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Women in police

April 14, 2019

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The writer is the author of Before She Sleeps.
The writer is the author of Before She Sleeps.

LATELY, I’ve been riveted by the Netflix drama series Delhi Crime. This original production is based on the real-life events of the 2012 Delhi bus gang rape in which Jyoti Singh Panday, a young Indian physiotherapy student, and her friend Awindra Panday were abducted by six men. These men assaulted the two young people, raped, assaulted, and fatally injured the young woman, then dumped both of their victims on the side of the road. Delhi Crime traces the police investigation as the Deputy Commissioner of Police leads a team to catch the culprits before they can escape.

Refreshingly, the series focuses on the various women who helped solve the crime, not just its female victim. DCP Vartika Chatur­vedi (played brilliantly by Shefali Shah) is the senior-most officer, and leads a team of mostly male subordinates, but there are two other women officers involved in the case. One is a mid-career officer, Sub-Inspector Vimla Bhardwaj, who Chaturvedi assigns as the investigating officer to the case. The other is Neeti Singh, a new recruit who has come to Delhi from Chandigarh in search of big-city experience. These three women portray women at different stages in their lives, careers, and experiences on the case. Then there’s the surgeon Dr Teena Bhutani who operates on Jyoti Singh in the first critical hours at the hospital, and protects her from even the police’s intrusion on her recovery.

Chaturvedi has the most responsibility; she eats, sleeps and lives at the police station for the duration of the week, relying on the support of her husband Vishal, who is top brass in the Delhi Police and understands exactly what Chaturvedi needs emotionally and practically as she works on the case. Sub-Inspector Bhardwaj navigates the field with aplomb, working as hard as her male colleagues and respected by them for her equanimity and toughness. The young recruit Neeti Singh is assigned to stay with the parents of the victim around the clock; she provides a fresh perspective as she transitions from rookie to right-hand woman, losing her innocence but retaining her clear-eyed ethics along the way.

India and Pakistan have a lot in common; the countries and religions may be different, but the culture and society shares the same patriarchy and misogynistic attitudes towards women. The participation of women police officers was vital to solving the Delhi bus gang rape; Pakistani women police officers play the same vital role here in similarly difficult conditions, especially in the rural areas of Pakistan, where women officers work in upper Sindh without even a toilet at their police stations.

Women police officers are the targets of misogyny.

Women police officers are a necessary part of any investigation for the effective functioning of the police force and for the security of an entire nation. These officers are often first point of contact for female victims of heinous crimes such as rape, gang rape, sexual assault and domestic violence. Their gender does not make them weaker or softer, but in the eyes of victims and their families, they can be perceived as safer and more sympathetic when a woman has to bring a complaint to the attention of the police. Their passion for their work is equal to and sometimes even greater than those of the men, perhaps more so when the crime involves gender-based violence.

The police and military recognise the need for more women in security forces, and have been working hard to actively recruit more women officers — according to NPR, only two per cent of Sindh’s police force are women.

Unfortunately, Pakistani attitudes to­­wards working women are not as forward-thinking as in India, and women police officers are the targets of the same misogyny as the victims they are charged with protecting. ASP Suhai Talpur, who faced stiff family opposition to be­­come a police offi­cer, led a successful operation against militants attacking the Chinese consulate in Karachi in 2018; her bravery was rewarded by the police and she was quickly promoted. But many men proclaimed that she did not deserve the accolades just because she was a woman, evincing yet again that the biggest thing standing the way of female advancement in Pakistan is the male ego.

Still, as Talpur told NPR, “I think that just looking at an officer, a female officer, wearing a uniform, commanding men and leading some operation, in itself is quite inspiring.”

Pakistan’s women police deserve all the support we can give them, not just because they are doing their jobs well, but because they are doing these difficult jobs as women in a country named one of the most dangerous in the world for women. Who understands better than another woman how difficult it is to be safe in a country like Pakistan, where one in three women suffers physical violence at some point in their lives? When the personal stakes are as high as the professional ones, every last woman police officer is a valuable resource as well as a role model and a symbol of hope for Pakistan’s women.

The writer is the author of Before She Sleeps.

Twitter: @binashah

Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2019