Empowered by khaki, women cops in Haryana challenge gender bias

By Manraj Grewal Sharma 

Haryana’s all-­women stations challenge gender bias, encourage complainants who avoid male officers.

Chandigarh : A group of villagers in white turbans stand out against the gleaming pink building in police lines of Haryana’s Ambala city.

But inside the all-women police station, it is another busy day with complainants waiting to be heard. The men outside are relatives who have accompanied them.

The police station is squeaky clean and atmosphere relaxed. Police women, many of them in the civvies, have the bedside manner of a doctor as a woman between sobs talks about her husband who locked her up and has taken away their five-year-old son.

Steely eyed, her mother is firm. “Bahut ho gaya (enough is enough), he is insane. We want our grandson back and an end to the marriage.”

Another woman, from neighbouring Panchkula, is contesting an FIR filed by her daughter-in-law. Her husband and son want to know if they, too, have been named. “No, she’s just sought maintenance,” head constable Simarjit Kaur says.

Right behind Kaur’s chair is a board with a list of cases, complete with the names of investigating officers and the dates of court hearings.

It was on the eve of Rakshabandhan on August 29, 2015 that chief minister ML Khattar inaugurated the first police station of, for, and by the women in Gurgaon.

Today Haryana, which has one of the worst sex ratios in the country, is the only Indian state to have all-women police stations in each of its 22 districts. Sonepat has two.

The aim was to quell crime against women but that hasn’t happened.

As many as 6,427 cases of crime against women were registered in Haryana from January to August 2017 against 5,711 during the same period last year.

While rape complaints have gone down marginally from 789 to 774, dowry harassment cases have gone up from 1,836 to 2,017.

Inspector general Mamata Singh, who heads the state’s crime against women cell, says it is because more complainants were speaking up.

“Earlier, they would hesitate to come forward with complaints such as molestation in the male-dominated police stations,” she says. Molestation cases have gone up from 1,204 in 2016 to 1,374 this year.

Ambala SHO Seema Singh says it’s easier for a woman to talk to another woman than to a man. “Police have a negative image. Women would hesitate to approach cops, afraid of being questioned by a man but they don’t think twice before coming to us,” she says.

Over the two years, these stations have been empowered to do real policing work. They can register FIRs and the women officers often investigate complicated cases, she Mamata.

Haryana’s mahila (women) police stations disposed of 93.57% (21,038) of the 22,482 complaints received between January and August. FIRs were registered on 7.38% of the complaints.

Empowering policewomen

The role of women has grown from the time she took over as the Panipat superintendent of police in the 1990s, says Mamata. “Women played a ceremonial role. They were called from their houses when there was a crime against women so that they could be present when the victim gave her statement,” she says.

There was a furore when Mamata suggested traffic duty for women. “I was told that I would have to depute a male constable for their protection,” she says.

That was then. Now women account for 10% of Haryana’s Police force.

“We have postgraduates and engineers on our rolls,” says Mamata. “They are educated women on a mission.”

Roop Rekha, a constable at Ambala, has master’s degrees in Hindi and special education. She left her job as a special educator to join the force in 2016.

“In our state, this is the only job that puts you at an equal footing with men,” she says.

A fresh commerce graduate, constable Neha is just three months into the service. On way to a court hearing in Panchkula, the 21-year-old says, “I always wanted to don the uniform, it’s so empowering.”

The khaki has changed her, says SHO Singh, who has a master’s in English and a BEd. “I took the police exam because I wanted a job, but this uniform has done wonders to my confidence. I no longer need anyone’s protection,” she says.

Head constable Karamjeet Kaur had a master’s degree in commerce but chose to join the force. “There is a long list of don’ts for women, there aren’t any for a woman cop,” she says.

‘Not the best solution’

Not everyone is in favour of all-women police stations.

Parmod Kumar, chairperson of the Haryana governance reforms authority, says these were set up on the assumption that women are empathetic towards their own gender. “But most of the conflict zones in the family are between women — be it clashes between the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law or between sisters-in-law. We need gender-just police stations.”

Punjab, he says, has done better by setting up “saanjh kendras (shared centres)” where any woman can register a complaint of non-cognisable nature.

Punjab has 503 such centres, with 363 of them attached to police stations, says Punjab inspector general of police (women affairs) Ishwar Singh. Of the 41,440 matrimonial disputes they got between September 2012 and August 2017, 39,801 were settled out of court, he says.

But women cops differ.

Poonam Dalal Dahiya, a former Haryana police services officer who has now joined the Indian Revenue Services, says such thanas provide an entry point to women complainants.

The mere presence of women in uniform is changing the patriarchal mindset of people in Haryana, SHO Seema says. “I can see the difference it’s made to men in my family,” she says.

Needed, a change in mindset

A change in attitude is the key to prevent crime against women, says Dahiya, who is from Haryana. There was a drastic drop in sexual harassment complaints in Faridabad in 2013 when she stationed women in civvies outside colleges while also talking to youngsters about lewd comments and catcalls. “It was a two-pronged approach in which we used the stick besides generating awareness,” she says.

In June, the Haryana Police launched Operation Durga against men harassing women on streets. They have enrolled more than 100,000 youth as volunteers under the Youth against Sexual Harassment drive, a move aimed at changing attitude and behaviour.

“The aim is to create awareness about women rights and build public opinion against gender-based discrimination,” says IG Mamata.

A changed mindset will also help women cops. “We are on call 24 hours a day, it will help to have more equal relations at home,” says head constable Karamjeet Kaur.

Case report

There are 307 rape cases being investigated in Haryana. Five of these are pending for over a year, 39 over six months, 36 over three months, 50 over two months and 70 over a month. As many as 433 molestation complaints are being looked into. Eleven of these are pending for over a year, 39 over six months, 55 over three months, 65 over two months and 117 over a month.

Source: Hindustan Times

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