The ordeal that a defenceless and hapless Bangalore woman had to go through within a “presumed to be protected zone” at an ATM of a nationalised bank” tarnishes the very fundamentals of urban security in India. The response, however, that it has evoked from concerned authorities can only be interpreted as grossly irrational and insufficient.
Three basic and interlinked questions arise in this very tragic context. First, why was it that there was no instantaneous response by the Corporation Bank security systems? Second, why was the local police station or outpost not keeping a watch over the ATM? As the camera footage graphically highlights, the sordid saga of violence continued for long and there was enough time for the authorities to apprehend the criminal during or immediately after his act. Third, why was there no coordination between the banking and police authorities over the layout of security paraphernalia linked to ATMs in the city to prevent such violent crimes?
It is time that the national and state-level political parties, the Central and state governments and the Reserve Bank of India put their acts rather than responding to the crisis situation by routinely mouthing mere platitudes or indulging in futile blame-game. It is the state’s responsibility to respond quickly to any and every threat to a citizen’s security. This is more true in places that are supposed to be secure for people and the potential victims are women and children.
Rather than espousing the slogans of political convenience, the Indian state needs to factor the speed and efficacy of response as a structural imperative within a recast law and order landscape of the land. Unfortunately, instead of ensuring a more responsive metropolitan policing in India’s major cities, the state agencies involved in law enforcement are overburdened with VVIP security.
Without downgrading VVIP security, India must comprehensively upgrade the quality of policing responses for preserving and protecting the safety and security of people, whether they are in a metropolis, tier two city or in the country’s rural interiors. This would enable people to go through the ordinary and extraordinary businesses of life, wherever they are. Economic growth and safety vectors for people often go hand in hand.
Recently, while addressing students in Ranchi, US Ambassador to India, Nancy Powell, had categorically underlined that “the concern for personal security and perceived increased danger to women as a result of the rape cases was perhaps a factor in US students’ decision regarding study in India”. While such a categorical assertion may be kind of out of place from a purely diplomatic perspective, it does reflect a prevalent negative dynamic afflicting the Indian nation state.
One of the key features of the metropolitan policing in emergent India must be sensitisation of policemen towards security of women at workplace and in public spaces. That India should be considered unsafe for women is one of the most glaring blots on how the modern world looks at India, and the Prime Minister and national security advisor should take immediate measures to address issues related to women’s safety.
Raising issues related to women’s safety, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last week asked the police chiefs of all states to put in place institutional mechanisms to ensure the safety and security of women and children. The concern shown by him comes at a time when owner-editor of Tehelka Tarun Tejpal is facing arrest in a sordid affair of alleged sexual assault on a junior colleague. Events unfolding show how unsafe women are even at a tourist resort where leading Hollywood stars, Indian industry professions and others were present. This is bound to incrementally dent the already lacerated Indian national image.
However, unless the contours of metropolitan and rural policing are restructured, the annual conferences of state police chiefs, like the one the PM addressed, will remain self-defeating. It is time he called a meeting of chief ministers to counter the formidable range of challenges that dot India’s daunting law enforcement frame. The Centre and states must evolve a common strategy in terms of police logistics, modernisation strategies and acquisitions. Urban, rural and national security issues can be more effectively dealt with through systemic involvement of chief ministers with the Union government on a structured, regular basis.
With the support of the central paramilitary forces, the state police are protecting a whole range of national assets, such as airports, seaports, defence installations and highways. They are also facing terrorist threats from air and sea which the Centre is more competent to handle. The Indian constitution leaves maintenance of law and order to the state governments. But given the current inefficiencies and inadequacies of state police forces and the financial burden involved, the Centre cannot wash its hands off the responsibility. The Prime Minister must hold periodical interactions with the chief ministers to modernise police forces and bring about a qualitative change in their working culture.