While the corporate world has taken the lead in women-centric issues through reforms such as better maternity benefits, safety, facilities and redressal, a number of other spheres are yet to catch up and one of them is the police force.
A recent survey conducted by Police Reforms Watch, a community forum on police reforms has raised daunting questions on the state of women police personnel in the city’s security forces.
While issues surrounding women police personnel has remained a moot point when it comes to police reforms — partly due to the skewed ratio of the number of male and female personnel — a recent video showing a politician physically harassing a traffic policewoman that went viral has drawn the topic into public debate.
We speak to prominent policewomen to find out what are the challenges they face and what needs to be done to make the police force a better place for women.
Telling us more about the findings of the survey, Dolphy D’Souza, the convener of Police Reforms Watch says, “We conducted the survey with the help of students from St. Xavier’s College, who examined a total of seven police stations in Mumbai to find out about the state of the city’s police force. Some of the important issues were concerning safety and comfort of women such as the lack of separate changing rooms within police stations and inadequate rest facilities. A surprising find was that several of the police personnel that the surveyors spoke to said that they indeed only felt safe to a certain extent when in uniform and that they were concerned about safety when in plain clothes.”
SPI Sujata Patil tells us that while the picture is not as bad as it is made out to be, there are a few concerns that need to be addressed.
“First of all, it never happens that a woman police personnel is asked to go on patrol alone. There is always someone with her, either her team or a driver. This is a government rule. But aside from that, there are a few safety concerns for which all policewomen are trained. So ultimately it is just necessary to keep the training in mind.” However, she goes on to add, “But no matter what the training there is the reality that it is a dangerous job. Sometimes a person might be under the influence of alcohol and at that time he might not think what he is doing through or if there is a group or a mob, then it is necessary to exercise caution.”
While the viral video, which showed a politician beating up a policewoman in full public view sent shockwaves across the media and public conscience, it is still a very unusual thing to happen, contends SPI Raksha Maharao of the Vile Parle Police Station in Mumbai.
“The problem was with the person’s mentality. I am sure he would have done the same even if it were a male officer. However, generally public places are considered safe because people do come to help out. So the problem was this person who thought he was powerful and could get away with it.”
An international power lifter and an inspiring figure among women police personnel in the city, Maharao adds, “The safety concerns are real, however, how to deal with them is something that only comes through training and more importantly experience".
"When you are outnumbered, even if it is two to one, it is a risky affair to try and deal with it alone and should wait for backup. There are a number of aspects that also come only with experience and can't be taught through training or from a book".
"But ultimately, what we need to remember at all times as women police personnel is that we chose this job and a police person is a police person, their gender, caste or any other denomination doesn't matter.”
While the women in the police force do form a tougher lot as compared to the general public, thanks to their training and fortitude, there are still challenges that cannot be tackled through training — primary among them are biological challenges.
“One of the challenges that women police personnel face and needs to be taken care of are the biological challenges. There aren't as many separate urinals for women in Police buildings, but most importantly when we are in bandobast. There are bio-urinals kept during bandobast times, but there are hardly enough for women. Another problem specific to women is that they still have to be on duty during their menstrual cycle. And this has remained unspoken for a long time, but a lot of policewomen I know also face a number of gynaecological problems due to this. This is mostly because menstruation is still seen as a taboo in the country and even women police personnel, especially when they are on bandobast feel shy about the going to a chemist in uniform and asking them for tampons. This is a stressful and demanding job and this problem makes it more so for women,” informed a police officer on condition of anonymity.
Taking this particular challenge head on is DCP Rashmi Karandikar, who recently installed several sanitary napkin vending machines for women police personnel in her jurisdiction. Telling us about the effort, she says, “I know that this is a genuine problem and I have personally installed dozens of sanitary napkin vending machines in my jurisdiction. It is very necessary as several times women have start their periods in the middle of duty and may not have them at disposal. We thought of a solution to fix this and came up with setting up vending machines for sanitary napkins.”
Women form about 10.48 % of the police force. While this figure is better than the national average, for a major city like Mumbai, it is still extremely inadequate.
Although increasing the manpower of women personnel within the force will go a long way in addressing several concerns, this needs to be done in a war footing says, D’Souza.
“One of our primary demands to the government has been to increase the recruitment reservation for women. Although this year they’ve promised to increase it to 30% for available vacancies, this is still not good enough. The best way to go about it would be to recruit only women for a set of vacancies once every few years so that these efforts can bear fruition. The skewed ratio has always been the underlying problem behind the issues faced by women in the force. Addressing this alone will make a giant leap in making the force a better place for women.”...