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Chitrakoot dacoits to Noida women’s safety — UP’s 1st woman police commissioner on being ‘lady boss’

Laxmi Singh, IPS officer from 2000 batch, joined as commissioner of police, Noida, last week. She talks about her plans to improve policing here in exclusive interview to ThePrint

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Noida: At exactly 10.30 am Thursday, Laxmi Singh, the newly-appointed commissioner of Noida police, walked into her office. Her whole demeanour radiated business — it is a busy morning and Singh is in no mood to tolerate any laggardness.

She immediately calls over seven senior police personnel, including those of assistant commissioner rank, to brief her. As case details are discussed, she makes a few notes and juggles calls and messages. At times she appears tense, but an occasional smile keeps the the mood in the room from becoming too heated.

Last week, Singh, a 2000 batch IPS officer, joined as the commissioner of police (CP), Noida, becoming the first woman officer in Uttar Pradesh to head a commissionerate. The 48-year-old was previously serving as the inspector general of Lucknow Range.

Singh is not the only woman to be appointed to a top government role in Noida. In 2019, IAS officer Ritu Maheshwari was appointed the chief executive officer (CEO) of the Noida Authority. In October this year, Maheshwari was also made the CEO of the Greater Noida Authority.

And like Noida, which is a part of the National Capital Region (NCR), another Delhi satellite town included in the NCR, Gurugram, also has a woman police commissioner, Kala Ramachandran.

“In a typical patriarchal society, it’s very hard for a ‘lady boss’ to be accepted, especially in a male-dominated profession. When I joined the services there weren’t many women working in this field and I was (often) the only woman officer among male counterparts. To be accepted by peers was a very difficult task,” Singh told ThePrint in an exclusive interview.

She added: “Over time acceptance has grown for women officers due to their contributions. We have proven that we are equal to men and can deliver as much as our male counterparts.”

Singh’s appointment comes, even as the representation of women in India’s police force remains low — only 10.5 per cent — according to figures mentioned in the latest India Justice Report. None of the states and union territories have been able to achieve their targets for reservation for women, the report added. The percentage of reservation for women in police varies across states.

For Singh, the journey hasn’t been easy. From winning over villagers in UP’s dacoit-infested Chitrakoot district, to being accepted as ‘boss’ by male juniors, the Noida CP recalled the many challenges she has surmounted to reach the position she is in today.

Her focus now is setting up a system of “predictive policing” in Noida, to ensure better safety for women.

“One of my top most priorities is that women coming to Noida to work should be provided a safe and secure atmosphere and that they have the assurance to move freely even at night. I am trying to grow the commissionerate system. Till now, an incident would happen, then we would look at the cameras (CCTV footage) and solve the crime. But now, my focus is to use the same resources, increase and integrate them in a way that the crime can be predicted and prevented,” said Singh.

She added: “I am going to get facial recognition software installed and increase the space of the integrated control room. The criminal data in our servers will be integrated with policing, so if a registered offender has entered the city and a red flag comes up, then the police will look into what business he is up to. I will get crime mapping done for the entire city, finding vulnerable spots.”

Talking about incidences of drug trafficking in Noida, the CP added that while there have been sporadic seizures, they aren’t being integrated in a manner to take down the syndicate.

The other concern that Singh touched upon, while talking to ThePrint, was the traffic load on Noida streets.

“The kind of traffic you have in a city, especially a metropolitan city, is a showcase of the kind of policing that area has. The perception of a police force is marred first by the traffic situation in that belt,” she said.

The Noida top cop added, “we have to plan for both traffic management and policing in the area of the upcoming Jewar airport. The existing resources aren’t being used in an integrated manner. There is one control room, but it isn’t manned by officers equipped with tech intelligence. We have to put in a system which will bring in direct intervention from the control room in the traffic situation. Watching it from the cameras is no solution.”

Also read: A girl, her ‘killer’ & a guru — how ‘murdered’ UP woman was found alive 7 years later

‘Don’t preach to women’ 

Elaborating further on her plans for women’s safety in Noida, Singh said just policing can’t tackle crimes against women.

“It is tragic that even in today’s scenario acceptability of crimes against women has become an inherent phenomenon of our society. It is treated casually and the accused is accepted very easily by society. So you have to create a social campaign against such acceptance and this is why the Yogi (UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath) government launched Mission Shakti”.

According to Singh, “victim and trauma sensitivity” is yet to be hasn’t institutionalised into the working of Indian Police.

“I am working to formulate workshops and sensitisation drives. Whenever we talk about gender sensitisation, all the women of the force are sent for the programmes. My thoughts are the opposite — we are already sensitised from the time of our birth, so please don’t preach anything to us. It is the male counterparts of the force that need the sensitisation and the first thing is to be sensitive towards the trauma of the victim. For us, an incident is an incident, but during the handling of the case, second victimisation can’t take place,” she said.

‘She gave us water, we will give her the dacoit’

A Btech graduate, Singh recalled how she was inspired to join the police force after meeting a superintendent of police (SP) while she was a student in class 2.

When she joined the force, however, she found that being accepted into the force as a woman officer is a test in itself.  The equation changes again when a woman officer becomes a ‘boss”, she said.

“It’s easy to gain public support, but to gain it from the police force, one has to prove that you aren’t just a lady officer, but their boss. Unless a woman is accepted as the boss, the team won’t stand by her, she has to be at the front, leading the unit and instill in them the confidence that she will face the brickbat with them,” said Singh.

While her tenure has been one of constant challenges, the Noida CP said some experiences have stayed with her.

One such was her time in Chitrakoot district, where she was posted between 2004 and 2005.

“I was a young SP and at that time UP was facing the heat of organised dacoit gangs, which would terrorise both the people and the administration. I had started a scheme of ‘Mitra police’ to develop intelligence outside the department. However, people were so terrorised (by the dacoits) that they would run away when they saw a policeman on the streets. No one wanted to be seen talking to the police,” recalled Singh.

She added: “In one village in the district, surrounded by hills on all sides, when I reached I found out that I was the first officer to have entered there as it was very inaccessible. There was no drinking water in the village and they weren’t bothered about dacoits or the police. The villagers had to walk 20-25 kms to get water. I approached the district administration, but that their technical knowhow wasn’t so strong and they didn’t know how to drill for water (since the terrain was rocky and it was a tricky job).”

The Noida CP recalled how she got in touch with an NGO to ensure drinking water supply in the village.

“The day drinking water was made available (to them), I was invited over and they offered me sweets made from milk and water from that well. They hugged me and made me their daughter and even now every Diwali, those villagers make it a point to send me a small bowl of sweets as they believe that it was one thing to catch dacoits and another to take interest in their woes,” said Singh.

With the change in her relationship with the villagers, the Noida top cop said, policing too improved in Chitrakoot and it was easier to track the dacoits as the villagers came out to help the police.

“They said she has given us water, we have to give her this dacoit,” said Singh.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

Also read: Meerut suicide: Cops rethink sexual assault charges, say evidence points to ‘failed relationship’

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