IT was peak midday rush hour and the day had warmed up to about 24°C in Lahore. A female traffic warden on a 250cc motorbike zoomed through a busy intersection on Mall Road. Ignoring several gaping onlookers, she parked her bike near a traffic signal opposite the Punjab Assembly.
At about five foot five with a strong build and an air of confidence, 24-year-old Aroosa Hussain slid off the bike and walked up to a group of reporters waiting to interview her. Her name badge was inconspicuous behind the headscarf, and the steel-grey uniform with loose pants and a full-sleeved top looked as though it would be suffocating in the April heat. “Part of our training is to not feel hot in all the layers we wear,” said Hussain, seemingly undisturbed.
Hussain is one of the seven female traffic wardens who are working as patrolling officers to monitor traffic issues in Lahore. The first batch of female wardens started work in 2008, but they were quickly removed from the roads and deputed to work at the office, reportedly after several instances of harassment.
Hussain said that she felt confident being on the roads after having undergone a two-year training period. Although she had encountered no harassment, she recalled one incident when she stopped a man over a traffic violation: in protest, he grabbed her hand. She immediately registered a first information report with the police and got him imprisoned. “I was able to do this as I was aware of the legal provisions under which I could take this action,” she said.
Given that they have the heaviest motorbikes on the roads right now, it is almost impossible for anyone to chase these wardens. As compared with the earlier batch, they are better trained in terms of confidence and morale. “Earlier, they panicked if they fell off the bike,” said Tasleem Shuja, the manager of safety at Atlas Honda, which trained the wardens for two months. “Now they can counter any mishap on the road with confidence.”
Shuja said that the earlier female wardens had not been removed from road duty due to complaints of harassment but because some senior police officials objected to women being on the roads.
Several factors played a role in female wardens earlier preferring office duty to being on the roads. “Two of them had accidents and injured their legs severely,” said Sohail Chaudhry, Lahore’s Chief Traffic Officer (CTO). He added that many wardens from the earlier batch had got married, had children and were older, so they themselves preferred office work. This view was corroborated by Phool Mushtaq, an officer at the ticketing office who explained that issues such as bathroom breaks while on the road for long hours and the disapproval of in-laws were some of the reasons that prevented her from opting road duty.
For those who did enrol for traffic duty, public interaction was given more focus during their training. This included over a year on ticketing experience, four months on traffic duty and two-and-a-half months on bike training, according to Chaudhry.
“We have mechanisms in place against harassment now,” he said. “There is always a designated male warden with a female warden and women are sent to areas where we expect more educated people and drivers.” Wardens have been given wireless access that enables them to immediately contact a male warden. They are also deputed to areas such as the Lahore University of Management Sciences, Defence Y-block, Kinnaird College and Lahore College on Jail Road, and Main Boulevard, where “people on the roads are expected to be more educated”.
“When in uniform we are not male or female but police officers,” stated Hussain. “People are already becoming accustomed to seeing us on the streets and will soon consider us as just police officers, not female ones.”
According to Hussain, the impression of a non-conducive work environment is often exaggerated. Her eagerness to show how much she enjoyed her job was visible in the way she coordinated with a team of a local television network, nodding to instructions about how the camera crew wanted to film her.
As the camera rolled, she put her white gloves back on her hands, placed a water bottle in a white box and attached it to her bike and, with an air of self-worth, roared off on the Mall.