Need for gender equality in security forces

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New Delhi : It was near dusk and the dusty summer wind was rattling the windows of my office chambers. Mondays are more than usual – filled with heart wrenching tales – as I meet people coming from far flung areas seeking to redress their grievances personally. A heavy start to the week.

As I was preparing to leave, a frail looking woman walked in. She was 30 and painfully thin. She mumbled, trying hard to control her tears.
Amma! Please help me talk to my children before I end my life. Let me touch them once.

I thought miserably, what should I say to calm her nerves? Head Constable Jayarani, who helps me with the front desk on petitions hurriedly came in and started comforting the woman. After offering a glass of water, I encouraged her to speak, though in my mind I was thinking of it as a custodial fight over children, a tragically common narrative.

She gave me a piece of paper, a petition describing her ordeal in broken words in Telugu. She stood there, head bowed with her swollen eyes downcast behind the worn out cloth tied over her head, while I read it with a puzzled frown and a lump in my throat.

17 years ago on a dry sunny day, she returned from school to learn of her marriage to her maternal uncle. 12 years older than her and already married. She had no say. After the ceremony was over, she was taken to the nearby town where the husband worked in a government department. It took only few hours for her to realise that the sole purpose of the marriage was to bear him children, as the first wife couldn’t. She went on to give birth to 3 children. Neither was she allowed to interact with them nor was she treated as a member of the family.

She was forced to live in the kitchen as a maid. Her meals were rationed to limited portions. Her only interaction with the husband was during those dark, tormenting nights. The first wife – also a government servant, never let the children address the woman as ‘mother’. If they did, the mother was punished. It was a worst case of domestic servitude. Finally she mustered enough courage to come to my office.

I asked her why she never went to the Police Station, which was only a few metres away. Pat came the reply. They were all men; she didn’t think that they would be able to understand what she was going through. She came because I was a lady. This is one of the many cases where women who are otherwise reluctant to go to a police station come directly to meet a Police Officer only because she is a lady.

I must make a mention of what happened next, before I get to the point. Inspector Raju, whom I entrusted with the task of helping her, almost wept after hearing her story. You see! Male cops are not demons as you see in Bollywood movies. A case was registered; both the husband and wife were remanded to judicial custody and through the concerned departmental heads they were placed under suspension. The mother was reunited with the children.

This story has a veiled, yet strong message for us. We need more women in the forces. Not because one random lady felt comfortable enough to approach me, but because law enforcement agencies must closely resemble the society they serve. It is imperative to maintain the ratio.

The Committee of empowerment of women, constituted way back in 1996, has been consistently pressing upon successive governments to enhance the representation of women in the forces. In 2009 and 2012, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) issued advisories to raise the representation of women in state police and central paramilitary police forces to 33%. Subsequently in January 2016, Union Home Minister, Rajnath Singh approved 33% of posts at the Constable level to be filled by women in CRPF and CISF. 14-15% posts at constable level were reserved for women in border guarding forces such as BSF, SSB and ITBP. In March 2015, the central government approved induction of women in Delhi Police for 33% of posts; the same was extended to 6 Union territories as well for the posts of Police constables to sub-inspectors. States like Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Assam, and Tamil Nadu have reservation for women, but the number still is uneven across states.

As on January 2016, out of 22.80 lakhs total police force (states) in the country, actual strength of women police was only 122912. It’s barely 7.10% of the total strength. As per the recommendation of the Committee on Empowerment of women’s Sixth Report, only 14 States/UT’s implemented 33% reservation for women and 7 states had no reservation yet. Remaining States/UT’s had between 3% to 20% reservation.

Indian army began inducting women in 1992 into the officer cadre, whereas the Indian Air Force (IAF) agreed in principle only in 2015 to induct women pilots in combat roles. In April 2016, Indian Navy announced permanent commission for women completing seven years of service. Till then, apart from the Navy, all the other wings of the armed forces had permanent commission for women.

In spite of the various affirmative actions initiated, women remain drastically under-represented. Law enforcement is one of the least gender-diverse of all the public sector jobs in India. Women still haven’t found an easy place.

I have a strong instinctive distaste to be a cynical writer, yet it seems to me that my appeal can have little value, unless a frank and outspoken opinion is given on the historical helplessness women in India have inherited in breaking the barriers. So far as I am aware very little work has been done considering the gravity of the gap. Even the most basic and preliminary questions about this disparity remains not only unanswered but unasked.
In India the gender disparity among forces is deeply rooted in certain economic and social factors. There is a traditional preference for boys over girls at birth itself. A popular perception that girls tend to have a higher opportunity cost to go to school than boys results in lower investment in girl’s education. Parents are also reluctant to invest in girl’s education as they will have to forgo returns once a girl is married.

Popular culture has long portrayed women in the forces overly courageous, manly and with least inclination towards a settled family life. Our cultural ethos tag men with leadership qualities and women with nurturing qualities. Choosing a career from the traditionally male domain is seen as a violation of stereotypical expectations of women. These negative projections make women look at the profession with certain amount of fear and scepticism. But the truth is women in the forces can have both a stable family life and a thriving career. Many studies have shown that women with greater financial security and professional success have more fulfilled life, as they learn to navigate challenges with greater resolve.

No effort is made by the recruiting agency to undo the stereotypical projection of a police job to fit into the traditional masculine values. A closer look at the job profile, particularly that of civil police, presents a picture which appeals to traditionally feminine values, as most part of it is non-violent beat policing, preventive action through community outreach, mediation etc.

172 districts are battling conflict situations in India in the form of insurgency, left-wing extremism, terrorism etc. Violence against women in conflict areas is a least condemned crime, often ignored in peace talks and ceasefire agreements. It barely marks a blip on the national radar. Criminal indictment of such violations and reparation programmes certainly need a female security component. Their role is critical in post-conflict recovery of the society torn by violence. It has been proved time and again that women’s participation definitely enhances the community’s perception of the integrity of the security forces.

Structural challenges continue to keep qualified female officers from ascending to leadership positions where they can effect change. Women hold themselves back not just because of institutional bottlenecks but also because of the greater internal obstacle, constantly plagued with self-doubt and underestimating their ability. Professional ambition is expected of men but is optional or worse; sometimes even a negative for women, as succinctly explained by Sheryl Sandberg, COO Face book in her book “Lean In”. “She is very ambitious” is not a compliment in our culture. Aggressive and hard-charging women violate unwritten rules about acceptable social conduct. This stigma will only dissipate, the day we have more women in uniform.

The National Conference for women in police (NCWP), organized under the aegis of BPR&D, MHA since 2001 is a platform to address the grievances of women in uniform. It has been continuously stressing on the need for increased representation of women and recommended several measures including 33% reservation, special recruitment drives and better facilities for women.

BPR&D in its 2016 report on ‘Data on Police Organisations’ made a strong appeal that women be visible at the cutting edge level of public interface. There is a tendency to engage women police only in situations like security checks and other specialized duties relating to women, but unless they are assigned frontline duties in the police stations, there would not be an impact on the community as a whole.

Merely announcing reservation will not suffice. The target group must be equipped with facilities to develop the required skills to enter the workforce. We must acknowledge the fact that women are less likely to seize the opportunities as they are marred by external barriers. It is up to the organisations to promote women’s participation in security forces as an act to scale up effectiveness rather than an act of fairness.

Greater investment in advertisement campaigns in a way that appeals to the sensitivities of females candidates is the need of the hour. So is proper monitoring of utilisation under gender budgeting and regular stock taking of implementation of various policy decisions.

As I write this, trailer of ‘The Test Case’ is attempting to focus on how fighting for our country is still considered a man’s job.

Nimrat Kaur asks, ‘Will India trust a woman to protect its borders?’

Usha Kiran, an Assistant Commandant with CRPF’s 80 Battalion shattered the metaphorical glass ceiling and is making a mark in the insurgency-hit jungles of Bastar.

Army Chief General Bipin Rawat is calling for a more participative form of policy formulation in the annual commander’s conference.
And I see hope.

Source: Times of India (blog)

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