Amid a String of Rapes, Delhi Police Release Whimsical Ads

India's authorities are focusing on trivial safety issues while ignoring the abuse of women and girls.
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An activist image mocking India's police, posted on an anti-corruption Facebook page.

Earlier this month, on the same day as the horrifying news on the front page of a national newspaper, the Hindustan Times, about a 5-year-old who had been brutally raped, there was something puzzling on page 3. It was an advertisement from the Delhi Police (DP). It showed a graphic of a happy human talking on a mobile phone and crossing the road on a crosswalk. The caption said in bold print, "Talking while crossing is a bad idea." Then, in a smaller font it advised, "Avoid talking on the phone while crossing the road. It could lead to accidents." There were several other similar ads scattered through the paper that day from the DP, speaking of equally innocuous non-issues.

What's the DP's motive behind these ads? Maybe they feel if they focus on fixing the little things, the bigger problems -- like the daily violent rapes -- will solve themselves. Or perhaps they are trying to distract us; by pointing to the minor scratch on the pinkie toe, they hope we will forget that the rest of the patient is having a heart attack. Or it could be that they are just clueless. They're whistling with their finger plugged in the hole in the dyke, while the water is rising up around their legs.

The police reaction seems similar to Nero fiddling while Rome burned. In fact, that whole incident seems to have given "fiddling" a bad name - as though it's just a waste of time. "Stop fiddling around," we say, "and get to work." But one day soon Delhi residents may be saying "Stop DP-ing around and get to work."

The DP seem way out of their depth, making their slogan "With you, for you, always" a farce. Either they don't understand the gravity of the situation, or they just don't care about the repeated cases of violence against women and children. They are slow to respond, make it difficult for rape victims, and often hinder the reporting process. There have also been stories of victims being further abused at the police station. Even women protesting the rapes have been harassed by police and are now reticent to join the crowds outside the hospital where the 5-year-old is being treated.

The DP, however, seem surprised and confused at the anger of the public. The DP Commissioner Neeraj Kumar said that he is "absolutely satisfied with the performance of the Delhi Police." At first thought, the comment seems ludicrous. On second thought, he may well be speaking the truth; maybe he has abysmally low standards. Perhaps he genuinely is satisfied at their inefficiency, apathy, and lack of morals.

Admitting the need to change is the well-known first step on the path to change, but so far the DP has been quiet on that front. They seem complacent about their bad behavior, don't bother to set a good example for the public, and put out cute little ads supposedly for our well-being.

However, before the Delhi Police try to change others, they will have to change themselves. Fighting violence against women and children needs to take a war footing. What they are doing now is obviously not working. Perhaps they can learn from other success stories, like how New York City in the 1970s was changed from a crime capital to a livable city. They could also have less police protecting the elites and more on the streets protecting the people. News about VIPs being attacked is rare to non-existent, while there are several articles each day about crimes against women and children. Then, having shown some tangible improvements on the ground, the DP can campaign to regain the public's trust - a campaign not focused on trivialities, but on the many real issues Delhiites face. "With you, for you"? Prove it. "Always"? Even most of the time would be a nice.

In the meantime, if the Delhi Police insist on continuing with these ads, there are two captions that may at least serve as more useful warnings in the city's current scenario:

1. Being a woman is a bad idea.

2. Being a girl is a worse idea.

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Ranjani Iyer Mohanty is a writer and editor based in India. Her articles have appeared in The International Herald TribuneThe New York TimesThe Christian Science Monitor, and The Wall Street Journal.

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