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ARTICLE : Role of women in police
Wednesday, 19 September 2012 12:32

Role of women in police

1. Wanted: distaff power in the force

2. Enforcer as victim

3. In the line of fire in Maharashtra

4. Fighting professional battles in Kerala

Wanted: distaff power in the force

Women personnel of the Border Security Force perform the 'Beating the Retreat' ceremony on the Wagah border.

Women personnel of the Border Security Force perform the 'Beating the Retreat' ceremony on the Wagah border.

The shocking image of constable Pramila Padhi being viciously beaten by protestors in Bhubaneshwar set off a debate on the role of women in police. Will enrolment of more women reduce occupational risks and confer wider social benefits? The Centre wants to increase their numbers and has recommended that they should form a third of the force.

“With kinder eyes, we score over our Pakistani counterparts,” says the former Border Security Force Inspector General, K. Srinivasan. He was referring to an experiment conducted by the BSF in 2009 after the force met with an embarrassing situation — how does a man frisk women agricultural labourers who cross the borders of India every day to earn a living?

“So we had no other choice but to recruit women, and they were so enthusiastic about their duties that they requested to be trained for regular patrolling and night ambush,” he says.

Today, the same group of women take part in the closing ceremony at the Wagah Border, “lifting their knees right up to their elbows and are not intimidated by the hawkish eyes of the Pakistani soldiers.”

The “kinder eyes” — a phenomenon intrinsically related to values such as “sensitivity, understanding and tolerance”” is what the Acting Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court, Manjula Chellur, was referring to when she addressed the Fifth National Conference of Women in Police held at Thrissur in July. Women in police could bring about a definite change in the system, she said, addressing hundreds of policewomen of different ranks.

Of the recommendations made at the conference, the setting up of a desk to handle complaints filed by women and children and posting of at least four women in each police station in the country were concordant with a detailed advisory issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs to all State governments/Union Territories in September 2009. It said: “…for safety and security of women and control of crime against them. One of the steps suggested in the advisory is increasing the overall representation of women in police forces at all levels through affirmative action so that they constitute about 33 per cent of the police.”

An interesting example is that of 39-year-old Abita Bachan, sub-inspector and station house officer at Havelock Island in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. “Ever since I have been given independent charge, there have been an increased number of women who have come forward with their problems,” she says, “previously only men were in charge, and it was not conducive for the local women to approach them.”

Abita’s team has also been working at creating awareness of issues such as child marriage. “There was a need to find ways to handle the increasing number of cases of crime against women,” observes Arunachal Pradesh DGP Kanwaljeet Deol, instrumental in setting up the country’s first Crimes Against Women Cell in Delhi in the early 1980s.

Having access to a policewoman encourages victims to come forward with their complaints. “Gender sensitisation programme for both men and women was thus an important recommendation made at the Thrissur conference. We don’t just want women to look after problems related to women,” she says.

However, affirmative action may not be the best solution to increase the numbers of women entering the force, Ms. Deol says, quoting current statistics that show low numbers of policewomen in service — nine to 10 per cent in Tamil Nadu with other States barely touching the three-six per cent mark. “We need one-third to make a critical mass, and the best way to do this is to have an open recruitment process that makes all posts equally accessible for both men and women.”

The open recruitment process is a very good suggestion, agrees Anuradha Shankar, Inspector-General of Police, Indore Zone, adding men will have to start taking notice with more women in the force. “For a policewoman, it takes longer to gain recognition,” says this IPS officer who has been in the force for 22 years. “Even a small achievement gets lauded in the media as ‘look what a woman has done’ and suppose an investigation is taking longer, it is because we are women,” she says. “Men are given a chance to make mistakes but women are not!”

With responses to policewomen ranging between “overawed” and “how can she handle it?” senior women officers are now keen on formulating a National Policy on Women in Police. But recognition comes in strange ways, as shown by the documentary — The Women in Blue Berets — screened at the ‘Open Frame’ documentary film festival last week.

The film deals with an all-women police contingent of the Central Reserve Police Force deployed to restore peace and stability in Liberia as part of a United Nations peacekeeping mission. As one woman constable puts it: “When I am on duty, I don’t think about anything else. Nobody should look at us and think any less of us because we are women.”


Enforcer as victim

Pramila Padhy, the constable recovering from injuries suffered in the brutal attack by rioters in Bhubaneshwar. She was part of a posse that was caught unawares. File photo: Lingaraj Panda

Pramila Padhy, the constable recovering from injuries suffered in the brutal attack by rioters in Bhubaneshwar. She was part of a posse that was caught unawares

Being a policewoman is a challenging job, but girls should not shy away from joining the police force, says Pramila Padhi, the woman constable of Odisha Police who was badly beaten up by the protesters at the ‘Naveen Hatao, Odisha Bachao’ rally in Bhubaneswar on September 6.

Thirty-six-year-old Ms. Padhi is unable to use both her hands as a minor surgery has been performed on a finger in her right hand, and there are a few stitches on a wound on her left arm. Her left wrist is badly sprained.

Ms. Padhi has not suffered any internal injury, but experiences pain in her head just above the right ear. She is likely to be discharged from the hospital in a few days. She will take a few more weeks to return to work.

Recounting the traumatic moments, she says about 20 protesters assaulted her, beating her up with bamboo sticks before dragging her by her hair. “Some of the protesters tried their best to protect me and rescue me from the trouble spot,” she adds.

Along with another woman Sub-Inspector and a male police officer, she was giving cover to a woman Congress leader who had entered the crowd just before a clash broke out, and workers attempted to march towards the State Assembly.

Would she go to a similar rally if deployed in the future? Ms. Padhi says she would, to discharge her duties.

Joining the police in 1999, she has been able to deftly handle her duties as a policewoman and has enjoyed her husband’s cooperation. She and her husband, who works as a driver in a private university in Bhubaneswar, hail from Gajapati district in southern Odisha. Her only child, a 10-year-old boy, is a student in the fifth standard.

Ms. Padhi says that her tormentors should be punished according to law, but the police were yet to arrest anyone on the charge of attacking her. Video footage is being examined to identify the culprits.

In the line of fire in Maharashtra

ROUGH AND TUMBLE: A policewoman makes an arrest in Mumbai. Maharashtra is encouraging women to enrol in the police, buy they need more support for field work.

ROUGH AND TUMBLE: A policewoman makes an arrest in Mumbai. Maharashtra is encouraging women to enrol in the police, buy they need more support for field work.

In a first-of-its-kind incident that shocked everyone, a few young women police constables, on security duty at Mumbai’s Azad Maidan on August 11, were molested by rioters. The Mumbai Crime Branch, which is investigating the matter, has so far been able to identify hardly five of the attackers. None wants to talk about it openly, but only in hushed voices conveying apprehension and fear.

“Yes, there is a feeling that if something that bad can happen when we are on duty, then things don’t look very good. But there is also this perspective that such things have never happened in the history of the Mumbai Police,” a senior woman police inspector told The Hindu. Everyone terms the incident an ‘exception.’

Maharashtra is one of the largest employers of women in the force. As per 2012 data, there are over 700 women police officers and more than 14,000 women constables in the State. “We have 30 per cent reservation for women in the force. Over the past three years, the 30 per cent quota is being filled completely, but there is some backlog,” Additional Director-General of Police (Law and Order) Deven Bharti said.

Senior officers said the State government has drafted policies to encourage women to enrol. Many women personnel also attributed the big numbers to rising education levels and the tendency to enter ‘unorthodox’ fields. “The good experience of women who have already served motivates more to join,” IPS officer Aswathi Dorje said. She has herself served in naxal-affected areas.

“The police force provides many growth opportunities. Policing is now moving away from mere physical policing to more cerebral work where E.Q. [Emotional Quotient] is as important as I.Q. [Intelligence Quotient]. That is where women gain. Generally, women victims feel more comfortable with women police personnel,” said an IPS officer.

“Attracting more women has become a necessity. Crimes against women need to be addressed and sensitivity at the police station level has to increase,” Ms. Dorje said. Many women joined the force in the naxal-affected areas.

“The most important aspect is the training, sensitisation and conditioning of the women and men at entry. When women are told from the beginning that they are meant for bigger tasks and not just for bandobust, they perform well,” she said.

Meeran Borwankar, senior IPS officer and Pune Commissioner, has so far consciously deployed more women police officers and staff wherever she has worked. “I have found them sincere and sound. They make excellent teams and have a ‘no-nonsense’ approach,” she said.

“Even people’s attitude has changed over the years. Now men and women are treated on par and it is accepted that a woman can be a police officer. But the duty of a policeperson is meant for those women who really find joy in it. Otherwise, the long duty hours can get burdensome,” a woman inspector said.

Many women constables and staff in the lower rungs want to have an eight-hour working day. “There should be crèches for the children of young policepersons. We should also get one weekly off on a compulsory basis so that we are able to look after our homes,” an inspector said.

Another stressed the need for change in the attitude of male colleagues. “The young women constables should be given professional respect. It depends on the attitude of the unit in-charge. Whenever we are sent on security duty to faraway places, there are no arrangements for basic necessities like washrooms or proper shelter. The male officers need to be more sensitive,” a constable said.

“This is a male field. You have to prove yourself if you have to work with them,” said an inspector who has detected many serious crime cases over the years. “Whenever any detection is to be made, you don’t go home for days, till the case is solved. There are problems like safety during late night work and family commitments, but you have to perform,” she said.

Many women personnel express concern at growing health problems and seek a welfare committee at the Deputy Commissioner of Police level to solve them.


Fighting professional battles in Kerala

Senior Civil Police Officer N.A. Vinaya is not the typical representative of the 2,000-strong women police constabulary in Kerala.

In her 11 years of service, she has been dismissed from the force once on grounds of insubordination and “disciplined” at least 20 times for what she claims were her efforts to point out “gender disparities” in the department. (The court then ruled on her dismissal and the government reinstated her in service.)

The 38-year-old woman, who fought and won a noteworthy legal battle in 2001 to ensure that all government forms pertaining to details of parents be gender neutral, says she first faced punishment in 2002 when she demanded that policewomen also be allowed to compete alongside men in service teams representing their districts at the State police meet that year.

Subsequently, she campaigned for what she perceived as the right of policewomen to “turn out well in uniform with their shirts tucked in,” a practice which is reportedly still frowned upon by certain senior officers. Inevitably, Vinaya says her name crops up whenever the question of gender parity comes up.

Several policewomen, who spoke to The Hindu say they philosophically empathise with Vinaya’s positions, but at least a few of them seemed to disapprove of her “high profile” battles in what they feel is a “disciplined force” .


They say the issue of gender parity is often ignored in the State police.

The force has a history of law enforcement dating back to pre-colonial times and is an evolving entity that continually adapts to modern day challenges. But Kerala is yet to accord its women, who outnumber men by at least one crore as per the 2011 census, the opportunity to start their career in the police as Station House Officers.

Even those who are recruited as constables rarely get exposed to “true police work”” in the Law and Order, Intelligence, Crime Branch and Anti-corruption Wings. “We are taught to drive vehicles offensively and defensively during training. But in reality, policewomen are never allowed to drive vehicles in the line of duty,” says one.

“Our seniority in service is considered separately from men, thereby undermining our chances of promotion,” says another.

Additional Director-General of Police R. Sreelekha, argues for active deployment of women in law and order and investigative duties. She points out how two women constables walking the beat in a poor neighbourhood in Kochi in 2011 helped her bust a sex-for-money racket involving minor girls.

Ms. Sreelekha, who chaired a national conference of ‘Women in Police’ in July, also attributed the “success” of the State government’s neighbourhood watch scheme to the diligence of “relatively more empathetic” policewomen.

They successfully play arbitrator in domestic conflicts, police the streets, man help-lines, run suicide intervention programmes and assist policemen in crowd control. Many have been injured in the line of duty.

J. Sandhya, director of Human Rights Legal Network, a non-profit advocacy group that champions the cause of gender equality, moved the State Human Rights Commission in 2011, demanding better camping facilities for policewomen deployed for public duties, including policing crowded festival venues for days at a stretch.

She points out a specific instance where more than 150 policewomen deployed for crowd control at a festival venue for days on end had to take turns sleeping “jam-packed like sardines” in a poorly ventilated dormitory that could barely hold 50 persons, had few toilets and little running water.

The Home Department has announced that it will soon allow women to compete with men to enter the State Police Service as Sub-Inspectors. As of now, though, joining the women constabulary seems to be the last option for many job aspirants.

Last Updated on Thursday, 20 September 2012 02:08