FOOTPRINTS: PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

Updated 19 Aug 2018

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REHMAT Jahan, Dir’s first-ever woman police moharrir at work in her office at the Balambat police station in Timergarha, Lower Dir.—Photo by writer
REHMAT Jahan, Dir’s first-ever woman police moharrir at work in her office at the Balambat police station in Timergarha, Lower Dir.—Photo by writer

FOR Rehmat Jahan, Balambat jail in Timergarha, Lower Dir, must be a lonely place to work. There are rooms, offices mainly, along the jail’s yard bearing the odd tree here and there. They are all full of men — on benches, behind desks, milling about the long corridor with files tucked underarm. Some rooms have beds and on the walls hang charcoal uniforms.

Hers is a position of authority, having broken the glass ceiling in an institution — the police and its thana — that is synonymous with machismo. After all, it is not for women to deal with hardened criminals, goes the thinking. And that, too, in the religious and patriarchal Lower Dir. The neighbouring Chitral, Rehmat Jahan’s district, and Drosh, her hometown there, are very tribal but not a patch on Dir. Timargarha is to the Jamaat-i-Islami what Larkana is to the PPP. In certain areas here, women were not allowed to vote. Chitral’s attitude towards women’s education and employment is comparatively relaxed; of the 48 women in the police in Lower Dir, 36 are from Chitral.

But Jahan has worked in Dir district soon after she was inducted in the police in 2012. She chose the career and the place precisely because of the challenge. The police, because the men in her family are in the forces; the place, because it needs her.

As a constable, she once went out a squad to raid a house. When the policemen tried to enter, the women inside resisted. Men, policemen notwithstanding, couldn’t possibly force their way in. Luckily, Rehmat Jahan was on the team.

“I spoke to them as a woman, saying that I shared their sense of honour and privacy and was there to protect it,” says Jahan from behind a clinical mask — a guard against allergies or a snap-on veil to ensure purdah where needed. It is only her animated voice that betrays her sense of purpose. “The women let me in and I took them aside, staying with them while my male colleagues searched the place. It wouldn’t have been possible had they gone without a woman on the team.”

Just as women wouldn’t trust male strangers in their house, they wouldn’t go to them to seek the resolution of their problems. Police stations generally, but more so in the rural, semi-urban Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, are microcosms of Pakistani society — dominated and managed by men. In places such as Dir, women are reluctant complainants at a police station. In view of this, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has, with assistance from the UNDP, established women’s desks in 62 model police stations. But most remain unstaffed, given the small ratio of women in the police force: 80,000 men to 748+ women, says an official source in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police.

“Women hesitate to come to the thana,” says Jahan. “When they see me, they open up. I have this opportunity to help them. I am proud that I have the respect of male colleagues, but also because I am of service to women. If there can be women in other institutions such as hospitals, schools, the bureaucracy and the army, why not the police?”

Every Saturday at the police lines in Timargarha, the district police officer (DPO) holds what is called the ‘Orderly Room’, an institutional review with his staff. It was during one such meeting that Rehmat Jahan asked to be placed as a moharrir in a police station.

“It was a bold decision,” says Timargarha DPO Arif Khan Wazir. “We have courses for female officials but they are hardly taken up because of the male-dominated nature of the thana.”

Wazir says a moharrir is the brain of a police station. “She writes the FIR and keeps the thana log. She is essentially the manager of the police station, with the station house officer as the operational commander.”

From an institutional perspective, says Wazir, having a woman inspires confidence in the “vulnerable section of society” — women. “But she also acts as an inspirational figure encouraging other women to seek career progression for which there are opportunities that are not always taken up.” Men bring “rural biases”, Wazir adds. To blunt these, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police have been holding gender-sensitivity training. Consequently, more female officials are taking up roles they once shunned. The provincial police recently appointed a woman as a moharrir in Kohat and another as an additional SHO in a jail in Gulberg, Peshawar.

Yet the struggle needs to be waged on many levels. Recently, Jahan witnessed a post-mortem conducted on a girl who had been poisoned by her in-laws. At the time, it was thought that she had committed suicide. “The doctor cut her up brutally,” says Jahan. “When I asked her to be gentle, she said she didn’t want to sully her hands. After she was done, I dressed the girl up and covered her properly because she too was someone’s daughter.”

People tell Jahan that the police is not for women; how could she work with men? “Precisely for this reason,” says Jahan. “Because of our attitudes and biases, there are no women in the police, and so women and their problems are neglected.”

Wazir, her boss, agrees. “With greater women participation comes the empowerment of women. But it also ensures the police’s role as the protector of life and honour for everyone.”

Published in Dawn, August 19th, 2018