But is the establishment of the first all-women police station in India's northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh really a step forward?
The aim of Arunachal Pradesh's experiment in amazonian-style justice is to tackle crimes against women. A similar initiative was launched in Bihar, which saw its first all-women police station in January 2012. Broader initiatives to recruit more women in the police across the country are also planned.
According to the Economic Times article reporting the opening of the 'maiden' (pun intended?) police station in Arunachal Pradesh, the plan was established by the state government 'days after the Delhi gangrape incident and the proposal was approved by the state cabinet on February 6'. The plan also calls for the creation of 'separate' cells in all district headquarters and a 'special' recruitment drive for more policewomen.
The swift action taken by the state government not only to draw a plan, but to actually mobilise funds, create a new unit, and make it operational in just four months must be applauded. Despite some extremely committed individuals (they exist, I have met them), the Indian bureaucracy is, borrowing Shashi Tharoor's imagery, widely accepted as akin to a giant elephant -- more lumbering than elegant, and certainly much less revered. Thus, credit should be given where it is due.
But I am struggling, in no small measure, with the larger issues. And not as a woman, as a human.
Why is the repeated (often openly) targeting of girls and women, and more pointedly, the violent stripping of their personhood, institutionalised as a 'women's issue'? Can 'separate' and 'special' measures result in equal treatment for half — sorry, I must correct myself here — thanks to increases in female infanticide and foeticide, nearly half of the population in India?
It is certainly true, as in the case of this 4-year-old girl, that girls and women have been treated like perpetrators of the crime by the police, an institution deeply entrenched in patriarchy. But there is little guarantee that simply inserting women into the same patriarchal institution will affect change.
Women are not necessarily immune from perpetrating crimes against other women, There have been reported cases of women actively participating in dowry-instigated bride-burning, female infanticide, and human trafficking. And, in a recent case in Uttar Pradesh, two policewomen were suspended for detaining a 10-year old girl victim of rape.
So I will reserve my final judgment, but unless there are serious attempts at changing the mind-sets of those in institutions of power, like the police, there is little to convince me that this is truly a step forward.