By Elizabeth Mani and Himadri Ghosh for Youth Ki Awaaz:
If you thought kicking down doors and nabbing robbers was the difficult part of the job for female cops in India, you’d be way off the mark. That is stuff they handle with ease. But it’s the proverbial glass ceiling, unusable or no toilets in police stations or work hours that rob them of family time that are issues that plague the lives of these women in khaki.
Not too long ago, there were news reports alleging the discrimination and unfair treatment meted out to women in the Karnataka police. And to find out more, Youth Ki Awaaz decided to meet with some of them to get an idea of the ground situation.
“There is no way women can come up in this field. Though some of us are more experienced than our male colleagues, they always want to be superior to us. Many male cops aren’t good with computer work but they will never allow us to work on computers. The department discriminates against women cops,” alleged Mangala*, a 35-year-old constable deputed to a police station in Bangalore.
Visibly agitated as she spoke her mind, she was just as wary that her male colleagues might overhear her. Having been a constable for 14 years now, she added that the inordinately long work hours leave her and others like her, no time for family. This in turn takes a toll on their roles as homemakers and mothers. “Imagine, till now I’ve not attended a single function in my daughter’s school. I always feel I’ve failed my daughter.”
On top of that, she described how even the uniforms and shoes they get are fitted for men and they have to spend from their own pocket to get them altered.
Another police station, another female cop, same issues.
A senior employee working at an all-women police station in Bangalore said long working hours are their biggest woe. She explained to YKA how they have 12-hour shifts, from 8 a.m to 8 p.m. Special duties make it even worse with work getting over only by 11 pm or midnight. In these cases, almost always, she said, transport is not arranged for them and they are left stranded, having to find a way to go back home themselves. The struggle to get a day off is exhausting, she added, with them now getting their weekly off only after a recent protest. She also mentioned that women in other police stations might be having a tougher time getting leaves sanctioned as they have to convince the men in charge for the need for a day off.
Noting that she has served the department for 39 years, she told YKA she has seen a lot of changes, like more women joining the police force. At the same time, she asserted that the field is dominated by men. To cite a case in point, she disclosed that even if it’s an all-women police station she works at, she’s not authorised to take any decision without consulting the senior officers (read men).
The officer also spoke about how having an understaffed team made their life more burdensome. She said her police station is supposed to have 24 women. Four positions lie vacant, 12 are in training and two on maternity leave. She highlighted that here, six women were doing the job of 24.
Narayani*, a constable deputed at a police station in Karnataka’s capital, informed YKA that though only a woman of the rank of sub-inspector and above can be assigned night duty, sometimes women constables are roped in when some major incident happens. She said they get a drop back home in the police vehicle only when a considerate officer is in charge, but there’s never any guarantee that this will happen. “When we know of such duty, we make arrangements to stay at a friend’s home nearby,” she said, noting that making such adjustments is tough for married women.
With 15 years in service, constable Shanthi* is now contemplating resigning from the job. She shared that her son is in class VI and daughter is in LKG, and she wanted to be able to give time to her daughter as she grows up. She said she herself knew a few women who had either quit the police force or were planning to quit after getting married as managing both is a Herculean task.
Seconding that was Sumathi*, a constable working in a non-executive post in Bangalore. She recalled an incident where she had to practically beg her seniors for a day’s leave. She got half a day’s leave. A few months ago, she needed the day off to look after her two-year-old son. Her husband was travelling for work and in-laws and relatives were in the village for some festival. With nobody to babysit her toddler, she sought the day off. She said none of her seniors were approving her leave, so she had to go to the DCP. He approved a half day’s leave to give her time to find a solution.
“I managed, but that day, I thought really hard about leaving the job,” she concluded.
For a country currently in the throes of the government’s much publicised Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Campaign), where building toilets is one of the top priorities, it is sad to see that many government officials themselves are denied this basic necessity.
As YKA went about speaking to women police personnel in Karnataka, one major problem that kept popping up was of the lack of toilets in the police stations. Many, if not most, police stations have either no toilet or a dilapidated toilet. Many had a single toilet, meant to be shared by men and women.
Lakshmi*, a sub-inspector working in Bangalore, said newly built police stations are better in this regard. However, women working in old ones have to deal with the lack of privacy. Shanthi told YKA that even where toilet exists, there’s either the problem of defunct plumbing, leakage or a total lack of water. And these toilets are not cleaned and remain dirty because the employees in many cases have to pay for the maintenance from their own pocket.
So how do these women manage when nature calls? They have adapted.
Female cops in Bangalore that YKA spoke to resort to using toilets in nearby hotels, shops or even homes. Shanthi shared how most residents let them use their loo, understanding their plight. Women in the police force are used to this, she said. As bad as the situation is, they have not raised the issue with their seniors. “There are so many bigger problems,” she said with a feeling of resignation.
The police station where Sangeetha*, a constable, works did not have a toilet until six months ago. She said it was only after numerous complaints that the toilet was built. She narrated how women like her had to go to nearby restaurants and cafes to relieve themselves. “It was embarrassing,” she recalled. “It’s OK for men, but for a woman it gets very difficult.”
Interestingly, Zubeida*, who works as a traffic police constable at Whitefield police station, Bangalore, said she hasn’t faced any problem from her seniors in her five years in the service. She mentioned that about 50 traffic police personnel report at the police station where she works and she’s the only woman among them. “The only problem I face is the absence of a toilet, and a dressing room. It gets tough when I’m menstruating,” said the 29-year-old.
That women in Karnataka police feel they are an overlooked lot can perhaps be attributed to their abysmally low representation in the entire workforce. In Karnataka police, women amount to only 5.21% of the total strength. The number in Kerala police is 6.11% and 12.63% in Tamil Nadu, the highest percentage in the country as per the Bureau of Police Research & Development.
The image of Karnataka police, in particular, has taken a beating of late, after some women women accused their seniors of harassment. In August-end, a sub-inspector in Ballari district, Gayathri Farhan, posted a scathing note on her Facebook page, alleging, among other things: “Though women work hard, their hard work is not recognised like that of men in the department.”
And men have their own complaints against the system. These include having to pay for petrol from their own meagre pay when they go patrolling or having to sleep in vans when on bandobast duty.
These women in khaki have don’t seem to think that their employer is any more considerate towards its male employees. After all, largely, they share the same set of problems: low pay, inordinately long work hours, no leave, dilapidated quarters etc. The women just happen to be worse off as a minuscule minority whose needs go constantly overlooked.
*Names have been changed to protect identity of the people interviewed for the story.
Elizabeth Mani is a Bangalore-based reporter. Himadri Ghosh is a Kolkata-based reporter. Both are members of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.
With inputs from Merlin Francis.