As many as 2,868 cases of domestic violence cases have been registered in Kerala over a period of seven months ever since the coronavirus-induced lockdown was first implemented. However, a majority of them, 2,757 cases, or more than 96 per cent, have already been “resolved” through mediation by the district police chiefs, according to the Kerala police media cell.
The complaints have been handled by the Domestic Conflict Resolution Centres (DCRC), a recent initiative of the state police for settling domestic disputes amicably.
According to a circular issued by Kerala’s Director General of Police (DGP), there was a surge in the number of cases of violence against women in general since the beginning of the lockdown in March.
The DCRCs were formed with an objective to reach out to women facing violence and not able to access communication facilities for seeking help.
“It is true that there is a sharp rise in the cases of violence against women. In most cases, women do not want to pursue it. They, however, want a solution. We keep talking to the complainants and the accused and, thus, help resolve the issue amicably,” says Leela, a Circle Inspector at the women’s cell in Kerala’s Kozhikode. She is in-charge of the DCRC in the district.
According to Leela, non-working women are the worst hit during the lockdown. “The most common complaint was regarding drinking habits of men. Either they consumed illegal liquor or they showed withdrawal symptoms due to non-availability of alcohol. In both cases, men became violent and women had to bear the brunt of it,” Leela said.
But how far can the police “settle” violence, a cognisable offence?
“There are a lot of women who want only a solution and do not want to pursue the case. What they want is the men to be warned to make their homes a little more liveable. The interventions being done by the women’s cell and DCRCs make sense up to an extent,” says Sandhya, a lawyer who has handled numerous cases of violence against women.
“But the problem arises when the police show the same attitude in ‘settling or resolving amicably’ cases of more serious nature like that of sexual assault and workplace harassment,” adds Sandhya.
She has many examples of domestic violence in which the Kerala police took little action. “Conciliation is not the only way, the police have to register cases and proceed whenever it is required.”
“There is a tendency to ignore complaints of molestation or verbal and mental harassment,” says a police officer working with the Kerala women’s cell.
According to him, a complaint is taken seriously only if it is rape. “There are cops who advise women to ignore or to settle ‘minor issues’ (often verbal harassment and molestation).”
Adalats are being conducted by the Kerala police to address complaints by women. “The target is to achieve maximum cases of settlement. Hence, even victims who have faced severe offences are advised to ‘ignore’ and move on,” he said.
Even women cops have no escape from this. The recent experience of a woman police officer who has filed a complaint of workplace harassment is an example. She filed a complaint against a colleague for trying to molest her.
“I filed the complaint in January. The investigation is only in the very early stage. They have not yet even started the process of adducing evidence,” says the officer who is reluctant to disclose her identity.
Her ordeal has only worsened after she filed the complaint. “That man started doing all sorts of mental harassment. He wrote anonymous letters with full of slandering content about me to colleagues and their family members,” she said.
She took her complaint to a recent ‘adalat’ conducted by the police. “I was advised to ignore it, they told me that it was not a case of rape and only a minor issue. If this is what a woman police officer gets, what would be the situation of the ordinary women?” she asks.
She recently got transferred to a place quite far from her home station. “The accused also was transferred, but he got a station very near to his home,” says the woman officer.
The experience of Rekha (name changed), a biomedical engineer working at a private hospital in Kollam, is similar.
Based on her complaint filed in January against the general manager about sexual harassment at workplace, she was called to the police station by the women’s cell three times for recording statement. The accused also was asked to appear but he did not turn up even once.
“The FIR has been lodged, but the investigation is dead slow. There are other women who faced the same kind of sexual harassment from him. Though they all were ready to testify against him, their statements have not been recorded so far,” said Rekha.
In the FIR, accessed by The Federal, the offence alleged does not give any chance for reconciliation or settlement. According to the FIR, “The accused asked her to bring needle and thread and to stitch the broken buttons of his shirt. He asked her to do it wearing the shirt unbuttoned and pants unzipped”.
The “conciliation attitude” of the Kerala police cannot be adopted for cases like that of Rekha and the woman police officer who continue to face verbal harassment from the accused.