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The force is female: India’s women cops take a stand

 The force is female: India’s women cops take a stand

Jaipur, India | AFP |  All-female police units are shaking up the male-dominated force in conservative northwest India, hitting the streets to combat sex crimes and a pervasive culture of silence around rape.

One such squad in Jaipur has been patrolling bus stops, colleges and parks where women are vulnerable to sexual harassment.

Women can face a barrage on India’s streets, enduring everything from lewd jokes and strangers following them — often dismissed as innocent “Eve teasing” — to physical attacks and rape.

“The message we want to send out is that we have zero tolerance towards crimes against women,” said Kamal Shekhawat, who heads the specialist Jaipur unit established in late May.

India has a gruesome record on sex crimes, with nearly 40,000 rapes reported every year. But the real figure is thought to be much higher, with victims wary of how their complaints will be dealt with.

India’s police force is overwhelmingly male — women make up just seven percent of officers — and activists complain that victims are often judged by their appearance, asked probing questions, or even blamed for provoking the crime.

The shame attached to rape in India’s deeply patriarchal society, and fear of reprisal, means many sex crimes are not reported and offenders go unpunished.

Shekhawat hopes the visible presence of female officers on the beat will encourage more women in Jaipur to report their abusers knowing they will find a sympathetic ear.

“Women police are more empathetic and victims also feel more confident and are able to communicate openly before them,” she said.

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