Sub-Inspector Shahida is one of the many young women who have recently joined the Rawalpindi Police Force after clearing the Punjab Public Service Commission exam. She is conscientious, educated, and confident — exactly the image that Pakistan, whose population balance tips towards the young, needs to have.
In our dominant patriarchal culture, the induction of such a large number of young women did come to me as a bit of a surprise. So much so, I was wondering if the government had privatised the police department!
This interesting exchange with Shahida took place by chance a couple of days ago, when I was visiting my friend, a superintendent of Police in Rawalpindi. Upon entering the Rawalpindi Police Headquarters, I saw a couple of young uniform-clad women, looking very professional.
The colour of their uniform was the same as that of their male colleagues, but something else captured my attention. They were all wearing pantaloons.
This was definitely not something I expected policewomen in Punjab to wear. They usually dress in the traditional Shalwar Kameez.
I was very curious to know how these policewomen were different from the rest. When I asked my friend about it, he said these newly-recruited ladies had to undergo a rigorous police training, including an Elite Commando course.
Elite training? I was puzzled. This training is considered to be the toughest in police, not just for women, but also for men. It has the same reputation as that of the SSG trainings conducted by the army. “How did they do all this?” I inquired, on which my friend suggested that I should meet them to find out for myself.
I walked out of his room towards the spacious veranda of the police station. I found the young female police inspectors busy with their work. Seated in their rooms, they were listening to the complainants, conducting themselves with thorough professionalism.
Women police officers are inducted in two cadres; Officers and Ranks. Officers start at grade 17 as Assistant Superintendents of Police, and those in Ranks join at grade 14 as Sub-Inspectors.
For the first time in the history of Punjab Police, last year, 76 women joined the police department in Punjab as Sub-Inspectors.
During my visit, I also met Sabrina who told me that she travelled from Taxila to Rawalpindi every day. That was nothing new. But imagine a woman wearing a police uniform, driving daily from Taxila to Rawalpindi and back on a busy GT road.
I asked her if she ever felt threatened, or if she carried a weapon. “I am the weapon,” she said.
Her confidence was almost infectious. For a minute, I thought I was having a conversation with Sun Tzu, Zen Buddhist warrior and author of ’The art of war’. She was very calm, composed and self-assured as she spoke.
And she was not the only one; all these young officers seemed firm and determined. This experience held a novelty for me. Part of the credit for their level of self-confidence goes to the training they received.
I asked how their families felt about their working hours. I was told they had full support. The new generation, along with their families, wanted to make the best use of opportunities provided by a growing economy like Punjab’s. To them, working for the Punjab Police means a secure future.
The Punjab Police is primarily male-dominated and the province has a rigid patriarchal culture. It is no secret that most of the postings and appointments, not just in the Police but in other departments as well, are handed down on political affiliations.
Also read: Footprints — Female wardens back on bikes
Considering these circumstances, I wonder if these women would ever be posted as SHOs (Station House Officers) not just in women thaanas (police stations) but elsewhere too?
Would these women ever be brought into mainstream policing?
Would they really be able to bring about a positive change in society's approach towards females?
Women certainly have limitations when it comes to the culture or environment of an institution and it is not their fault. “Men can sit together in the office for hours. They can be friends with their bosses, while we can’t. We cannot get chummy with our seniors,” said Shabnam.
She also said that their confidence springs from looking up to female police officers at higher ranks within the department. “Although things are still difficult, times are changing and we get a lot of encouragement from our male colleagues.”
Women in these police stations work alongside men. The men I met were more senior, both in terms of rank and age. However, it came to me as a pleasant surprise that they welcomed the idea of young women joining the police force.
Tahir Naqvi, 50, told me about his experience with the new recruits. He said one day during the month of Muharram, security was on high-alert and a procession was expected to go through the area. Traffic was blocked and barriers erected. At this point, a female police officer, who had recently joined the team took a bold decision. She told the sergeant to allow the traffic to pass as people with young children had been stuck for a long time.
He was astonished to hear this and asked her if she knew what she was doing. “Yes Sir, I do,” she had replied.
“They are not like our generation. They are energetic and willing to learn. We wish them good luck,” said Naqvi.
Women are fast becoming change agents across the board; whether its education, sports, medicine, businesses or the police department. This is the right time to tap their potential as women constitute more than half of Pakistan’s population.
I witnessed firsthand how the Punjab Police is changing for the better. Young and educated women and men are joining its ranks. It seems that the thaana culture that the previous generations witnessed would soon be history.
The police department — if it consistently pursued its policies — would eventually evolve into a more responsive and gender equal institution.
— All photos by the author