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December 16: negative & positive
An eye in an office room, just in case

overhead vigil

New Delhi, Dec. 15: A year into the December 16 gang rape and murder, opinion is divided whether anything has changed at all.

One year is too short for fundamental changes but a perceptible shift is a sense of caution among some men, especially those in power and who have something to lose.

An unmistakable symbol of this change is a small, egg-shaped object that peers down from the ceiling of an office on the premises of Parliament Street police station.

It is a closed-circuit television camera — installed to ensure that the occupant of the room has recorded evidence to defend himself in case “false allegations” of sexual harassment are levelled against him.

The precautionary device is a double-edged weapon — some see in it further evidence of a male mindset that believes women trump up such charges. Others feel such devices will give women the confidence to set aside their misgivings about being harassed and step into police stations to file complaints.

But the officer in question stresses that it is not mistrust of women but the prevailing “mood” that has compelled him to take the precaution.

“Many complainants meet me every day. It is better to guard against any such awkward situation or false allegations under this kind of climate and public mood,” said the officer.

The “public mood” is a reference to the lynch-mob atmosphere that set in after the savagery on December 16 and the subsequent amendments to the law.

“Now there’s a standing order to register a complaint verbatim on the basis of mere allegations and take necessary action against the accused. Earlier, we used to ask the complainant several questions to ensure it was not a false complaint. So, we need to be on our guard,” another officer said.

Officers at the same New Delhi police station are handling the nascent probe into sexual harassment charges against retired Supreme Court judge Asok Kumar Ganguly. But the installation of the camera preceded the controversy and that involving Tehelka founder Tarun Tejpal.

Some policemen from the police station had faced charges of beating up youngsters marching against the gang rape on a day violence had broken out in Delhi last year.

Several other senior police officers, who didn’t want to be quoted, told The Telegraph they too planned to install CCTV cameras in their offices as a shield against false harassment charges.

Every police station in Delhi has CCTV cameras, especially outside the lock-ups. A few are installed at the gates of the police headquarters to keep an eye on who’s coming in and going out. But such cameras at officers’ chambers appear to be a new trend or, even if they had been put in place earlier, no officer was drawing attention to them till now.

National Commission for Women member Charu Walikhanna said the trend suggested that many among the police, who would be probing any complaint of sexual harassment, had a mistrust of women. But she added the CCTVs had a positive side too.

“It does reflect the patriarchal mindset of people in power and their deep-rooted prejudice against women. They always presume that women are lying whenever they make charges against men,” Walikhanna said.

“But although they are doing it (installing CCTVs) for their own protection, it will help the safety of women. The cameras will make the officers more conscious about their behaviour with women, and thus help accountability and transparency.”

A senior officer, however, said: “I’m not saying that sexual harassment complaints by women are false; but if someone tries to misuse the law, we need some protection.”

An officer who recently arrested an MP on torture charges and busted riotous biker gangs said the precaution was not being taken keeping in mind any particular gender or allegations of sexual nature alone. Male visitors can also claim that an officer tried to manhandle them, he said.

Another officer said the charges against Tejpal and Justice Ganguly had created a “fear psychosis” among the law-enforcers too and made them think about precautionary measures such as footage.

M.S. Khan, a defence lawyer in Delhi, said CCTV footage was a permissible piece of evidence in court. “Under the new law, the accused faces immediate arrest based on the complaint. In case of false allegations, the accused can always furnish CCTV footage to corroborate his innocence,” he said.

Khan said several of his friends in private sector companies were planning to install CCTV cameras in their offices.