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.