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.

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