Saturday, August 17, 2002
S T A M P E D  I M P R E S S I O N S

Well begun is half done
Reeta Sharma

It certainly was a historic moment when women of all ranks from the Indian police gathered "as a collective voice" for the first time ever in Vigyan Bhavan, New Delhi, in February 2002. All policewomen — right from senior officers like Kiran Bedi to the junior constables — joined hands to raise questions and air their long-buried grievances. And the person who sat silently listening to the unending battle of Indian policewomen was nobody else but Union Home Minister L K Advani.

The first National Conference of Indian Policewomen was organised by the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD). The idea to hold this conference emerged from the Springboard Workshops, which were held in India by the British Council of India in collaboration with the BPRD. These workshops were aimed at personality development of policewomen. The workshops were conducted over a span of three months in Punjab, Maharashtra, New Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, J&K, etc.


The interaction among policewomen at the Springboard Workshops threw up issues related to their gender, which deserve attention of the authorities as well as the nation. "We realised that women in the police were being treated like cattle. In the police force, there are allotments for horses or dogs. Women too are allotted posts in a similar manner. For example, the authorities have been recruiting women in terms like ‘as against 100 vacancies of constables, allot 8 to women’. Since no other post was open to women till recently, a miniscule percentage was allotted to women at the lowest rank. What a shame that this practice continues to exist in a majority of the states," confides a senior police officer.

Under the Constitution of India, women must neither be denied equal opportunities nor should they be discriminated against. But the Indian police has been denying women these rights. Otherwise, how do you justify the fact that the Indian police force has only 4 per cent women? Though now Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Orissa and Maharashtra have 30 per cent reservation for women in the police force, the percentage of women in the police in the rest of the states is extremely low. The Punjab police has only 2 per cent women personnel.

Women are discriminated against not only at the entry level but even after their induction they are given marginal jobs like escorting women prisoners, as receptionists or clerks. Even when they get promoted, they are not given independent charge of police stations or even made to perform the duties of a ‘munshi’. What can be a better example of not taking cognisance of the presence of women in the Indian police force than the fact that there are no separate toilets and rest rooms for the women in this force?

In blatant violation of the Indian Constitution, posts like Assistant Sub-Inspectors, Sub-Inspectors, Inspectors and DSPs were not open to women in the entire country. It is only recently that four states, which announced 30 per cent reservation for women, opened gates for them to the aforesaid posts. However, in the majority of the states of India, the draconian practice continues even in this 21st century. The feudalistic mindset of the authorities can easily be gauged by the accompanying table, enlisting the number of men and women in the police force.

But now with the coming together of policewomen, I am confident that this dismal scenario is bound to change. The collective voice that these women have found for themselves by holding the first- ever national conference has paved the way for their fight against injustice and discrimination. They have already planned the second national conference, which will be held in February 2003. Recently, a multi-site video conference was held, wherein policewomen from different centres like Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Chandigarh, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Delhi interacted with each other. Personnel from all these stations could not only talk but could also see each other. This multi-site conference was arranged by the British Council. On this occasion, a CD-Rom on women in the police force was also launched.

Watching this video- conference, I was amazed to note the large following that Kiran Bedi has. While she could be seen sitting in the Delhi centre, a number of policewomen from the other centres, like Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai, Bangalore and Kolkata declared that she was their ideal. In fact, many policewomen became rather emotional when they said that they drew inspiration from the country’s first woman police officer.

In Chandigarh, the conference was organised by two spirited IPS officers, V Neerja (SSP, Nawanshahr) and Charu Bali (SSP, Panchkula). It is heartening to observe that these two young women enjoy a fine reputation as action-oriented police officers. They had called women from all ranks from their respective states to participate in this video -conference, thus providing them the much desired and deserved exposure.

Though, on the one hand, it was heart wrenching to hear and see policewomen express their disappointment on not being entitled to apply to the advertised posts in the police department despite having the requisite experience, on the other hand, it was heartening to see women on the video- conference, hopeful and, above all, united.

That women in the police force are now united can be gauged from the fact that when the DGP of Orissa recently said, "We have done great damage to the police force by taking women in it", a protest echoing the outraged reactions of policewomen all over the country was lodged by Kiran Bedi.