Indian police target single women, couples out after dark

An anti-harassment police squad launched in a district near Mumbai is targeting single women and young couples out on the streets after dark, following a brutal gang-rape and murder in India last month.

Since the December 16 attack, 10 to 15 plainclothes policemen have been patrolling streets in Thane district, which borders Mumbai. But instead of targeting sex offenders they are fining unmarried couples out late.

"Unmarried couples and single women, who are spotted in isolated places or in corners of parks and gardens late at night, have been told not to frequent such places," local police official Ramakant Mahire said.

"When we catch them, we tell them not to frequent these places or cause nuisance in public places," he told AFP, saying the streets were now kept empty after sunset.

Mahire said the drive was launched in response to growing concerns over crime in the area and the gruesome gang-rape and murder of a female student in New Delhi last month that sent shockwaves across India.

He said couples seen behaving inappropriately were fined 1,200 rupees ($22) and occasionally their parents were called by the police.

The Times of India newspaper said on Wednesday that 95 people had been booked under the Bombay Police Act for "causing public nuisance" since the drive began, but Mahire would not confirm a number.

"Obviously if a girl is alone in a dark place late at night, boys may try to approach her. It's for their safety," he said.

Thane police commissioner K.P. Raghuvanshi was unavailable to speak to AFP, but he told the Times of India the drive was meant to protect women from harassment.

"If any policeman is found to have erred in enforcement of the rules, then we will initiate corrective and punitive action against him," he said.

Mumbai's own police commissioner Satyapal Singh has meanwhile suggested that there is a higher rate of crime against women in countries which included sex education in their curriculum, such as America.

"According to a survey, rape is more common than smoking there," he said, while taking part in a public discussion on women's safety on Monday, the Indian Express newspaper reported.

"Countries with sex education in their curriculum only have an increased number of crimes against women."

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