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Expert Opinion: Maharashtra's New Guidelines For Sensitive Handling Of Crimes Against Women & Children

The Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of Maharashtra, has issued a set of guidelines for procedures to be followed by the police for sensitive handling of cases related to crimes against women and children - especially that of sexual assault. The guidelines are a list of 10 steps to better prepare the police force for sensitive handling of crimes against women and children. It is addressed not only to all unit commanders of police jurisdictions across Maharashtra, but also to the concerned wing of the Women and Child Development department of the state government. Boldsky reached out to Advocate Subhankar Chakraborty for comment.

What triggered the issuance of the guidelines?

The guidelines came a month after the case of kidnapping and repeated sexual assault of a minor in Palghar came to light. The case became significant because the victim's pregnancy could not be terminated due to delay in producing her before the authorities.

"The medical examination of the girl revealed that she was more than 23 weeks pregnant... In spite of this, the investigating officer of the case failed to produce the girl before the concerned Women and Child Welfare Committee within 24 hours of the examination, as per the...procedure under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences [POCSO] Act, 2012. The girl was produced before the committee 45 days later, when she was 30 weeks pregnant. Because of this delay, her pregnancy could not be terminated," the notification states.

While it is sad that it took an unfortunate event like this to make a change in the way crimes against women are handled by the police, it is important to note that mishandling of sexual assault cases due to negligence or bias on part of the police is quite common in India.

Delays in medical examination, paper pushing and general bias are the usual culprits. For instance, a 17-year-old minor from Punjab, who had been gang-raped in 2012, died by suicide after police officers tried to persuade her to drop the case and get married to one of her rapists.

How unsafe is India for women?

Dowry deaths, honour killing, witchcraft-related murders, female infanticide and sex-selective abortion, rape, acid attack, human trafficking and forced prostitution, and domestic violence are just a partial list of crimes against women in India.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau's (NCRB) annual Crime in India Report, 2017, Uttar Pradesh ranks the highest in the number of crimes against women. It is followed by Maharashtra and West Bengal. The alarming numbers can be found here [1].

Georgetown University's Institute for Women, Peace and Security (GIWPS) released its second report on Women, Peace, and Security Index in 2020. India ranked at 133 out of 167 countries with an index score of 0.625. Read the report here [2].

Finally, there's data from the United Nations on violence against women in India that can be found here [3].

What are the new guidelines issued by the Maharashtra government?

As per the state government's resolution issued on January 4, 2022, police are asked to report all cases of sexual crimes against children under POCSO to the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) or a special juvenile court within 24 hours. The government believes that this might help to sidestep the attitude of bias against survivors that the police force is reported to have. The guidelines also advise the involvement of experts, or individuals from NGOs, or the Women and Child Welfare Committee in conducting training sessions for the police.

Moreover, every police station in the state is directed to designate an officer to perform the duties of Child Welfare Officer. The concerned police officials would be responsible for making the victims and their family members aware of the state government's different schemes to help victims of crimes.

Manodhairya Scheme

Under the Manodhairya scheme, the Maharashtra government rehabilitates rape and acid attack victims and helps them overcome the psychological trauma they faced. Advocate Subhankar Chakraborty, Partner at A. N. Dawn, Advocates and Solicitors, shed light on the Manodhairya Scheme: "The Manodhairya Scheme emphasises upon the financial, medical, legal aid and sheltering of victims of rape, sexual abuse, acid attacks and child abuse, and helps them to come out of the psychological shock they suffer. There are provisions of financial aids which vary from case to case with instances of aid of Rs.10 lakh in special cases. Their rehabilitation varies by way of education, counselling, medical and legal support."

The new guidelines further state that to make the investigation easier for the survivors, two important guidelines must be followed: first, statements from survivors must be recorded in their mother tongue; second, where the victim is a minor, recording of statements must be conducted in the presence of her guardians.

The state police academy and other police training centres are also asked to teach the essential provisions of The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POSCO act) to officers.

"Regular workshops and sensitivity training sessions should be conducted to train them and refresh their training in these legislations. To conduct such sessions, they should seek help from Women and Children Welfare Committees, NGOs, etc.," the guidelines said.

How necessary was this legislation and how far will it help?

On this, Advocate Chakraborty opined, "The scheme has been revised upon the direction of the Hon'ble High Court at Bombay and would definitely benefit the society at large if properly implemented."

Let's us hope that proper implementation takes place and incidents like the Palghar case are not repeated.

For women in distress or facing harassment, help available in India at the following helpline numbers:

Central Social Welfare Board - Police Helpline: 1091/ 1291, (011) 23317004; Shakti Shalini- women's shelter: (011) 24373736/ 24373737; All India Women's Conference: 10921/ (011) 23389680; Joint Women's Programme: (011) 24619821; Sakshi- violence intervention center: (0124) 2562336/ 5018873; Nirmal Niketan (011) 27859158; JAGORI (011) 26692700; Nari Raksha Samiti: (011) 23973949; RAHI Recovering and Healing from Incest. A support centre for women survivors of child sexual abuse: (011) 26238466/ 26224042, 26227647.

Illustration by Freepik.