When you meet Shahzadi Gillani and Rizwana Zafar — two strong female police officers from Khyber Pakhunkhwa — you can’t help but smile.
Shahzadi grew up on army bases across Pakistan. Her father served in the forces and from an early age she wanted to follow in his footsteps. “I had this burning desire to serve my country,” she says. She tried very hard to get inducted into the army, but women were only serving as doctors or nurses at the time and she was unsuccessful. “I wanted to be on the frontlines, I wanted to be part of the action. You only live once and you should live a life that serves as an example of bravery,” she says. So instead, she joined the police force.
Her family hesitated at first, and placed conditions on her. She could only join, if she brought along a friend. So, Shahzadi reached out to Rizwana who readily agreed.
Rizwana grew up as the daughter of a labourer in Haripur, Punjab who played a major role in shaping her personality. He fought for labour rights and always played a ‘front and centre’ role in labour disputes. “I would watch my father work day and night, in overtime shifts to support our family and would think that I needed to be just like him; hardworking and brave.”
Two police officers from KP defy every preconceived notion anyone may have about the capability of Pakistani women
She answered a newspaper advertisement recruiting women for the police force and when Shahzadi reached out to her, the timing was perfect.
After training, they went to Abottabad where Shahzadi was the SHO at the women’s police station and Rizwana served alongside her. Over the years, they attended commando courses in Punjab and served in different areas in KP including Hangu, where they trained a new batch of policewomen inducted into the force. In 2005, they returned to Abottabad and in October their police station was destroyed in the earthquake. They pitched a tent and started helping families in Balakot and surrounding areas. “We lived in a tent for two years and after that we moved into a container for the next three years. Our people lost everything and as long as they didn’t have homes, we didn’t want one,” says Shahzadi.
Shahzadi and Rizwana’s duties vary, from serving VIPs to conducting raids and searching homes for criminals. “We are often called in to search homes,” says Rizwana. The culture in KP is such that male police officers often hesitate entering into homes in case there are women inside. “We lead from the front,” says Rizwana. “Once we enter, then the male police officers follow us. So I would say we are four steps ahead of men, because we knock on the door and enter first,” she says with a glint in her eye and wry smile.
It is definitely not an easy job. Female police officers conduct night raids, spend years away from family, live in harsh conditions and serve long hours. Currently, some 600 women serve in the 60,000 police force in the province. “We do exactly the same duties as men do,” says Rizwana. “If our male colleagues sleep, we sleep, if they eat, we eat. We don’t ask for special privileges just because we are women.”
Their favourite story is of a raid they conducted in a mountainous area near Abottabad. “The trek was arduous,” says Shahzadi. “We walked for hours to conduct this investigation and our male police officers accompanied us. At one point, we turned around and we couldn’t see them. Rizwana and I were perplexed, had we veered off the track? But then we looked back and saw them struggling up the hill. They did finally catch up to us.” That raid is particularly memorable to them because of the toughness they displayed.
Rizwana recalls one dangerous raid, which they conducted in the middle of the night at a house, which harboured suspected terrorists. “It was a very cold night, and three female police officers including myself accompanied the raiding party. Once we reached the house, we were unsure how many terrorists were inside but we did know that they were armed and ready for an encounter, so I volunteered to go in first and scaled the walls,” she says.
The police cordoned off the house while Rizwana entered. She jumped in and the terrorists started firing but she managed to open the front door and the raiding party overpowered them so they were arrested. “I am not afraid of death, we all have to die one day,” she says
Shahzadi and Rizwana come from humble beginnings but they have a vision and a desire and they have fought to make their dreams a reality. They have served in the police force for close to 20 years now and have become examples in their family and community. Countless other young women have followed in their footsteps and joined the police force.
To me, these women represent the best of Pakistan. I have always said, Pakistan’s biggest assets are its women. They shine bright and when you meet these two and shake hands with them you can see just why that is so true.
To hear their story and other inspirational stories like theirs, log on to: SOC FILMS program online: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x20vdkiaghaz-e-safar-our-frontline-heroes-episode-11news
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, September 14th, 2014