When Not to Defend

I’ve recently found myself defending a set of ideologies that don’t need defense; for instance, Feminism or Socialism. The critiques leveled against these ideologies are a classic case of incomplete understanding of labels. Of course, no individual who claims to care about the world will oppose the core values that drive these solidly powerful movements- equality, freedom and dignity for all. But all hell breaks loose when you give it a label. The moment you do so; the “failures” of these movements come to define them. You might give me many reasons as to why this is so, but I say it’s just this- privilege and ignorance.

I’ve found myself in situations of late where me being feminist is assumed to mean more than it does. Somehow, when I proudly proclaim myself to be feminist; I am not just a believer in social justice but I am also automatically attributed a set of personality traits. I am intolerant, I am not humorous, I am head strong and I always want to be right. Scores of feminists have screamed their throats dry by telling the world that defaming feminism is a direct consequence of Patriarchy and that Feminism is actually about tolerance and love and yes, the right amount of directional anger; but never about hate or intolerance.

The challenge for feminism is always to defend itself. To constantly reiterate “Hey look, you’ve got this wrong; we actually are NOT intolerant. We actually just want people to live with dignity”. But some conversations, take us a step back. I have found myself in situations where I have said, “yes your criticism is warranted but ….” just so that I have a common language to express myself. This automatically puts my glorious movement to shame. This automatically puts all that scores of women across history have achieved to shame.

Here’s the truth I am learning: it’s fine to search for a common ground to talk about ideologies that preach equality but are misunderstood. It’s also important to acknowledge criticism. However, to truly capture what movements stand for; I have to begin my defense by not defending at all. I have to begin my defense by celebrating it.

Tell them that the women’s right to vote is because of the feminist movement. Tell them that the reason I can step out of my house at night is because of the feminist movement. Tell them the reason we have laws against sexual assault is because of the feminist movement. Tell them that workers’ rights exist because of the socialist movement. Tell them that the reason I put myself first in a relationship is because of feminism. Tell them that it’s what saved you when nothing else could. Then ask them if they still think the movement is irrelevant. Their critique will then be one that is actually worthy of paying attention to and introspecting on.

We begin these conversations by searching for a common language. Let’s just admit once and for all that social justice movements have a different vocabulary altogether. One that isn’t hard to understand; but just different. That’s what ensured their successes in the first place. We’ve been on the back foot for far too long. Let’s reclaim these conversations on the offensive.

Five Things You Need to Know About the Police if You Are a Woman in India

Contrary to popular belief, the police in India is not meant to supress but to serve citizens. It may often seem that Police powers and processes are arbitrary. However, this is not true. Police Personnel are meant to follow strict guidelines and processes to not just prevent excesses but also to ensure better policing. Every step of the criminal justice system in India is governed by strict procedural guidelines meant to safeguard the human rights of citizens. One rationale behind setting these guidelines is to ensure equitable and safe access to free and fair policing to citizens who are historically discriminated against. In this regard, policing in India follows special protocols when it comes to women. Be it a victim of a crime who is a woman or a woman accused of a crime; there are special protocols that police personnel must adhere to.

Knowledge of these protocols is key to demanding better policing, entitlements and rights for women as well as for people of all other genders. This knowledge is critical because women continue to face hurdles in reporting of sexual violence and fair custodial treatment. In context of this, here are the five things that you need to know about your entitlements viz. a viz. the police if you are a woman in India.

  1. I have to report a crime. Where should I go?

You need to file a First Information Report (FIR). A FIR is a detailed record of the crime committed and can be filed by the victim, a witness or any other person with knowledge of the crime (with the consent of the victim). A FIR will initiate investigation of the crime. It can be filed in any police station after which, it will be forwarded to the police station of the area where the crime was committed. The police cannot deny filing an FIR citing jurisdictional issues. The police can also not deny filing an FIR for cognizable offences. If they do, you can get your complaint registered by a higher authority (SP, DCP or magistrate). A woman need not be physically present to file an FIR. She can call or e-mail to register an FIR. If a woman is disabled (either temporarily or permanently) the police need to go to her place of residence to file an FIR. If a woman wishes to report a rape, the police again need to go to her place of residence. For sexual violence cases, the FIR needs to be registered by a woman police officer. The police is mandated to read your FIR back to you after which you can suggest further edits and give you a copy within 24 hours. This copy will contain an FIR number which can be used for all future follow-ups. In addition to this, different states have different guidelines for reporting of sexual crimes intended to make reporting easier which we should be aware of. For example, the Delhi Standard Operating Procedure mandates that investigation of sexual violence cases can only be conducted by Women officers.

  1. In case of a sexual violence crime, what medical aid am I entitled to?

Hospitals are mandated to provide free medical aid to victims of rape. The police are mandated to provide medical referrals upon receiving rape cases. At the station, all visible injury marks on the survivor are noted and recorded by a female police officer. Following this, a female doctor (or male doctor in the presence of a female attendant) conducts a medical examination in the hospital. No third person is allowed in the room during this examination. The patient must get a detailed explanation of what the examination comprises of and how various procedures will be carried out. A medical examination can only be conducted after seeking the informed consent of the victim (if above 12 years of age) in writing and must be non-invasive. The medical examination must be comprehensive and should check for STIs, injuries as well as provide counselling.

  1. What if I am summoned to a police station for interrogation? Do I have to go?

No, unless you are being arrested for a crime you need not go to the police station. However, for women and children, if the police wish to interrogate you regarding a crime, they can only do so in their homes. In cases were a woman witness is being interrogated or a woman accused is being arrested and interrogated, it is mandated upon the police that a woman police personnel be present during the arrest and/or interrogation.

  1. Can a police officer enter my home unasked?

No, in cases where the police are conducting investigations, they can only enter your house with your permission. If they believe they need to search the house because of criminal suspicion, they can do so after obtaining a search warrant from the magistrate. However, in cases of urgency they can enter without a warrant. Even so, searches in private homes need to be conducted in the presence of the owner and at least two local independent witnesses. If there are purdah women in the house, a woman officer must be part of the search party.

  1. Are there special rules for women in custody?

Yes. No woman can be arrested between sunset and sunrise unless for very special reasons. For this, special permission needs to be taken from the magistrate. A woman police personnel should be present during the arrest and interrogation. The woman accused has to be kept in a separate lock-up for woman at the police station. Any examination, body search etc. has to be done by a woman police officer or doctor. If a woman in custody complains of rape, it will be accepted unless the police officer can show that it didn’t happen.