Female commandos to patrol streets of India’s ‘rape capital’

An Indian Aam Admi Party (AAP) activist holds posters during a rally to protest against the gangrape and murder of a teenager in Kolkata on January 5, 2014. DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images


New Delhi — The new leaders of India’s “rape capital” Delhi are planning to recruit a female commando force to patrol the streets and boost safety for women.

Rakhi Birla, the city’s new women and child welfare minister, said she was planning to recruit ex-military personnel and experts in martial arts, to train female volunteers to walk the capital’s streets.

Insecurity and fear of rape has increased since the gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old student on a Delhi bus just over a year ago. The brutality of the attack provoked demonstrations throughout India and forced the government to introduce new laws and tougher sentences for rape and sexual assaults.

But despite widespread outrage and the threat of faster trials, reported rapes in Delhi have doubled in the past year, from 706 in 2012 to 1,330 in the first 10 months of 2013.

The number of sexual assaults increased from just over 700 in 2012 to 2,844 last year.

Ms Birla, who was appointed after her anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party beat the ruling Congress into third place in Delhi state government elections last month, believes an all-female commando force will make the streets safer.

“There are lots of flaws in our system,” she told The Times of India. “Many corrective measures need to be taken to make public transportation at night safe for women. We are starting with an all-women commando force.

An Indian Aam Admi Party (AAP) activist holds posters during a rally to protest against the gangrape and murder of a teenager in Kolkata on January 5, 2014. DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images

“Several ex-army men and martial art instructors have been roped in to train women. Interestingly, more than men, women are coming forward to get trained, which is a positive sign. They will be trained in tae kwon do and then deployed on several stretches at night.”

Ms Birla also plans to recruit 5,000 female rickshaw drivers to help make women feel less threatened at night.

However, her proposals have been questioned by women’s rights campaigners, who said they were well-intentioned but would create a parallel force without the support of Delhi’s police.

“We need to bring more women into Delhi police, not a parallel force. It would better to strengthen the existing police force and demand that it comes under the control of the Delhi government,” said Ranjana Kumari of the Centre for Social Research.

Following the outcry after the Delhi gang-rape, the capital’s then chief minister Sheila Dikshit complained that her state government had no control over the police, which comes under the central government’s home ministry.

“The Delhi police won’t care about the commando force because they will still be under the home ministry. What authority will the force have,” Ms Kumari said.

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