Everyone in Latehar police station knows how constable Neetu Kumar was raped on the way to her sister’s funeral. Even the ASI breaks into a grin when he says she did not resist her attackers. While the vitriol flows in Latehar on women’s place in the police force and their supposed inability to handle work, no one is tackling the larger problem that should be most obvious – training, so crucial to the careers of their male peers, remains beyond the reach of women constables.
By Priyanka Dubey
Virender Ram hefts a heavy bundle of papers on the desk and says, “This is the case diary of her gang-rape case. She is a constable here and I know that you have traveled from Delhi to meet her, because you think she should get justice. We are all working towards the same goal. You know how detailed the case diary we have prepared is? Our investigation in this case is already being talked about in police trainings sessions. But she isn’t interested. She is not talking to anyone. She is happy and normal. I feel she isn’t that keen on getting justice for herself. Besides, she is on leave now.”
In the Latehar Police Station, I go through the case diary and other documents related to what is now known here as the Neetu Kumar* gangrape case. With every passing conversation about Neetu, the subtle whispered campaign against her is more and more evident. The personnel of this station have been maligning their own colleague for many months now.
On August 20, 2013, Neetu, a 27-year-old constable in Latehar district, was traveling in an SUV with her parents, brother and two other relatives from Ranchi to their village in Garhwa district. Neetu had been appointed constable after her policeman husband was killed in December 2011 in a Maoist ambush of independent MP Inder Singh Namdhari’s convoy. Two years after her husband’s death, she was barely piecing together her life – the new job, her two children.
But in August 2013 it was no ordinary trip the family was taking. In the car was the corpse of Neetu’s sister, who had been murdered along with her husband. The family intended to perform the cremation in their village, but as the grieving family drove down National Highway 75, they were to encounter a worse tragedy. Their car was stopped by a group of men who robbed the family and raped Neetu. Three days after the crime, Latehar Police arrested five men for dacoity and rape.
Virender Ram says, “They were all drunk. They blocked the highway and robbed ten other vehicles also. All of them robbed her family but only two were involved in rape. Her vaginal swabs were tested and the DNA proved that two of them were involved in the rape.”
On paper, it seems as if her colleagues have treated Neetu with consideration. After the gang rape, Neetu and her family asked for security. The Jharkhand police then transferred her to the women’s police station of Latehar district and gave her residential quarters on the police station campus. There, her colleagues told me that she was on leave and had gone to her village for a family ceremony.
It’s been six months since the event. When I ask Ram, the man in charge of the station Neetu once worked in, about her work, he says, “Women constables here do regular duty. They are generally asked to come if there is any arrest involving women or for controlling women participants in public protests. Neetu was herself a constable here and clearly knew a complaint should be filed whenever a crime happens. But she did not come to the police station after being robbed and raped. Instead she went back to her rented accommodation in Latehar with her family.”
Smirking, he expresses surprise that Neetu didn’t come to the police station first to register an FIR. “When we got the information of these highway robberies and went to the spot, we found a ladies’ purse and a gold chain lying there. One of the constables found her passport photo in uniform from that purse and so we identified her. When the next morning she was asked about how her purse, ATM cards, gold chain and other material was found on the highway, only then she told us that her family was robbed and she was raped.” The smirk widens into a smile when he adds, “There were no signs of protest or resistance. The accused told us during investigation that she was repeatedly asking them to do whatever they want to do but to spare her life.”
He warns me that travelling to Garhwa district to meet Neetu will be useless. Then, almost chuckling, he sums up his sentiments: “You want to meet her and you came here because you feel that she is raped, something bad happened to her. We feel the same…but if you see her she looks absolutely normal and happy. There’s no trace of sorrow or stress on her face. Don’t write it like this, but I think her character is not good. You can go if you want but I’d say that meeting her won’t be useful.”
Despite the department repeatedly boasting about how everything is being done to ensure that Neetu Kumar gets justice, remains safe and keeps working, the undercurrent of hostility surfaces easily.
Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI) Rameshwar Singh was one of the first police officers to reach the scene of the crime in the wee hours of August 21, 2013. On being asked about the case, the middle-aged man breaks into a similar indifferent grin. After a few minutes of casual conversation, he opens up about his doubts. “The incident happened around 1am, and we met her around 10 that morning, only when we called her. She is in the police force. Why didn’t she come to us first? How could she go and sleep at her home after being raped? We filed the case, got her medical [test] done and did everything. But she wasn’t keen to get justice because she is like that only. She did not even resist while she was being raped. Everybody around knows how many affairs she had. I can count them for you.”
I try to unpack the implications of what Singh and his colleagues are saying. As investigators, they aren’t denying that Neetu was raped. The allegations instead are two-fold.
One, Neetu’s response during the rape was not what they think women should do when confronted with rape – flail, cry and resist even at the cost of their lives. They certainly should not try to negotiate.
Two, Neetu’s response after the rape didn’t follow their rulebook either. Death, violence, gang rape on the side of a road when her sister’s body hadn’t been cremated yet. Even under these circumstances, they would have preferred it if Neetu had trotted up to the station and filed an FIR.
Somehow these two allegations add up in the ASI’s mind to being the behavior of a promiscuous woman.
At the Latehar police station, this ugly contempt was not limited to Neetu Kumar. In a conversation outside the police station, the ASI tells me about his views of women working in the police force. He says, “Like Neetu, most of these women constables come on compensation appointments. They don’t work at all and get a salary equal to us. They are almost like a showpiece. Madam, you please write this with my name – that these women don’t work but get equal pay. We have to take them to the sites of protest because only women can intervene with women protestors. But we have to keep an eye and take care of these constables too whenever we take them on any assignment.”
He adds, “On the contrary, I think that all women should be removed from the police force. They don’t have any purpose at police stations. They only create unwanted stress and problems. Whenever there is a women constable present at the police station, there is stress among policemen. We are not able to work properly. They do nothing but only distract, pollute the environment and so generally many people at police stations end up having illicit relations with them.”
In the women’s cell of the Latehar Police Station, situated in a small building 10 meters away from the main one, I met four women constables working under a male in-charge and an assistant in-charge. Since it was established in March 2011, the women’s cell of the Latehar Police station has never had a woman in charge. Lal Bahadur Ram, the head of the cell, says, “Women do the usual pehredari and are taken to public protests to handle female protesters. We cannot treat male and female officers as equals. We [men] have to keep an eye on our female staff. Whenever they are sent out on any assignment, they are always escorted by male colleagues. We do all this to protect them.”
The women’s cell has always been short of female staff. Station personnel say that this is because of the smaller proportion of female staff in the police overall. As Ram put it, “very few women apply and even fewer get through the physical tests”.
Of the four women constables sitting quietly in the cell, two were appointed on ‘compensation grounds’ – appointed in lieu of their dead husbands. Nanika Koi, Leelawati Devi and Pramila Devi are natives of Latehar district and have only attended school up to Class 10. The fourth, Poonam Kumari is from the neighboring Garhwa district and has a Bachelor’s degree.
They are quiet in the beginning, silent even about why they joined the service. Nanika and Leelawati say that they took up the job to run their households after their husbands died. They’d have taken any job, but this is the only one they got. Nanika slowly murmurs, “It never occurred to me that things like motivation count in one’s life. I’ve never had the luxury to think about liking my job or about empowerment. I had children to feed. I had to work.”
Pramila Devi, their colleague, says she has three children. Her husband was doing nothing. She had to do something to feed her family and a job as a police constable just came along. She smiles as she says, “Everybody in the thana knows my husband. He often comes here to pick me up and drop me, or even just like that. He is closer to my colleagues than I am.”
Poonam is the only woman in the Latehar police station who talks about liking her work. Her face shines as she says, “I like to be in the police. I feel confident. I think I can do something for my country and earn my own money through this work. But we always go out with our seniors as the world is bad for women. No woman is safe, not even us. One of our colleagues was raped last year. So we try to be careful.”
Since the Sixth Central Pay Commission’s recommendations were accepted, the take-home salary of these police constables falls between Rs 17,000 and Rs 18,000. Their basic pay is Rs 7,100, with a 100 percent dearness allowance, adding another 7100 rupees to their payment. They also get a food allowance of Rs 1,000, Rs 300 as medical allowance and other rotating allowances.
I ask if they mind being photographed. They pose happily inside the building. When I ask if they’re willing to be photographed outside the gate of the women’s cell, near the signboard, they’re very reluctant. From the gate, they are in the line of vision of all the male officers of the main station and this, they tell me later, is what makes them hesitate.
* * *
To meet Neetu Kumar, you have to cross a heavily forested Maoist stronghold past ruined and deserted roads to reach the Anda-Mahua forest range in Bhandaria block of Garhwa district. Neetu’s village is on the Jharkhand-Chhattisgharh border near Jashpur. Amid the wedding celebrations of a relative and a huge crowd gathered around her mother’s home, she was anxious and initially refused to meet me.
Surrounded by hordes of relatives, Neetu sits quietly on a plastic chair under the white-floral tent pitched in front of a pond and the wide open lane beside which her mud hut lies. A goods carrier loaded with wedding gifts such as a red almirah and plastic chairs stands in front of her and children dance all around. Dressed in a pink georgette sari and green bangles, Neetu comes to a corner of the open tent and sits with her child in her lap. Her brother and mother sit close by. She begins the conversation by saying she is afraid to talk to anyone at all about her situation – the complex predicament of a woman who faced sexual violence and happened to be in the police. She says, “Normal women can talk to the media, criticize the police and express themselves. But I cannot. If I said anything to anyone, my department would say that I am bad-mouthing the police in the media. And I have to work there. I have children to feed.”
Her younger brother says quietly, “We didn’t go to the police when this happened to her because like any other family, we didn’t want the matter to come out. It would bring a bad name to her and to us. And that happened. Her life isn’t normal now.”
Recalling the night she was attacked, Neetu says, “I have already lost my husband in conflict. That day my sister was murdered. Our family has seen too much violence. So when that day they dragged me out of the vehicle I went quietly. Those who ask me why I did not resist, would they have come to feed my children had the men slaughtered me? I wasn’t in a position to resist. I have lost too much in life to resist. I wanted to live because I had children waiting back home.” She cries silently and then begins looking up at the sky to calm herself. After a while, she gathers herself and speaks in a quiet rage about the complete absence of training that she or her female colleagues receive. They do ‘regular duty’ as ASI Rameshwar Singh said, but without the regular training that any man in the police gets, setting them up to fail.
While calming down the child crying in her lap, she says, “The other day, DIG sahib said to me that he will dismiss me because despite being a cop, I could not protect myself.” She doesn’t rage further about her superior officer blaming her for getting raped.
She continues, “I told him that I didn’t know how to protect myself. I was never trained like that. We never held a pistol in our hands. We are trained only in holding a danda (wooden stick), and not even properly. Our training was never a matter of concern since most of us are not considered capable of doing any serious work. But how can we protect others or even ourselves without any proper training?”
When asked about her idea of justice for herself and her plans for the future, she looks up at the sky again. After a long pause, she slowly adds, “I don’t want my rapists to be hanged because I am afraid that my family will be attacked in retaliation. I want them to be behind bars. And I want to live a normal, quiet and free life now. I want to do my work and raise my children quietly. And I think the one thing that I crave for now is normalcy. I want to be able to just live normally again. But I know this is not possible.”
*Neetu Kumar is not the constable’s real name.
Priyanka Dubey is an independent journalist. Visit http://www.priyankadubey.in or write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is the first in a three-part series on policewomen in India, first published on Yahoo! Originals.