In many parts of India, sexual violence and harassment of women is commonplace. Nearly 40,000 rapes are recorded each year, however, many more are thought to go unreported, with victims fearful of the repercussions.
But one city may have found a solution — an all-female police force who patrol the streets to protect women and reassure them that help is only a call or even a WhatsApp message away.
The female officers of Jaipur, the capital of India’s Rajasthan state, are all trained in martial arts and travel on foot or by moped. They patrol the city’s colleges, bus stops and parks to combat sex crimes and a pervasive culture of silence around rape.
“The message we want to send out is that we have zero tolerance toward crimes against women,” Kamal Shekhawat, who heads the specialist Jaipur unit, told AAP.
Since being established in May, the unit says they’ve already seen a preventative effect and harassment at hotspots has dropped significantly.
“This is very good because men will be scared when they see these women on duty,” male resident Ram Lal Gujar told the BBC.
“If one man gets beaten up, others will also feel the heat automatically if they’re doing anything wrong.”
Around 80 percent of Indian women have been harassed by men in public. Known as “Eve teasing” — a euphemism used throughout South Asia — everyday harassment includes catcalling, sexual comments and being followed by strangers.
In conservative northwest India, victims are often afraid to report sexual violence to a largely male-dominated police force. Women make up just 7 percent of officers but the force has been ordered to recruit more women so they make up a third of law enforcement.
The newly established all-female units are beginning to shatter the stigma attached to rape in the deeply patriarchal society, as reported by The Hindustan Times.
“Women police are more empathetic and victims also feel more confident and are able to communicate openly before them,” Shekhawat said.
Student’s death sparked change
India faced international scrutiny over the death of a medical student who was gang-raped on a bus in New Delhi in December 2012.
The student’s death led to some progress towards change, with laws to punish sex offenders strengthened in the aftermath. However, attacks are still rife. In the capital New Delhi alone there were 2,199 rape cases in 2015 — an average of six a day.