Preetha was followed by three young men as she walked home. From behind, they made loud comments on her looks. Occasionally they would walk up to her and brush against her or blow into her hair, before retreating a few yards. Hoping to evade her tormentors, Preetha left the foot-path and blindly stepped into the busy main road. She was hit by a large white van and died on the spot.
“Kerala roads most unsafe for women” a newspaper headline screamed. “Eve-teasing rife in Kerala” another headline shouted. “Kerala has the worst record for eve-teasing in India”, a third one declared. The Home Minister grimly went through the news reports as he ate breakfast. His wife was yet to wake up. He rarely saw his seventeen year old son who spent most of his waking hours with his friends. That afternoon, the Home Minister presided over a meeting of various police officers. ‘Something needs to be done’, he told them. ‘Otherwise the bloody newspapers will say I am useless.’
‘I plan to increase the number of foot patrols,’ the Inspector General of Police, or IG as he was known, told the Home Minister.
‘As if that will satisfy those press vultures!’
A bright young officer who had recently joined the Indian Police Service wanted a new approach. ‘Sir, I think we should change the terminology we use. Eve-teasing sounds too frivolous. Sexual harassment is the phrase universally used to describe this type of behaviour.’
‘What’s in a name?’ a senior police officer said in a flippant manner.
‘Or in a phrase,’ another added jovially.
A grizzled veteran spoke up. ‘Sir, why don’t we send out a few policewomen as decoys, catch some of these eve-teasers and make an example out of them?’
‘That’s a brilliant idea,’ the IG said adopting his subordinate’s idea as his own. ‘We send out a lone policewoman in civil dress. An unmarked police car tails her and records everything. A few policemen follow at a safe distance. Once we’ve recorded enough evidence, we catch the culprits red-handed.’
‘And after we catch them, we take them to the police station and thrash the shit out of them. And lock them up for a few days.’ The Home Minister liked the idea.
‘Oh No! We must do things by the book or we’ll end up with negative publicity. It’ll be up to the courts to award appropriate punishment. We’ll have enough evidence anyway.’
‘I don’t trust the courts to deliver justice. In any event, nothing will prevent me from announcing the names of the culprits we catch at a news conference.’
‘I’m sure that will be alright,’ the IG agreed.
The finer points of the scheme were soon ironed out. A few days later, a young policeman woman wearing a silk saree and carrying a leather handbag ambled along a busy thoroughfare in Thiruvananthapuram. The Home Minister anxiously waited in his office for the results of this audacious experiment. If successful, it would be rolled out in other cities in Kerala.
Finally his phone rang.
‘What happened?’ he demanded.
‘Sir, we have caught four college students in the act.’ For some reason, the police officer at the other end did not sound very enthusiastic.
‘Splendid! I hope you have them in your safe custody. Fax me their names, the names of their parents, details of the colleges where they are studying and I’ll organise the press conference.’
‘Sir, this time I feel we should let these boys off with just a warning.’
‘Like hell we’ll do that.’
‘Well Sir, one of the boys claims he is your son. And we think that he may be speaking the truth.’