For its women, India must embrace science in policing

In an opinion piece in the Hindustan Times, Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) South Asia research manager, Suddhasatwa Bhattacharya, illustrates how a randomized evaluation and long-term partnership with the Madhya Pradesh police department helped uncover the effectiveness of a policy to set up special help desks where women can report crimes privately and safely. The desks, known as Urgent Relief and Just Action (URJA), underwent rigorous evaluation by the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab in 2019 and were found to lead to an increase in cases of gender-based violence, especially when they were staffed by female officers. Following these promising results, URJA was scaled up from 180 police stations in 2019 to 700 police stations in 2021, aided by funding from the Ministry of Home Affairs.


One of the most critical components of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 16--Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions is women’s access to justice. This can be difficult in a country like India where women often face discrimination and barriers to justice seem pervasive, a problem exacerbated by the low numbers of women police officers. There has been a big push from the Indian government in recent years to create a policing system that is sensitive to the needs of women. Scientific evidence can be a powerful tool to this end.

India recorded an estimated 51 complaints of crimes against women every hour in 2022, as per the National Crimes Records Bureau. The actual number is likely to be much higher because women often hesitate to report crimes against them, in part because of social stigma.

For over two decades, India’s ministry of home affairs has called for special measures to curb crimes against women (CAW). Over the last few years, India’s federal and state governments have also introduced a reservation system for women in the police force, set up special helplines as well as all-women police stations. Their utility continues to be a subject of intense debate.

Hindustan Times