This open letter was first published in the Chitrakoot, Mahoba and Faizabad editions of the Khabar Lahariya newspaper, and online here. It was written with reference to the recent pieces published by The Ladies Finger and subsequent public outcry that led to the arrest of the Khabar Lahariya phone stalker.
Respected Chief Minister,
This week, the Banda police identified and caught a man who had harassed Khabar Lahariya journalists over the phone for months. It took just two days. Clearly, if your government so desires, each department that you oversee is obliged to do its job, and well. If we were beginning to think that the spiraling crimes against women in UP reflect the ineptitude of the police, the way this case panned out shows that the UP police doesn’t lack in ability in dealing with crimes against women.If there is will to act, no perpetrator is impossible for them to bring in.
Yet, we regret the fact that drawing your attention to this case, Mr Chief Minister, required us to draw the attention, first, of thousands on social media. And that the police was only woken out of their nine-month slumber when you, and subsequently, local, state and national media rang alarm bells.
On the 14 of September, a story we wrote on the case and our experience reporting it was published online. Thousands of wellwishers and journalists read about the man who had harassed us for months, and protested the lack of action taken by the police. The voices of protest were so loud, that they reached even you, Mr Chief Minister. You took swift action, and directed the UP police to catch the culprit. And, incredibly, two days later, the culprit was behind bars.
We had tried to use the 1090 women’s helpline first, to deal with the phone harassment. Then we filed FIRs in January. Nothing happened. We were called to register statements again and again – sometimes because the investigating officer would be transferred, sometimes because the file had been transferred from one police department to another. The police seemed to enjoy listening to the statements repeatedly. We even heard, at the end, that the district police lacked a specialist in crime, and this was the reason for the slow pace of the investigation. Quite shocking, we thought, for a district at the heart of UP’s banditlands, with no shortage of crimes of any nature.
On the 16 of September, when the suspect had been caught, the papers couldn’t get enough of the story. We were immediately asked to leave everything we were doing and be present at the Banda Kotwali the same day. Shortly, the police presented the accused. He was asked if he recognized us. We were in a state of physical and emotional shock. Neither had we wanted to see this man, nor did we want him to see us. But the police didn’t think to ask us about this, so caught up were they in their big moment of success.
The immediate impact of this denouement to the case was to award you, Mr Chief Minister, with credit for having galvanized the police and administration into such swift action. We came to Lucknow, we were invited to take a tour of the plush offices of the 1090 Women’s Helpline, and hear how the system had managed to resolve over three lakh complaints. Indeed, the system seemed impressive – yet, in our case, it had failed, and it would take more than a tour to establish its value.
We would like to express gratitude to you and to the UP Police for the promptness and efficiency displayed in tackling this case of harassment. But our gratitude is underlined with regret. The accused has been caught, and will face charges in court. Hopefully, justice will be delivered. But will this case change the situation for thousands of women reporting in small towns or rural areas? In the situations of insecurity and insensitivity in which we work, must we always wait months for complaints to be taken with seriousness, or acted upon? Or is the presence of a helpline, the admission of problematic ‘mindsets’ of your police department, and one case ‘cracked’ meant to pacify us, and redeem you from a much greater, graver responsibility?
Read the Hindi version here.