Words have power and the choice of words can betray salient prejudices. So when the Bihar police chief said that Rhea Chakraborty did not have the ‘aukat’ to comment on the state’s chief minister, the deconstruction that immediately followed was entirely justified. Independent of how the Sushant Singh Rajput case develops, the broader issue here is how police views and therefore treats women.

In itself aukat is a gender neutral word. It is a feudal putdown that can be used to suppress the voice of both men and women along the fault lines of caste and class. But because all the residual feudalisms in our society are firmly overlaid onto a patriarchal grid, women are doubly silenced by the quizzing of their aukat. In this particular case the word is being used against a woman who is already confronting a battery of gendered name-calling. Long before any guilt is established she has been widely labelled a gold-digging vamp who manipulates men with ‘kala jadu’. It’s a reminder of how easily even educated and professional women with many protections of privilege, can become vulnerable to viciously blatant misogyny.

For women without these protections, police can be the solitary bulwark against sexual assault and other oppressions. Instead, all too often police shows poor women the door precisely with reminders about their aukat, or lack thereof. This is obviously indefensible. Police needs to defend justice not hierarchies, so a woman can complain against even the politically powerful and expect a fair hearing.

This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.