(Published in the Statesman, Kolkata and Delhi on Sunday 26 October 2014 under the title WOMEN AS COPS)
The public perception of a burly, mustachioed policeman wielding ‘danda’ with one hand and pocketing bribe with the other is a British legacy. This stereotype has stuck and needs to be corrected. The ideal police should be in the image of Ardhanarishwar, half female and half male, an amalgam of feminine compassion and male machismo. Take it metaphorically and not literally or else the champions of feminism will rise up in arms. Women can take tough decisions - we have the example of Indira Gandhi – and are in no way inferior to men but nature has made them differently so that one complements the other.
Our constitution guarantees gender equality but does not prescribe a quota or a time frame. Our political parties are brazen enough to vociferate a fifty per cent quota for women in police jobs without debating its implications. I am all for women’s empowerment and have for long been an advocate of feminization of the Indian police but not on pro rata basis and not as a knee-jerk response to demands by women lobbies. Any move towards gender equality should be preceded by gender sensitisation and gender mainstreaming. Entry of women into police should begin in small doses and gradually expanded. Increased women participation will soften the otherwise harsh mien that police carries.
Women are joining the police in increasing numbers so their induction is no more a mere cosmetic exercise but if it results in an image makeover for the police so much the better. What must seriously be debated is whether they are to form part of mainstream policing or be earmarked for desk duties or for select jobs relating to women and children? Woman has been traditionally perceived as the home maker. Admittedly she can multi-task better than a man. It will still need some juggling to reconcile her role as a cop with that of a wife and mother? Unlike other government jobs one is on call in the police 24x7. Will she have the same uncertain duty hours as her male colleagues? Will she have to be escorted home at the end of the day? Will she be at the risk of transfer anywhere anytime at the whim of the department? Women in the Indian Police Service may serve as role models but their conditions of service are vastly superior to those of the rank and file. Police will continue to be a male bastion and women joining the force must be mentally strong to rub shoulders, not literally, with their male colleagues. It should be made clear to them that once they join the organization they should not expect to be treated with kid gloves. Gender equality does not merely mean pay parity but also work and risk parity.
To ensure what has been said above women must meet the prescribed physical and psychological standard and should not expect deficiencies to be condoned on ‘compassionate ‘ground’. Recruiting widows and daughters of policemen killed on duty is fine but compassion should not extend to taking in over-age or physically unfit candidates. Let them look petite but their bearing must inspire confidence in the public. We come across some smartly turned out young women performing their duties confidently, whether frisking at the airports, directing traffic or performing mela duty. For that they must undergo the same training as men. It is heartening to see women trainees at the National Police Academy not being shown any concession and them taking the rough and tumble of a rigorous training in their stride
The raison d’être of women’s increased induction into police is that they will better serve the needs of their gender who account for nearly half the total population. True, a female victim or complainant will feel more at ease in narrating their woes, rape in particular, to another woman. Incidence of reporting will hopefully increase. Whether that will lead to a more successful follow-up and detection is another matter. There will be some efficient women cops and some not so efficient. In either case they cannot act in isolation and will often need the support from outside.. Women have a keen sixth sense which can make hem good investigating officers but anti-crime operations and law and order situations will at times call for the use of brawn which their male colleagues may provide.
Will police women be utilized in dealing with crimes against women only? If so there may be times when they may find themselves out of work. It is suggested that crimes and situations should be identified and entrusted to women police to handle on need basis. That brings us to the allied issue of having all-women police stations. States have been competing with one another in this regard without an audit of any special benefit that may have accrued from this experiment. Should these police posts be out of bound for male victims and complainants? Rather than having an all-women police station let there be adequate number of police women at every police station to empathise with women who come for help. There are and will be several women capable enough to be posted as officer-in-charge of a police station. Give them a chance but gender segregation may be a regressive step. At any rate an all-female supervisory hierarchy cannot be assured for a long time to come.
Let us hope women joining police will bring down the level of corruption in police? Will police women show more integrity than men when the test comes? Only time can tell but instances have come to light where women have succumbed to the lure of the lucre just as men. It may be only a matter of opportunity and their learning the ropes.
Any intake of women into police will eat into job prospects of men who perceive themselves as bread earners. Some degree of resistance should therefore be expected, Police has traditionally been a male bastion and it will take time for men to get used to the presence of women in their midst as equals and, in some cases, as their superior. Men at times indulge in ribaldry as a release from on-job monotony and tension. In mixed company they will have to be on guard all the time lest they hurt female sensitivity, however inadvertently, by their gestures and nuances. No more sharing of bawdy jokes. This is only the male perspective. For women the prospect must be more daunting. They will remain vulnerable to sexual harassment during and after working hours..They have to be extra careful in their responses lest an innocuous smile is misconstrued. Gender sensitization is thus going to be the biggest challenge but which will be overcome with the passage of time. As pace of feminization gathers speed, hopefully, women will be integrated into the force and accepted as comrades-in-arm.
No male-female ratio can be fixed for jobs in police. Even in more liberal and open western societies there are today far fewer women in police compared to men. That is because even in the west it is women who are looked upon as home makers and are considered more suitable for fixed-hours jobs which policing is not. An allied problem in the west is their retention which may not be relevant here given India’s low income graph. The world leader is Belgium where one-third of cops are womeneminization of Indian police is a fait accompli. Let e w