Dealing With Law Enforcements As A Woman in India

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The Indian Constitution ensures its citizens with certain rights to protect them from being a puppet of law enforcement agencies. However, most often victims of crimes are not aware of their legal entitlements, especially women. Our country has become the ground for physical and sexual violence against women. Unfortunately, sometimes these crimes are done at the hands of the police.

Awareness is protection and to safeguard our female readers, we are providing some insights on their rights when dealing with law enforcement agencies.

What to do if you are being questioned?

Here are a few things that need to be kept in mind when faced with the law.

  • A woman cannot be arrested in the absence of a woman constable.
  • Even if a lady police constable is present, women cannot be detained after sunset or before sunrise. This can only be done if a prior written permission from a first-class magistrate is presented by the police. In such case too, a woman constable has to be with the team.
  • If arrested, a woman cannot be locked in the same prison cell as male inmates. In case there is no separate prison cell available, the woman will be housed in a separate room guarded by female police constable/officer.
  • Even at the time of interrogation, it is mandatory for a woman police officer to be in the room.
  • Women witnesses/victims cannot be called to the police station for questioning or giving statements. Indian laws allow women to be interrogated at their homes, and their presence cannot be ordered at any other place for questioning. Here too, a woman will only give her statement in presence of a woman constable and family.
  • Women have the right to deny being searched by a male officer. Only a lady constable or police office can touch a woman, even if she is a criminal. If a male officer still searches a woman, she can press sexual harassment charges against him.
  • In case of medical examination, a female arrestee or any other, has the right to be tested by a female doctor only, that too in presence of a policewoman.
  • The police can only arrest a pregnant woman when there is no other way. They are responsible for both the safety of woman and the baby. The pregnant arrestee is entitled for all pre and post natal treatments and the police officers have to take care of all the necessary medical procedures. A laboring pregnant woman in any case cannot be arrested.

What to do if a police officer does not abide by above laws?

There can be instances when a woman has to deal with rowdy policemen. In such case, she should calmly remind them of her rights and their duties. If they still refuse to oblige, she should file an FIR with Station House Officer (SHO). If the SHO does not file the complaint, she has the right to contact her lawyer and file a private complaint with a Magistrate. Do not forget to note down the names and designations of the offending officers.

What are your rights in case you need to report a complaint?

  • The police officers cannot say no to filing a First Information Report to a woman, even if much time has been gone by since the crime was committed.
  • Additionally, a woman has every right to ZERO FIR– a report, which can be registered at any police station, irrespective of the crime location. This right is made to nab the offender as quickly as possible, especially in case of sexual molestation. Hence, if a police officer turns a woman victim away by saying, “(the jurisdiction) doesn’t come under our area,” she can lodge a complaint against him/her as well.
  • Women have the right to report a complaint via written post or email addressed to Deputy Police Commissioner or Commissioner of Police.The head officers will then send the SHO to the residence of woman to take her statement.

Your rights as female survivor of sexual abuse when dealing with police

  • If a woman reports a rape incident, she has the right to demand a lawyer free of cost, which would be arranged by the SHO.
  • A rape victim has the right to record her statement in private in presence of a female constable or officer. The same follows in case of trial procedure where she could give her statement directly to district magistrate, with no one present, if demanded by her.
  • The victim of sexual assault always has the right to privacy and her identity cannot be revealed by police or the media person. In case, either of two reveals her identity, the person would be punishable by law. Even in the legal documents during court proceedings, her name is documented as “victim”.  

Medical Examination in case of Rape

  • A rape survivor could go to a doctor before filing an FIR at police station. The hospitals could not deny the medical examination even if a criminal report has not been lodged. This law came in 2002; previously, by the time medical tests used to take place, crucial evidences would disappear from the victim’s body parts.
  • In case the victims chose to reach out to police authorities first, medical tests should be done within 24 hours by a female practitioner, with the consent of the victim.
  • No medical tests could be done without the consent of a victim and in case of minor, without the consent of her guardian. A rape victim could not be forced to undergo medical examinations even by the court if she denies it. The same also goes for police enquiries; if the victim does not want to go forward with legal proceedings, no doctor or hospital authority could force her to do so.
  • Even if the medical practitioner concludes that rape has not taken place, the FIR filed by the victim will still remain valid. No police officer could coerce her to take the FIR back based on medical reports as whether sexual assault has happened or not, is the Court’s decision, and not of the hospital.

Unfortunately, most women, victim or criminal, are not aware of their legal rights, and fall in the traps of law enforcement forces. Know this, that no one is above the law in our country; and to protect yourself from any kind of harassment, do not shy away from reaching out to a lawyer.

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