Monday, September 8, 2014

Subhashini Ali - The Remarkable Courage of a Policewoman in UP

On April 27, 2014, a young, intelligent Sub-Inspector, Aruna Rai, submitted a formal complaint to the seniormost police officer at the Police Training School, Meerut where she was posted as a Warden and Instructor, accusing the Principal, DIG PTC, Devi Prasad Srivastava, of speaking and behaving in an inappropriate fashion with her in his office on April 23. She further stated that he had subsequently tried to speak to her on his personal mobile phone several times. She had resolutely rebuffed him. He had then tried to cajole and coerce her into 'forgiving' him. With her husband's firm support, however, she went ahead and submitted her complaint.

The following weeks were not easy for her. She allegedly had to face threats from Srivastava. She says her water connection was cut and she was refused leave. She also had to deal with an atmosphere of knowing smiles, whispered comments and gossip. But she filed an FIR against Srivastava in May and he surrendered before the court on June 13, but was immediately granted bail because the police had removed the non-bailable sections from the chargesheet. Aruna contested this, had the relevant sections re-inserted, and Srivastava was again arrested in July and then granted bail. In the meantime, he had also been suspended from the service after his first arrest.

A Committee of Enquiry, headed by ADG Sutapa Sanyal, was constituted and, without too much delay, it went to work and submitted its report on August 2. The committee found Srivastava guilty of the charges made against him and stated that the Government of UP should proceed against him in accordance with the provisions of the Act. According to the Act, the Government has to act upon the recommendations of the report within 60 days. Most unfortunately, Srivastava's suspension was revoked on August 5. The timing has created misgivings with regard to the Government's intentions.

The ball is now fairly and squarely in the court of the UP Government. If it is to preserve what is left of its shredded credibility, it must immediately dismiss Srivastava from the service and also punish him. The law also recommends fining the guilty party and partially compensating the victim.

Aruna Rai's is a landmark case registered under the Sexual Oppression at the Workplace Act, 2013; it triggered a landmark enquiry and a landmark conclusion, but it has, unfortunately, not received the attention it deserves by the media in Uttar Pradesh which maybe too taken with the hysteria over 'love jihad'.

The Act itself had a difficult and long gestation period and a troubled birthing. During the stages of drafting, public scrutiny, filing of objections and amendments by innumerable organizations and individuals, and then an acrimonious discussion in Parliament in 2013. Every argument against gender oppression and for gender rights was brought out, dusted and used to scuttle the Act. The fact that the Act would be misused was, of course, repeated ad nauseum. Despite all this, an imperfect but still significant Act, was finally passed because of the efforts by women's organizations and democratic individuals and associations, because of the fact that such legislation had been enacted in most democratic countries and because of the sheer volume of evidence that proved that factories, fields, offices and homes were actually sites of constant humiliation, coercion, sexual intimidation, assault and violence perpetrated by all those in positions more powerful either by designation, ownership, hierarchy, physical strength or just the simple fact of being 'male'. These places were already battlefields bloodied by the psychological and physical attacks suffered by women and girls because of their status, gender and powerlessness.

The Uttar Pradesh Police has a long and ignominious record of sexual harassment, not only of women in police stations in different parts of the State but also during communal and caste conflict. In addition to this, it is the least well-kept secret in the State that women police personnel, including officers of all categories face sexual discrimination, humiliation, intimidation, blackmail and, not infrequently, abuse and assault. Until April of this year, not one of them had mustered the courage to protest.

Aruna Rai changed that. She deserves the support and appreciation of all those involved in the struggle for gender justice. There is no doubt that her courage has inspired many others. There is also no doubt that many more like her will be encouraged to speak out against the injustice that they have suffered within the Police Department. Aruna Rai's act of courage and the effect that it is bound to have must be given the attention and support that they deserve.