The city of New Delhi is determined to shed its reputation as India’s “rape capital,” so it’s putting women in charge of its latest initiative to combat its pervasive sexual violence problem.
The Delhi police force recently introduced an all-female motorcycle squad to help tackle gender-based violence in India’s most populous city, the New York Times reported.
In recent years, the Indian government has improved its anti-rape and child marriage laws and has mandated gender sensitivity classes for drivers in Delhi — but it still has a long way to go to protect women and girls.
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The police hope the new squad will not only help address the need for more law enforcement officers in bustling Delhi, but also will also make women feel more comfortable to report incidents, according to the Guardian.
The number of rapes recorded in 2016 in New Delhi alone — more than 2,150 — was 67% higher than figures from 2012 based on police data.
But, ironically, this might be a sign of progress. A recent Human Rights Watch report found an increased willingness among women to report incidences of sexual violence.
The police force’s new squad — called Raftaar, meaning speed — plans to make themselves available in areas where young women tend to be concentrated, like universities, the Guardian reported. Equipped with guns, pepper spray, and body cameras, Raftaar’s 600 officers will also patrol crowded areas — where sexual harassment is common, according to the New York Times.
Read more: Despite India’s Anti-Rape Laws, Sexual Assault Is Still a Major Problem
Because the officers will be mounted on motorcycles “they will zip through narrow lanes...they will have a faster response time than patrol vans,” Dependra Pathak, the Delhi police’s chief spokesman, told the Guardian.
However, critics are skeptical the squad will have much effect.
Many women told Human Rights Watch they were harassed and shamed by law enforcement officers when they sought to make reports or that their cases were mishandled, which discouraged them from ultimately filing reports. In its report, the rights organization recommended gender sensitivity and sexual violence training for all law enforcement and medical officials that would handle such cases.Embed from Getty Images
Critics of the Raftaar initiative agree, arguing that the police should focus their efforts on improving the management of reports of sexual violence.
“Crimes are rising because of poor law enforcement. Criminals know they can get away with it because police investigations are so shoddy that hardly anyone is convicted in the courts,” Ravi Kant, the president of the human rights organization Shakti Vahini, told the Guardian. “We need a holistic action plan, not this kind of reaction,” he said.
Read more: India Rules Sex With a Child Bride Is Always Rape in a Massive Win for Girls’ Rights
But a comprehensive and holistic plan could be on the horizon. The New Delhi police commissioner is scheduled to present his full plan and strategy for combatting crimes against women to the city’s high court next month, according to the Guardian.
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