The Sunday Diary 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.”