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Modi’s Mann ki Baat spoke of more women in police. Challenge is to make them feel they belong

More women would mean a curb on malpractices like third degree and custodial violence. Their sizeable numbers would go a long way towards improving police image in society.

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Despite the more-than-twofold increase of women in Indian police force in the last few years, as highlighted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his last ‘Mann ki Baat’ radio programme, women representation is still pegged at an abysmal 10.3 per cent. This, despite the Centre’s advisory in 2009 to the states – reiterated in 2013 and 2015 – setting 33 per cent as the target. Though a majority of states and union territories have introduced varying percentages of reservation for women, it is not yet time for us to pat ourselves in the back. Adequate women representation in police forces cannot be viewed merely through the prism of gender equity; it is a vital professional necessity too.

Why are more women needed in the police?

The simplest logic says policewomen are more suited to deal with policing requirements of womenfolk and children, which is more than half the total population. They are endowed – more than men – with traits like patience, empathy, solicitude, tolerance, sacrifice etc., all so valuable for democratic policing. Women are also less likely to use excessive force, which means a curb on malpractices like third degree and custodial violence. Their sizeable numbers would go a long way towards improving the police image in society.

More women are needed also because a number of recent legislations have mandated performance of certain police tasks exclusively by women police personnel. A 2013 advisory issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs also requires each police station to have three women sub-inspectors and ten constables to staff women helpdesks.

And yet women representation is low

Policing has been considered a masculine profession, a male bastion. In India, the credit for their path-breaking entry goes to then-Travancore Royal Police, which recruited a few women as ‘Special Police Officers’ in 1933. This was followed in 1939 by the recruitment of a few women in Kanpur Police, to deal with female agitators in industrial strikes, as also for certain policing tasks in Bombay, Calcutta and Madras ports. After Independence, many states started inducting women in their police services. However, adoption of uncongenial policies relating to service and working conditions of women inductees has proved to be a major roadblock.

Also read: India needs senior female cops for safer cities, 90% women retire as police constables

Challenges faced by policewomen

The case of C. Kamalamma, the first woman police officer of India, exemplifies such unwelcoming policies. Early in her career, she fell in love with a colleague and married him secretly. The rules at that time did not allow policewomen to marry, so she lost her job once pregnancy unmasked her marriage. It was only after India’s Independence that a benevolent government reinstated her into service. Though the situation has improved since then, not all policies would still pass muster as really welcoming for women.

Societal stereotypes are another barrier. Policing in traditional societies like India is still perceived as a not-for-women profession. Joining the police often becomes a hindrance in marriage prospects for girls – hence there is an undercurrent of social discouragement.

Moreover, an inordinately long and chaotic duty routine acts as a serious impediment for women, for whom juggling professional duties and domestic responsibilities becomes a day-to-day challenge. The problem is compounded by the absence of basic amenities like toilets, restrooms, crèches etc. at police stations.

Highly unsuitable professional gear and equipment adds to their woes. Even uniforms, helmets, bullet-proof jackets, etc. are all designed essentially for men.

What needs to be done?

To set the present infirmities right, a two-pronged approach is required: (1) action to speedily increase the intake of policewomen, alongside (ii) affirmative measures to address systemic gaps in facilities, processes and institutional practices to make them more woman-friendly.

Augmenting numerical strength

Given the urgency of requirement of more women, reservation for them needs to be supplemented with some expeditious additional steps. One method could be to recruit only women against all the new sanctions of posts for some time to come, as recommended by the BPR&D-sponsored study on workforce requirement for eight-hour shifts in police stations. This would be in addition to the periodical reservation-based enlistment. Special recruitment drives for women were also advocated by the Comptroller and Auditor General, in their recent report on performance audit of Delhi Police.

Simultaneously, outreach initiatives, like organising wide publicity of recruitment drives through schools, colleges, and public institutions, and holding coaching camps on abilities and skills relevant to recruitment tests, would help promote interest and attract aspirants.

Urgent affirmative measures: Making workplaces more conducive

The task of constructing toilets, restrooms, crèches, etc. needs to be taken up in a project mode, liberally utilising ‘Modernisation of Police Forces’ (MPF) grants of the central and state governments. Where it is not possible to construct permanent facilities, temporary alternatives (portable toilets, for example) could be introduced in the interim. Gender budgeting can help quickly address such infrastructural deficits.

A systematic review of the uniform, equipment and other wherewithal needs to be urgently undertaken by each state/UT, in consultation with a section of policewomen, to figure out the problems they face in using them. Appropriate modifications can be devised for uniforms and accessories for pregnant women too.

Inordinately long duty hours, and denial of weekly offs – which are now being allowed only as a luxury – have to be eschewed in the case of policewomen, unless absolutely unavoidable. Dual role of women caught between professional duties and domestic responsibilities needs always to be kept in view, while allocating duties to them.

Women also need to be given a choice for posting in their home district.

Finally, it is important to take care of misogynistic tendencies among male police personnel, including officers. Gender sensitisation has to be taken up as a regular feature.

To provide a fillip to these reform measures, sanction of MPF grants could be leveraged with progress achieved by states/UTs in implementing the recommended steps, which could be evaluated through an efficacious audit mechanism.

The cause of a more gender-inclusive police force is a sine qua non for police reform. This would be greatly helped by formulating a well-thought-out policy and its sincere implementation. The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, an NGO indefatigably working for police reform, has, in consultation with experts and progressive serving and retired police officers, elaborated a ‘Model Policy’, which can be considered for adaptation, mutatis mutandis, by the states/UTs, suiting their own conditions and needs.

All such measures should be viewed not as special favours, but as professional necessities, considering it is the police that needs more and more women and not vice-versa.

Kamal Kumar is a retired IPS officer, who has been involved with several government initiatives on police reform. He is the former director of National Police Academy, and former vice-chairman, UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. Views are personal.

(Edited by Prashant)

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