Sunday morning I saw the photograph and report of a police woman dancing with the Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan ornamenting the pages of all the leading newspapers of Kolkata. The photograph was taken at the annual cultural event, 'Jay Ho', organized by Kolkata Police for the welfare of their family members.
Critical review of the photograph has already started among police personnel and intelligentsia. Often women police have been photographed in a wrong manner. Few days ago a photograph of a few women police in uniform eating phuchka was published. Can't they be hungry? Is it possible in law and order duties to change the uniform, eat and again wear the uniform, when police women are deployed near Maidan area or at Esplanade?
Is it possible for them to change their uniform every time they perform their civil/ civic duties. In another incident SUCI workers attacked a woman police and stripped her clothes. The photographers never missed the chance of 'clicking' her cleavages. As I write to you I reminisce the years I spent with them when I did my fieldwork. I tried to document their 'lived' experiences in personal and professional life which are tales of enjoyment, pleasure coupled with pain, sorrow and tension, in my thesis.
Just after partition, women were recruited in Kolkata Police in 1949 for frisking 'purdah nashin (veiled) women leaving for erstwhile East Pakistan. They also controlled refugee women agitators. Till 1980s there was a minimal representation of women in police force. They were mere 'tokens' in Calcutta Police utilized only when required. They were never deployed in fields and were kept as 'reserve' at Lalbazar, the Calcutta Police (now Kolkata Police) headquarters.
Their uniform was saree, symbolizing the 'service' role they were required to perform. However from 1990s 'formalization' of women in police started taking place with the introduction of shirt and trousers as uniform to be worn in all the official duties.
However women in police suffered discrimination. Shubra Sil, remained for more than one-a-half decade as assistant commissioner (women police), whereas her male batch mates received postings in different units. The male officers served different departments which led to the enhancement of their skills and experiences and they retired as deputy commissioner of different departments.
While in all other states women in Indian Police Service (IPS) received 'field' postings as superintendent of police of districts, in West Bengal woman IPS officers were deprived of such coveted postings. The only woman who served as additional officer-in-charge of the Hare Street police station in 2001 was Deboshree Chatterjee.
Later on she became officer-in-charge of North Port and Taratalla police station. In states such as Maharastra, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, planning for recruitment and professional development of women police started from 1990s onwards. However no such planning took place in the erstwhile left front regime.
However 'DIDI' with you at the 'helm' of affairs, these 'marginalized', 'neglected' women police personnel saw a ray of hope. With you, in charge of the Home Department, announcing policies such as increase in recruitment of women in police by ten per cent; creating women police stations in districts; creating a post of deputy commissioner (women police) and three posts of assistant commissioner (women police) in Kolkata Police; appointing senior women officers as superintendent of police and deputy inspector general of a district and a range respectively, have been whole heartedly welcomed by women police, police force in general as well as by the masses you govern.
However the reality remains that in both Kolkata and West Bengal Police, the number of women recruited is yet to match their requirements in everyday life. Promotional procedure is very slow. The need of the hour is to introduce a single unified cadre in Kolkata Police, as recommended in all the six national conferences of women in police held so far. Most states have adopted the recommendations of the national conferences for women in police or are in the process of adopting. But Kolkata Police lags behind.
Women sub-inspectors and constables posted in different police stations confront innumerable problems. Formally rooms and toilets have been created in police stations. However on conditions of anonymity, many women police opined that their rooms are often utilized by male officers or officers dump irrelevant materials. A woman constable narrated that there was a pungent smell as an investigating male officer had kept the 'viscera' (to be given for forensic testing) in their room.
However when the officer-in-charge was informed, he immediately ordered for cleaning the room. Women police personnel are often at the mercy of their superior officer. If the superior officer is sensitive, women police personnel are dealt professionally and humanely. However sensitive, gentle male police officers are often an aberration rather than a general trend in police force.
Once an officer-in-charge of a police station under the jurisdiction of Kolkata Police had told me, 'meyera mane maternity leave' (women imply maternity leave). Though anti-sexual harassment cell has been constituted, yet women in subordinate ranks are reluctant to vent their grievances for the 'fear' of being labelled as 'disobedient' or 'difficult to work with'.
During long gruelling law and order duties in police parlance bandobust duties, in open space women police personnel find it difficult to attend to nature's call. Few of them suffer from kidney as well gynaecological problems. If police buses have mobile toilets as used in Tamil Nadu, women police personnel will not hesitate to perform bandobust duties and the entire force will be benefited.
The condition of women police personnel at the Public Relation Bureau inside Lalbazar is appalling. Earlier women police personnel would sit in a large room located at the ground floor of the main building. But that room has been converted into a cyber laboratory. At present, at the entrance of the PRB section there is a male urinal.
It is extremely embarrassing for a woman to enter from that path. In a dilapidated room, without proper ventilation, women police personnel of all ranks under assistant commissioner (women police) sit together. Though the room has ceiling fans but the air does not percolate proportionally. Since it is located near the male urinal, there is a perennial bad smell.
Women sub-inspectors, assistant sub-inspectors, sit on chairs, whereas constables mostly sit on benches in demarcated spaces inside the room. Old files have been dumped up inside the room. Adjacent to this room, there is a congested rectangular shaped room where home guards and civic volunteers (known as green police) sit on benches.
A wooden partition separates officer-in-charge, PRB section from the rest of the subordinate officers. One of them informed me that they have to bring drinking water in bottles from outside. Women are required to perform night duties, hence have to stay back at night at PRB unit, however there are no rest rooms or changing rooms inside PRB.
DIDI, it is an earnest request that when you go for sudden visits at Lalbazar, please visit this section. You will get a first hand view of this unit.
Mere increase in number of women police is not enough. It is necessary to improve the infrastructural facilities at workplace before deploying women police personnel. Apart from painting the buildings of Lalbazar and buying computers, the police modernization grants may be utilized for the improvement of infrastructural facilities for both male and female officers. Creches and day care centres may be opened for kids of both male and female officers.
We all hope that under your able leadership and guidance there will be a 'PORIBORTON'( a change)- that West Bengal will make a steady progress in all spheres. It is hoped that you being a woman will understand and feel the problems of women police personnel. You will be 'sensitive' to the needs of both male and female officers.
It is hoped that you will adopt and implement policies which will help to bring sea change among women in Kolkata and West Bengal Police as well as in the police force in general.