By Nita Bhalla
NEW DELHI, Nov 23 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An all-female police motorbike squad is set to take to Delhi's streets next month, a senior police official said, as reports of violence against women rise in the Indian capital.
The 'Raftaar' or 'Speed' squad of 600 policewomen will ride in pairs through the streets on state-of-art motorbikes, equipped with guns, pepper sprays and body cameras.
"Basically it is a robust street criminal containment strategy," Delhi police spokesman Dependra Pathak told the Hindustan Times.
"There will be a specifically designed helmets with ear-pieces. The pillion will carry a weapon like an AK-47 rifle and the rider carrying a 9 mm pistol ... They will have all the accessories to make them effective on the ground."
Women and girls in India face multiple threats - from rape, abduction and murder over dowry to sexual harassment, acid attacks and child marriage.
An October poll by the Thomson Reuters Foundation found Delhi, along with Brazil's Sao Paulo, was the world's worst megacity for sex crimes against women, earning it the unsavoury title of India's "rape capital".
Reports of violence against women in Delhi have almost doubled since 2012, with 11,588 crimes, such as kidnapping and assault, recorded up to Nov. 15 this year, police data shows.
Public awareness of violence against women in Delhi, particularly sex attacks, has surged since the fatal gang-rape of a 23-year-old student on a bus in December 2012.
The case triggered a wave of public protests across the country, throwing a global spotlight on gender violence in the world's second most populous nation.
Indian authorities enacted stricter punishments for gender crimes, and set up a 24-hour women's helpline, fast-track courts for rape cases and a fund to finance crisis centres for victims.
Women's desks in many of Delhi's police stations have been established, thousands of police received gender sensitisation classes, and Delhi has more patrols, surveillance and checkpoints at night.
But research by Human Rights Watch (HRW) this month found that India's criminal justice system continues to fail victims.
HRW said survivors of sex crimes often suffered humiliation at police stations and hospitals, police were frequently unwilling to register their complaints and victims and witnesses received little protection.
"While it is important to have a woman officer, particularly during testimony gathering in sexual violence cases, putting more women on patrol will not necessarily solve the problem," said Meenakshi Ganguly, HRW's South Asia director.
"What is needed is better training for the entire police force, so that survivors are treated with respect and dignity, that the investigation is properly done to ensure evidence-based convictions," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
(Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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