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India: Moral policing in Bhopal spreads fear

Monday 27 January 2014, by siawi3

by Pheroze L. Vincent

Source: The Hindu | BHOPAL, January 23, 2014

The Bhopal Police’s Nirbhaya Women’s Patrol is under the scanner for moral policing. The team is named after the December 16 gang-rape victim’s pseudonym.

The six-member police unit consists of an SUV with a male driver and four women constables led by Sub-Inspector Namita Sahu, an officer who has previously dealt with crimes against women in Jabalpur.

Raised a month ago, the unit which reports directly to Bhopal’s Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG), has become the city’s most feared law enforcement detachment. It is common to see youth flee on seeing the Nirbhaya vehicle arrive at colleges and tourist spots in the city.

In raids on bus stops, women’s colleges and tourist spots, for which local TV channels are invited; Sahu metes out instant justice to couples and even women unaccompanied by men.

They are forced to do sit-ups and are reported to their parents and educational institutions. Women with scarves covering their faces are compelled to take them off.

In a raid beside the city’s Upper Lake on Thursday, Sahu apprehended two women passing by and paraded them before camerapersons.

“Their faces were covered and they were wearing fashionable clothes, so we caught them and found college uniforms and make up kits in their two wheelers. They were students who were bunking class. We reported them to their parents and the college,†Sahu said.

A public servant said he saw the team assaulting a couple near Raisen Road on Sunday. “I was there with my family at around 3.30 p.m. in Sehatganj. Suddenly people started running saying that the Nirbhaya jeep has come. A couple sitting beside us was dragged to the jeep by three officers in plainclothes who repeatedly slapped the boy. The girl was also slapped twice.â€

Speaking to The Hindu, DIG (Bhopal) D. Sreenivasa Varma said over zealousness and moral policing will not be tolerated. “We have also got a lot of positive feedback for action taken against molesters in buses and eve-teasers. Calling the media for children bunking class was wrong... They (Nirbhaya Team) need more sensitisation.â€

Mr. Varma added that quarterly statistics on the team’s performance would be available in April. Recently, State Home Minister Babulal Gaur had held talks with the Chennai Police, where a woman’s policing initiative which includes counselling and legal aid has been implemented.

Mr. Varma said the Nirbhaya patrol was purely a policing operation which is under evaluation before any decision can be taken on a state-wide initiative.

Despite her tough measures, Ms. Sahu is a popular officer with almost 32,000 mostly male followers on Facebook. She regularly posts news of her operations and is considered media savvy. She could not be contacted for comments.