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What It Is Like To Be An Indian Woman In Khakhi?

  • IWB Post
  •  August 31, 2015


Every time I pass by a traffic signal seeing a woman in khakhi or white uniform, it inflates my heart with pride.

It is awesome to see that the women in my nation are bold and strong enough to take up the challenges that tag along with a khakhi/ white uniform job! But does the job treat them well? Are these policewomen given their due support and facilities? Are their working conditions apt?

Find out in this article which talks about The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative’s report on “Women Police in South Asia 2015”.

The Numbers

The report gives us a lot of info about laws, rules, and safeguards, i.e. how things ought to be. For the curious, that stuff can be found here. But for those who want to get down to how things are, here’s a table that speaks volumes:

State-Wise-Strength-of-Women-Police-as-a-Percentage-of-the-Total-Police-Force (1)

The Separate Cadre System

The report tells us stuff about sex segregation in the police force that’s right out there in the open, unlike the slightly more subtle discrimination you or I might face in the workplace. We’re still trying to figure out if this is a good-bad or bad-bad thing. Meanwhile, here’s the dope:

Many state police forces continue to have separate cadres for men and women at state-level entry points. Disadvantage to women starts here. The effect of a separate cadre means that for a particular rank, only a certain number (usually very minimal) of positions are reserved for women, limiting the number of vacancies that can be filled by women recruits. This has a knock-on effect on opportunities for promotion and thereby career growth for women, as vacancies and seniority lists are also prepared separately and apportion a greater number of slots for men. Not only does this inhibit considerations of merit between the genders, it also restricts women’s upward progression in the police. The demand for a common cadre for recruitment of men and women has been repeatedly stressed at the National Conference for Women Police. This policy change is essential.

Parliamentary Committee Reports on Working Condition of Policewomen

This is the investigating committee we told you about:

In 2012-2013, and again in 2014-2015, the Parliamentary Committee on Empowerment of Women took up the issue of women police to “review the working conditions of women police in India”.

Surprise surprise! the Parliamentary Committee wasn’t exactly thrilled with its findings. Out of the 14 recommendations in the Parliamentary Committee’s first report:

On three recommendations, the Committee expressed disappointment with the government’s response and replies.

To wit:

  1. Linking of modernisation funds granted by the Centre to the states with progress achieved in increasing representation of women in the police force;
    2. Constructing residential accommodation exclusively for women police personnel; and
    3. Seeking time-bound Action Taken Reports on implementation of resolutions passed in the National Conferences for Women in Police […].

Maternity Leave

Hey, we know that stuff. Applies to us civilians too. But if you think you have problems:

Maternity leave varies between 135 days to 180 days across states. On childcare leave, while states like Haryana and more recently Bihar also offer two years of leave to state cadre officers, others like Jharkhand and Rajasthan do not. Women police from these states shared how such policies need to be applied across the board to support women officers and personnel of other ranks. In Haryana, while the two-year policy is in force, in practice women officers face problems in availing of it. They are required to first finish their accumulated earned leave before making use of the two-year childcare leave. This becomes difficult, as police departments often disallow taking earned leave for long periods. This puts women in an awkward position as they are compelled to ask for earned leave repeatedly in order to exhaust it. It is particularly arduous for women who have served for a long period and are likely to have accumulated considerable earned leave.


Now watch the police force become touchingly stingy with the government’s money – enough to warm the cockles of a patriotic heart:

In its examination of the provision for childcare, the Parliamentary Committee was critical of the under-spending of allocated funds: “For the fiscal year 2012-13, funds to the tune of Rs. 1.22 crore were released for this purpose, whereas, utilization was to the tune of Rs. 59 lakhs only … The Committee express their displeasure not only on the substantial under-utilization of allocated funds but also the inability of the Ministry to provide reliable data relating to availability of crèches/ day care centre facilities at various locations in the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs). The Committee strongly reiterate the need for child care services”.

And not just that. To witness committee sarcasm at its best, read about how the “Ministry went into slumber”:

“The Committee are at a loss to understand as to why the Ministry went into slumber and failed to appreciate the need for establishing the facilities of crèches and day care centres for their women police personnel. The Committee are of the view that the Government was not sincere in implementing their own policies and programmes of providing crèche and day care facilities to their women police personnel. The Committee are disappointed to find that no reliable data has been maintained in regard to availability of crèches/ day care facilities at various locations in the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) and deplore the lackadaisical approach of the Ministry in this regard”.

“Male Culture within Police Services”

We promise you this beautiful phrase came straight from the report, and we want to give whoever wrote it a jaadu ki jhappi, Munnabhai-style. But the meaning of the phrase is just plain sobering, when you start to think why a “male culture” prevails:

Partly, this is reflected in discrimination in allocation of duties, in postings and promotions documented in other sections. It is also seen in the pressure women police face in having to prove themselves on a day-today basis. Women, particularly at the subordinate ranks across states, spoke of having to work doubly hard to counter negative perceptions about their capabilities. Other common perceptions identified were that any mistakes committed by women police will invariably be viewed as affirmation of their inherent inferiority; that requests for leave are rarely acknowledged as being necessary to fulfil the burden of the dual roles that women have to play but seen as “proof” that they are not serious about their work; that if a woman raises questions, or tries to assert herself among peers and seniors, she is likely to be seen as a troublemaker.

This is where the report lets us hear from the policewomen themselves:

“A male officer may be a fool of the highest order but will be taken as a good officer. The threshold of credibility is much lower for men. Women have to prove themselves.”

“There is a mentality of discrimination … there is a lot of talk about women not working but there are so many male constables in line of duty who are useless, lying drunk, no one has an issue about that. But if a woman asks for leave then everyone has a problem”.

But not all is lost. Here’s our pleasant surprise, just when it’s most needed!

Of the states covered, the male culture is less acute in the Meghalaya Police. This is where cultural influence comes to bear. As Meghalaya is a matrilineal society, there is greater space for women’s participation in the overall workforce. While representation of women in Meghalaya Police is not very high (only 2.87%), the women police interviewed did not complain of discrimination or other attitudinal cultural problems.

We love you, Meghalaya!

Now back to The Horror, The Horror:

A recent study conducted in Tamil Nadu contained some worrying findings on the extent to which – despite the increased representation of women and their exposure to a wide range of duties – women police are still negatively perceived by their male counterparts. Perhaps most concerning was that there was general agreement between both men and women officers that most police work was performed more effectively by men, leading to the conclusion that negative perceptions were internalised [The Ladies Finger’s emphasis] by women. It found that women “have been exposed to the full range of police duties, most of which they claim to be interested in performing. Despite this they seem unable to shrug off the criticisms of their male counterparts with the result that few of them (27.6%) aspire to a fully integrated role in policing where women do the same tasks as men”. Ultimately, while the male-dominated subculture was found to be an important contributory factor, the study concluded that the systemic ills of policing were in fact the root cause […]

Fun! We need not look to men, but to The Man:

“It is simplistic to put all the blame on the negative attitudes of male officers. The truth is that the paramilitary model of policing, the regimented daily regime, the long hours of duty and the heavy premium placed on physical fitness all impose a greater burden on women than male officers”.

More fun. This is turning into a real party.

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Where do you go when you’re the police?

[…] sexual harassment within police departments is not readily or easily acknowledged with many claiming it simply does not exist. Senior leaders in particular were unwilling to acknowledge and/or share information about the problem. This contrasted sharply with answers to face-to-face questions and in focus groups with junior ranks where the atmosphere was more candid […]

This is where we hear from the rank and file:

“It’s very rampant in police departments”.

“Sexual harassment is an issue and this is suppressed”.

“Sexual harassment of women at the workplace is considered normal in the police. The general attitude is that if you have come to work you have to learn to bear it”.

More fun statistics:

Yet, the problem remains highly unreported. In the two states of Kerala and Haryana, our surveys revealed only five out of 66 respondents (7.5%) said they had faced sexual harassment, and 60 (91%) said they had not.

You might ask: parantu kyun? After all, they’re the police, they know how to file an FIR. But no:

Many factors are behind why the problem remain unreported, one of which is the high levels of ignorance about where or how to complain. […] In Kerala and Haryana, 18 out of 66 (27.3%) of respondents did not know they could complain about harassment.

And the unkindest cut of all:

It is difficult to pinpoint whether this is because the structures have not been established or there is a lack of awareness about them.

Okay, we’ll stop pretending. That last bit was a real downer.


Women’s toilets are an issue everywhere. In rural areas:

One of the most recurring themes in the research was the paucity of toilet and restroom facilities for women. In fact, many police stations do not have toilets at all, let alone separate toilets and restrooms for women personnel. Any available facility is often badly maintained and unsanitary. The men have long been used to substandard conditions which they should not have to tolerate, but nevertheless do. The great outdoors offers an alternative for them which is simply not an alternative that women can avail of, or should be asked to tolerate.

And urban:

In urban areas, the problem is most acute for traffic police where women police face a lot of problems in the absence of adequate and clean public toilets. A female traffic constable in Rajasthan stated categorically that the toughest part of her job was unavailability of toilet facilities.

Plus, a heartbreaker of a sentence:

In another instance, a woman described how she does not drink water (even in extremely hot conditions) to avoid the need to use a toilet.

That’s all, folks!

Well, actually, no. That was just India – tidbits thereof, to be precise. The report also tells us about Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Maldives. These bits already have us nodding vigorously, drawing comparisons to some aspects of our own working lives. But one thing’s for sure: policewomen’s professional problems are special, and we aren’t forgetting this report in a hurry. The next time we see a policewoman on the street, we’ll remember.

To read more, download the full CHRI report here.

This article originally appeared here.

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