Curfew zones for women's 'protection'

Mumbai, Jan. 24: Maharashtra's police bosses are routinely coming up with brainwaves to "protect women" ' and then hastily withdrawing them after they have caused a public uproar.

On Thursday, it was Mumbai police commissioner Satyapal Singh's turn to try his hand at the job. First, a circular asked all deputy commissioners to crack down on couples hanging out in isolated spots.

"This", the circular said, is "a preventive measure to ensure that girls are not victimised by miscreants who are usually present in these areas".

A police spokesperson told reporters that the couples would first be asked to leave. If they don't, they would be arrested under the Bombay Police Act of 1951, which is replete with fulminations against "indecent" conduct, "public nuisance" and like transgressions.

Within hours, as reporters and netizens began asking why the possible victims of gender crimes should themselves be at the receiving end of the law, Singh apparently received a call from the chief minister's office.

By early evening, a police statement said the circular had been withdrawn and, "instead, the police will increase patrolling at the isolated spots to protect women".

The germ of Singh's idea was apparently born 10 days ago.

"Maharashtra had emerged as the state with the lowest conviction rate in crimes against women. The Union law minister was due to visit Mumbai on January 23 to address the matter with the chief minister," a top police source told The Telegraph.

"Pressure was building and the police needed to put forward a plan so they could be seen as a proactive force. The idea of the circular emerged at a meeting of the police brass, presided over by Singh, on January 14."

The circular stated that "in the backdrop of the Delhi rape incident, if something happened in Mumbai, residents would start feeling insecure and it will lead to dharna, andolan and morcha, which will create a law-and-order situation".

Earlier, on December 20, K.P. Raghuvanshi, onetime head of Mumbai police's anti-terrorist squad and current boss of Thane police, had come up with his own idea to make women feel safe. "Women should not travel at night," he suggested.

Sure enough, Thane police's anti-harassment squad, the Ched-chad Virodhi Pathak, went into an overdrive booking young, unmarried couples out on the streets after dark for "causing public nuisance".

Last month, police in the Kalyan-Dombivli area of Greater Mumbai too began stopping couples and lecturing them on the benefits of staying indoors at night. Over 90 people ' mostly couples ' were fined Rs 1,200 each. It stopped after a public outcry.

Pulled up by the government, Raghuvanshi did a turnaround on January 17 and announced an inquiry to fix responsibility on cops for wrongful enforcement of laws and promised a workshop on gender sensitisation for the force's rank and file.

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