Most women would be a trifle intimidated when making a police complaint. Here’s an insight into what you should do if the need arises.
Mr. Mukharji, a retired IPS officer states that most important thing for women nowadays is to educate themselves about the Law and their legal rights. He feels that this self education starts at a very basic level where a woman should be (at the very least) aware of the name and location of the police station closest to her.
“We’re talking about safety here. There should be a level of awareness. Everyone should know everything. Make yourself aware of what your rights are. This is something basic. As you would educate yourself about a hospital, in the same manner, educate yourself about the police station.”
Once you have done this, you will need to familiarize yourself with the kinds of police complaints that you can make – these can vary. They might relate to cognisable offences such as chain-snatching, vehicular assaults, a theft in the house, physical assault, molestation, rape, dowry harassment or an attempt to murder. Quite simply put, the police have to take cognisance of the offence and it has to be investigated. An FIR (First Information Report) has to be registered by the police in these cases.
A non congnisable offence is one where the police cannot register an FIR nor investigate the offence unless directions are given by a court of law. No fees need to be paid in order to lodge these complaints. A free copy of the FIR is given to the complainant after formalities have been completed. Women who are subjected to domestic violence can approach the Domestic Violence Cell in the Collectorates.
One of the most important points to keep in mind while making a police complaint is that you must give an accurate account of what has happened. “Do not give a tepid or half baked statement – give the facts” is how Mr. Mukharji sums it up.
However, Legal Activist and Social Worker Assunta Parde says, “There are times when the police do not put the actual facts down while registering the complaint.” She advises taking a written complaint along to avoid this happening and also to double check the information you have given the police before signing for your copy of the same.
It is imperative to note that a police station cannot refuse to take your complaint or send you away to another one saying that you do not come under their jurisdiction. “The FIR can be registered under the “Zero” number and it will then be transferred to the relevant police station” is what Sheela Adyanthaya, a Pune based lawyer who deals in Civil, Criminal and Family matters, says.
If the concerned authority still refuses to do so, then the woman can post the complaint by Registered Post or ask to meet the next in command. Online complaints can be filed too. You can go a step further and contact the National Commission of Women as well.
“The establishment of ‘All Women Police Stations’ has provided a platform where women can air their grievances without having to go through the trauma of discussing their personal and sensitive issues with men. However, a general impression that justice has to be procured by paying a price deters many women from approaching the police. Hopefully, with time this impression will go and women will be able to approach the police without fear and hesitation” is how *Ms. Gayatri Nagpal (an Inspector in Chennai) puts it. Most police stations now have a ‘Women’s Cell’ and talking to a female inspector while making a police complaint is bound to make you feel more comfortable.
Assunta states that there have also been incidents where the police have harassed women who went to make a police complaint. She herself fell victim to this and was kept in the police station past midnight. Her advice is not to let this deter you from making a complaint and if you are being harassed during the procedure, to take it to the higher authorities.
Mr. Mukharji suggests taking a friend or family member along to help avoid this as well. “You can take anybody – a lawyer does not have to be there” – is what Sheela says. There is no particular time where you cannot visit the police station to lodge a complaint (although women cannot be arrested after sunset and before sunrise).
Do bear in mind however that time is of essence when it comes to making the police complaint. Do not delay in lodging it and go and place it as soon as possible after the incident. A delay could go against you later and portray you as someone who was not serious about what had happened. If you feel you are being stalked or an incident of harassment takes places and you feel it is serious enough – do report it.
Ms. Nagpal also echoes this view and states that “Young women often hide from their parents incidents of stalking or ‘eve-teasing’ by boys. This only spurs on the stalker and makes him bold which could result in unpleasant incidents such as acid-attacks or other forms of physical assault.” Mr. Mukharji cites the recent example of the ‘Swati’ case in Chennai as an example of this.
*Nidhi Sharma, who was (repeatedly) physically assaulted by her husband, went to make a police complaint when he broke her arm. She felt too embarrassed and shocked to do so earlier but states that in hindsight, it is important to do this. “Every police station will register a first complaint of domestic violence. It also sends out a message to an abuser that you are serious about not keeping quiet.”
She further adds that the police were most helpful and when she was threatened again and approached them again, she was reassured of their help and even given the ACP’s personal cell number to call if she needed protection.
Yes, it can be daunting to walk into a police station to lodge a complaint. However, take heart from these lines from Mr. Mukharji – “Do not feel subservient to the police. They are the custodians of the law, they are duty bound to act on your complaint.”
*names changed on request