Over 29 years of service and this woman head constable in a key police station in Bangalore’s Southeast Division takes home a little over Rs. 20,000. Her work hours are “flexible” — meaning she often works much more than the stipulated eight-hour shift — she hasn’t been allotted quarters yet and striking a balance between her work and family life is a goal she’s long given up on.
But what bothers her most is that the police station she works at doesn’t have a functional toilet. She and two other junior constables have no option but to go knocking at doors in the neighbourhood, requesting to be allowed to use the toilet there.
“The men go anywhere, but for us every day is a struggle. Imagine how demeaning it is to sit in this position of authority, yet go begging to use a toilet,” says the official, who has done two long stints in this station. Women account for 9.65 per cent of Bangalore’s constabulary. A random sampling of a section of their 965-strong force reveals that the farther the station from the city centres, the tougher are work conditions. Barring some bigger stations, most women make do with common toilets.
Another persistent grouse, ironic as it is, has to do with the lack of a safe work environment. While women constables don’t do night beat, many said their work hours easily extend to 8 or 9 p.m. and getting back home is a concern. “It’s odd because we cannot even talk about it, given that we’re supposed to be keep the roads safe. But it’s a valid concern because once we leave our stations, we’re just like any other working woman,” said a Central Police Division constable. And when on “special duty”, such as bandobast or escort duty, their shifts can extend up to 11 p.m. or midnight. Most said no drop facilities are extended to them.
Ask Sneha, a young constable serving in the Bangalore East Division, about her work hours and she instantly connects this with the tragic case of the constable who shot dead his superior for denying him leave. “This is the biggest problem that cuts across gender. It’s been three weeks since I got my off day, and superiors often force us to forego it. How can one function without a break?” she asks, pointing out that for working mothers like her this is the biggest issue.
Add to this the fact that most are not provided staff quarters, and are forced to rent cheaper accommodations far from their workplace. With her Rs. 12,000 salary, Constable Sneha cannot afford city rents, so she lives in Kengeri. Also, many of the staff quarters are located in non-central areas such as Magadi Road and Mysore Road, making their one-way travel not less than an hour-and-a-half. Low salaries means that most loans, even housing schemes, are out of their reach, she points out.
Many women constables, particularly those who have been left out of promotion cycles, feel that their career prospects are low. Given they work only “safe shifts”, they're often treated as “non-mainstream” and are right at the bottom of the promotion list. “We’re not treated equally and are constantly reminded that we’re not really serious police staff,” said Constable Madhu (27). Many police officers reflected this attitude, with them pointing out that women are given “only light jobs” and so don’t have any “real complaints”. Things are worse with the Home Guards, whose “voluntary work” is repaid with a meagre Rs. 6,000. Even on record, they don’t have any weekly off.