What is life all about for the woman in khaki? Akila Kannadasan meets some police women and home guards to find out

“Madam, where do we put up the barricades?” “Beyond that van,” replies sub-inspector Lalitha (name changed), her eyes scanning the area.

The policeman marches off to carry out her order. A political party is staging a protest and Lalitha and her team are there on bandobast duty. Dressed in crisp khaki, her greying hair neatly confined in a bun, Lalitha stands by a police SUV giving orders. It has been 32 years since she first donned khaki. “I was 19 then. After training in Vellore, I was assigned to the B1 police station in Coimbatore,” she says.

Escorting prisoners to the court, hunting down an elusive criminal, solving family disputes… Lalitha says she enjoys every day. All it takes is a look — Lalitha can tell if an offender requires roughing up. “My job has taught me to deal with all kinds of people,” she says.

No two days are the same for a policewoman. If she is on bandobast duty, she may be posted to any corner of the city. She has to spend long hours standing, often in places without easily accessible toilets. “But we have learned to deal with it,” says Lalitha.

Though the job requires equal effort irrespective of gender, Lalitha says that a woman has to struggle a little more. “This is my 33rd year of service — but I’ve got only two promotions so far.” She even took up the issue with the then chief minister. “Becoming an inspector is my dream...the thought haunts me every day,” she says.

To serve the public

Sisters Usha and Muthulakshmi signed up as Home Guards for the love of serving the public. For those who don’t succeed in getting through, this service gives them a taste of the world of khaki. Home Guards assist the police department during elections, to manage traffic, etc.

Usha is a tailor during the day and a home guard at night. Muthulakshmi works in a textile company when she’s not on duty. “We get a small remuneration for our work with the Home Guards. But it’s not about the money,” says Usha. Muthulakshmi adds that people in her locality look at her with respect. “Wearing the kakhi gives me confidence,” she adds.

Traffic head constable M.P. Jayachandrika says she initially felt very conscious standing in the middle of the road to regulate traffic. “All the eyes on me made me uncomfortable…but I got used to it,” she says. Ask anyone in her beat and they will tell you that Jayachandrika is a tough woman — she never thinks twice about wallopping an offender if necessary. She once dragged a man by the collar across the bus stand; her voice itself is intimidating. But when she hands over the walkie-talkie after her shift at 10 p.m., her thoughts turn to her two daughters. “By the time I go home, they are asleep,” she smiles sadly.

Jayachandrika has served in various positions for 16 years; and she vows she will not let her daughters join the department. “People look at us as veera mangaigal. But we are like any ordinary woman; there are cowards amongst us too.” She feels that more support from the department would go a long way. “Higher authorities can be sensitive to the needs of women. It will be nice if they reduce night duties and postings on the outskirts, considering we have children waiting for us at home.” She adds that she is lucky to have an understanding inspector. “But not all my colleagues are as fortunate.”

Suspicious husbands, unsupportive colleagues, disrespectful public… Jayachandrika says that life as a policewoman is hard. But inside her is an audacity that not many can match. “I was once waiting at a bus stand in civilian clothes after duty time. A man walked up to me and said something lewd. I beat him up right there,” says Jayachandrika. “People around were shocked. They didn’t expect a woman to have the guts.”