Women in police in India: Angels who walk through hell?

Women make up only 7.28% of India’s police force. Of these, 90% are constables, and less than 1% hold supervisory positions. Tumpa Mukherjee’s new study throws light on women in Indian police

Women in police in India: Angels who walk through hell?

S.N.M. Abdi

Little Rashmi Sinha, wearing a blue skirt, white shirt and a yellow and maroon striped tie, would literally run to keep pace with me and her brother Niraj Sinha when we walked home from St. Xavier’s School in Sahibgunj where we grew up.

My father worked for the Railways, while Rashmi’s and Niraj’s dad was a professor of English. We were day-scholars in the famous Jesuit school in a very picturesque part of Bihar which later went to Jharkhand. Niraj is a serving 1987 batch (Jharkhand) Indian Police Service officer. Taking a leaf out of her brother’s book, Rashmi too joined the IPS almost a decade later - in 1996.

After a brief stint in West Bengal, she moved to the Intelligence Bureau (IB) which has turned out to be her career nest. Rashmi has risen to the rank of Inspector General of Police (IGP) and is currently posted as Joint Director, Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau, in Guwahati. On 31st January I spotted Rashmi on the dais in the company of Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and Himanta Biswa Sarma during the arms laying ceremony after the Centre signed a peace pact with murderous NDFB. She was in the spotlight after her unpublicised but crucial behind-the-scenes role as an intelligence officer in sewing up the loose ends of the tripartite deal. She is one of the several women who have distinguished themselves in the police over the last three decades.

A scholarly new study, Women in Police in India: A Journey from Periphery to Core, by Tumpa Mukherjee, an Assistant Professor of Sociology, delves deep into the little known world of women like Rashmi.

Policing in India is primarily a male bastion where women in uniform or otherwise are just beginning to find their feet. Women are entering what Mukherjee calls “one of the world’s most masculinised occupations” both at the IPS and subordinate levels by dint of their educational qualification, legal enactments and changing sociocultural values. But it is still being debated whether India should follow the “integrated model of policing” giving women exactly the same duties and opportunities as men, or the “gendered model” of confining them to dealing only with women and children within an overarching patriarchal structure.

The book shines a torch on the gradual entry of women in the police force, the division of labour along man-woman lines, cultural biases and parochial mindset, the propagation and justification of “gendered model” of policing as opposed to a gender neutral approach, the leadership style of women in the police force in comparison with the male managerial model, and lastly demands a thorough overhaul of the police organisational structure and culture to give women their due.

According to the author, while women in IPS generally enjoy the benefits of the “integrated model”, the subordinate women police force is denied equal opportunities in the investigation of crime, law and order, traffic, patrolling and night duties. The implementation of recommendations made by the National Police Commission as well as the National Conference for Women in Police is held up by the lack of administrative will to ensure an equal playing field.

Mukherjee cites two examples of gross injustice to women IPS officers at the hands of male-dominated bureaucratic and political leadership in the Introduction itself. Kiran Bedi, India’s first IPS officer took voluntary retirement in 2007 when she was superseded by her junior, Y. S. Dadwal, for the post of Delhi Police Commissioner. And last year, Rina Mitra – then the country’s senior-most IPS officer who fulfilled all the criteria – was denied the post of CBI Director by scheduling the selection committee meeting a day after her retirement!

Personally, I am a big fan of Stella Remington, the first woman Director General of MI5 from 1992-96 in Britain. I admire her as a single mother-cumspymaster and an author. She tore into Cabinet Secretary Sir Richard Wilson when he tried to stop the publication of her first book, Open Secret.

Post retirement, she penned 10 spy thrillers drawing upon her long career as an intelligence officer which incidentally began in New Delhi in 1965. After Remington, yet another woman, Eliza Mannigham-Buller, headed MI5.

I wonder if IB, RAW, CBI or NIA will ever have a woman chief.

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