The three day apex police officers’ conference which started from December 6, 2019 in Pune was attended by high level officials and also addressed by the Prime Minister and Union Home minister. On the same day the Cyberabad police (Telengana) “did an encounter” (to use a Maharashtra police jargon), killing all the four “aggressive” suspects (according to police version) in the November 27, 2019 rape and murder case of a young veterinary doctor which had shaken the nation.

On December 7 Talsani Srinivas Yadav, Telangana minister for Veterinary & Animal Husbandry revealed the truth. He told a national daily that the encounter was a “message for the whole country” and due to the “Pressure” on the police for immediate action since “Indian judicial system will go on forever”. He added that the “reconstruction of crime happened with instruction from above. 100%. Telengana state is very strong in taking immediate action”.

The minister left no room for doubt as to who had ordered this with an obsequious reference that the “credit goes to the Chief Minister”. This is perhaps the first instance anywhere that an ordinary process of investigation like reconstruction of the crime has been ordered by a Chief Minister. I wonder whether in future Telangana Police will end all “Reconstructions” of crime scenes with “encounters”.

Around the same time another shocking incident came from Unnao in Uttar Pradesh, which had earned notoriety since 2017 for exploiting women after the much publicized rape case against BJP MLA Kuldip Singh Sengar. He was arrested only after judicial intervention. In the present case, a rape victim who had lodged complaints of rape and captivity as sex slave against two brothers a year ago was set on fire on December 5, 2019 while on her way to a Rai Bareli court to pursue her case. She succumbed to her injuries in New Delhi on December 6.

However it is anybody’s guess whether these incidents which highlighted grave flaws in the police working on protection of women would have been subject matter of the high level discussions during the Pune conference.

A 2018 study by McKinsey for Asia Pacific Region found that women formed 25% of our organized workforce. The study also revealed that violence against women in India was six times the global scores. It said that “ the primary factors driving the male-female gap include gender inequality at work and in society” are “Physical security and autonomy, legal protection, political voice and women’s role in essential services, all areas where India’s statistics lag in comparison.” Another important finding was that our GDP would increase by US$ 770 billion during the next 7 years if we remove these negative factors and improve women’s participation in organized work force by 10% more.

A 2019 Deloitte report captioned “Empowering Women & Girls in India for the Fourth Industrial Revolution” said that “female labour force participation in India has fallen to 26 per cent in 2018 from 36.7 per cent in 2005, amid lack of access to quality education and underlying social, economic barriers limiting the opportunities for women”. On December 7,2019 BBC highlighted to the global audience that India had recorded 32,559 rape cases in 2017, making 89 a day.

It was expected that our political and police leadership would have taken due cognizance of the 2012 “Nirbhaya” rape & murder incident and the 2013 Justice J.S.Verma/ Justice Leila Seth/ Gopal Subramanium Commission report seriously to set in motion not only legal amendments but also improved police sensitivity and work ethics towards women. They should also have effected substantive improvement in the emergency contacts by the distressed women and their relatives to the law & order authorities.

Unfortunately this has not happened. Otherwise Union junior minister Krishen Reddy would not have had to announce, after the November 27 murder, that a single button helpline would be introduced in Andhra State. Why was this facility not introduced so far in Hyderabad which has a huge women work force being a big centre for IT industry? Also this was the 4th murder of women in that state within a span of 4 days.

The truth is that the local police had failed both in Hyderabad and Unnao cases for not taking immediate action, which could have perhaps prevented the ghastly incidents. The Hyderabad family accused the Cyberabad police of being insensitive when they phoned them after getting no reply from the rape victim’s cell phone. The victim had called her sister after she was stranded at the Tondupally toll post due to tyre puncture adding that she was afraid after seeing some truck drivers. She did not respond when her sister called again.

The police tossed the relatives around on jurisdiction, wasting precious time. Telangana Home Minister’s inconsiderate remark that the victim should have called 100 instead of calling her sister was also deeply resented. The mere suspension of a few policemen or monetary compensation to the family will not solve this problem.

Likewise the December 2018 Unnao rape survivor had also complained of police inaction. Her first FIR in December 2018 elicited no response from the police. She had complained that she was promised marriage but kept as sex slave in Rae Bareli and thrown out with a warning that she would be raped again and her videos published if she dared to complain to the police. The assailants contacted her again in December 2018 in her aunt’s house, promised to marry her but took her to a field and raped her again at pistol point. She had to approach the Court to record 2 complaints at Bihar Bahta and Lalgunj police stations. These FIRS were registered only in March 2019. The accused were arrested but released on bail.

There was nothing to indicate that the local police had kept the accused persons on any kind of watch as they had brazenly accosted the victim in broad day light, stabbed and set her ablaze. The UP Police chief gave a lame excuse that she had not requested for security.

The Telangana police “Encounter” was a short cut by politicians and police to cover up their organizational failures and to leap to the high moral ground by imitating cheap Bollywood police thrillers. That it was approved by several politicians and retired police chiefs is a great danger to our democracy. It would be a sad day if other police systems also adopt this “short cut” to gain glory.

Vappala Balachandran is a former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat