The police in India are in many ways the worst face of the state; a ubiquitous, disquieting presence, as anyone who has had any police business can testify. A heritage of colonial rule—a force designed to keep the natives under check with sweeping powers at its command—the police haven’t quite made the transition to a modern, friendly force that serves people. These tendencies are especially heightened when they deal with the most vulnerable sections of society, the poor, women, and marginalised communities.
Our cover story this month shines a light on another aspect of police impunity: sexual assault and harassment of women in the force. Alia Allana’s investigation, “The police rapes” shows how rampant sexual abuse is, how the male-dominated force tries to silence victims, how it turns against its own. It also highlights “male culture” in the police, an attitude that treats women as lesser professionals, rarely given equal opportunities. It doesn’t help that women make up just around five per cent of the police force and that more of than 90 per cent of them are a part of the constabulary, the lowest rung with the least authority.
Legal and societal recognition of the rights of transgender and other sexual minorities to a position of being at par with others is still a long way ahead. While a lot has been done mainly as a result of a few enlightened judgments and sustained activism, the battles are many and the victories small. Even within the transgender community, there are many divisions and hierarchies, and some are better off than the others.
The transmen, people born female but who consider their gender identity to be male—a minority among sexual minorities—are among the most deprived. Not only is the female-to-male transition psychologically and physically most complex, it has to be done in an environment where support systems are rudimentary, and social norms oppressive. Nandini Krishnan profiles the transmen community (“To be a man”), an in-depth look at an overlooked people.
The Ides of March will come early in India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charisma and power are in balance, particularly in Uttar Pradesh, a state that paved the way for BJP to Delhi in 2014. While a state election is not a parliamentary poll—even though the BJP has made it one by pitching Modi and no one else—which way UP goes will shape the narrative for 2019. Whatever else may have changed, the political hawa continues to blow from UP.