EARLIER THIS week, Chandigarh MP Kirron Kher said she wished the 22-year-old gangrape victim had taken the pick and drop facility offered by Chandigarh Police to women in distress. The facility was introduced in July this year. But, apart from the question of what the definition of a woman in distress is, Chandigarh residents said the police, instead of fighting crime, stood the risk of turning into a cab service or provider of public transport.
The police say “a woman in distress” or whose car or scooter has broken down, can dial the women’s helpline number 1091 or Chandigarh Police control room numbers — 100, 2749194 — to ask for a pick-up and drop to her destination.
A police officer with the PCR wing said, “Initially, we were offering the facility between 11 pm and 5 am. Subsequently, we extended the timing from 10 pm to 5 am. We have deputed six PCR vehicles with two women police constables in each vehicle along with a driver for this purpose. Two PCR vehicles were deputed in all three subdivisions, including central, south and east divisions of Chandigarh Police.”
The police said there had been only 11 “women in distress” who called the police for a ride home. They did not provide details of who these women were and what was the situation they faced that they needed to be dropped back by the police. But an official said of the 11 women, who have called the PCR for help so far, at least three were those whose vehicles had broken down.
Kher said last week that the facility should be publicised more by the media, but road safety activist Harman Sidhu said dropping women home was not the job of Chandigarh Police. “The primary job of Chandigarh Police should be to provide a safe and secure atmosphere to women even in the late night hours. How many requests of pick and drop can six PCR vehicles attend to? Police authorities should work on strengthening the law and order situation in night hours,” Sidhu added.
Amy Singh, poet and activist who spearheaded the Bekhauf Chandigarh march earlier this year after the Varnika Kundu stalking episode, said she welcomed the facility as a remedial step but “it is not the solution”.
Punjab and Haryana High Court advocate Meenakshi Choudhary said the police should focus on getting the community to trust them. “Before starting such practices, Chandigarh Police should work on building trust among the general public. I am sure there are merely a few takers for this facility because women do not trust police,” said Choudhary, who runs a legal aid service for women.
Also, the police have no particular criterion as to who is eligible for a ride home. Can the hundreds of women who do part-time courses at night, like the woman who was gang-raped, dial a PCR for a drop because the UT dministration has failed to provide adequate public transport?
A top police officer said there was no fixed definition of distress. “We respond to any woman who calls us. If, in the process, one or two women take advantage of the service, it is not really a problem,” he said. Also, the officer felt it was not necessary that every woman in distress has to be dropped at her doorstep. “We can ensure she gets home safely by putting her in public transport and instructing the driver to take her home,” he added.
Another police officer said what they were offering should not be mistaken for cab service. “When our PCR van responds to a call, the officer in the van judges the situation and acts accordingly.” And, a woman who is not in a position to drive does not get a ride home in the PCR van. She gets a ride to the hospital. “We have clear instructions that if any woman is found drunk, she should be taken to a hospital instead of the house. The woman will remain under the observation of medical staff and police personnel posted at the hospital until her guardians arrive,” said the officer.