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Data says India’s safest city for women is Coimbatore. But is it really?

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Official data says the city in Tamil Nadu didn’t have a single case of rape in all of 2016. That may be too good to be true. 

New Delhi: If statistics are to be believed, Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu was India’s safest city for women in 2016. Official data says that in 2016 not a single case of rape, domestic violence, acid attack, stalking, or demand for dowry was recorded in the entire city.

The city has a good record when it comes to crimes against women. There were only two cases of rape registered in the city in 2015. That record improved in 2016. The city had no cases being filed in seven categories of crimes against women.

Based on NCRB data, 2016

Coimbatore’s Deputy Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) S. Lakshmi says these statistics are the result of effective interventions in preventing and controlling crimes. The police also has an initiative called ‘Operation Zero Crime’.

“We advise parents to devote more time in teaching their child values of respect from a young age. We also have a WhatsApp complaint group, an emergency helpline number for women, and send out regular patrol groups,” Lakshmi told ThePrint in a telephonic interview.

She said that police stations in Coimbatore still receive a lot of petitions pertaining to issues like domestic violence, dowry, sexual harassment and infidelity. But these complaints don’t necessarily end up becoming cases.

“We sort out problems at the petitions level, through counselling and it works out. It’s good if they (women’s associations, family counselling centres) resolve the issues then we will have less work. Even in the counselling we provide, we don’t do it entirely ourselves, we involve NGOs. Women officers are very effective and dedicated here,” Lakshmi said.

But a women’s rights activist from Coimbatore said it’s not the police initiatives that have resulted in such stellar statistics.

“We help women take cases to court and receive justice. Some do not want to go to the police, and only in those cases we try to resolve the issues ourselves. Even those who want to go to the police fail to file the case, because the police is not co-operative,” says A. Radhika, the secretary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association’ in Coimbatore district.

Radhika said that they received almost four cases a day and points to the flaw in cases being ‘resolved’.

“Only through legal action, true justice will be served. By resolving it ourselves, no one will be warned, so the crime will occur again obviously,” she said.

There may be cultural factors that are also influencing the women’s reluctance to file cases, says Dr. Sampath Kumar, the head of the Sociology Department at Bharathiyar University in Coimbatore.

“The city is not completely metropolitan yet, and the movement of people is largely within the district, so tradition and culture are maintained. Though some crimes against women occur, generally people don’t approach the police because there is immense societal pressure, which makes people very conscious of their reputations,” Kumar said.

The head of a Chennai-based organisation working against gender violence said that it was likely that cases of crimes against women were being registered under other sections.

“My suspicion would be that it’s not been reported, or it’s been registered under another kind of crime. We use these (NCRB) numbers in our reports to a point for advocacy, but does it completely capture the reality on the ground? I don’t think so,” says Swarna Rajgopalan, managing trustee of Prajnya Trust.

Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Women’s Progressive Association (AIPWA) in Delhi, said there may be an investigation needed into the functioning of the city’s police.

“It doesn’t appear credible at all that there can be no cases. No matter how much community resolution you have,” Krishnan says.

However, DCP Lakshmi said that those making the allegations against the police were unfounded.

“Let those bringing allegations be specific. I can’t accept generalised statements. POCSO and violent cases we register in an all women police station immediately,” she said.

“We receive a lot of inter-caste cases in which women complain of being threatened by their families. It’s cases like these, that deal with family issues, that we try and resolve through counselling,” the police official said.

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