for her work in women’s safety. She talked to us on what it really takes, beyond – and behind – the methods and modus operandi.
Swati Kamal is a columnist for Swarajya.
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