Tackling the Challenge of the Khaki Ceiling

A new report asks what needs to be done to bring about the greater presence of women in the police forces of India and South Asia

Women police constables. Credit: Flying Cloud/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Women make up only 6.4% of the Indian police force. Credit: Flying Cloud/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

New Delhi: In an attempt to address a key aspect of gender disparity in public service, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative released a report Wednesday emphasising the need to make the police more open and inclusive for women.  The report, titled “Rough Roads to Equality”, examines the presence and state of women police in South Asia.

In her opening remarks at the release of the report, CHRI director Maja Daruwala said, “If you disaggregate police work, the ‘muscularity’ requirement is only a thin sliver of total work. Management, administration, investigation, going to court, forensics, etc., are all non-physical work. Visibility is very important – depriving women of an economic opportunity. That is discrimination.” The report highlights the fact that women form only 6.11% of the police force in India. Further, even within the police there is a systemic bias against women getting promoted.

The case for balance

The particularly brutal gang-rape and murder of a young woman in Delhi in 2012 was the trigger for a more urgent national discourse around the numerous dangers women have to contend with in daily life. This led to calls for greater attention to the problem of violence against women, and in tandem, the need for more women in policing. Beyond the value of greater diversity as a good in itself, it was felt that more women could improve the sensitivity and quality of the police response to women in distress by changing the internal culture of the force. The figures do show a slight increase in the number of women recruits since then; but after the heat of the moment died down, efforts to bring a better gender balance as a minimum condition of improved police response have been sporadic, and the pace of inducting women remains very slow. The percentage of women in the police across all states in India is a mere 6.4%.

The report shows that of the women in the police in India today, 0.8% are in high ranked positions, 9.92% at subordinate ranks and 89% are in the constabulary. Despite the Ministry of Home Affairs having set a target for women to make up 33% of the police force, the reality is that feeble efforts to actually draw women in has left men in India constituting 88-99% of the police force across the states. Only 12 states have acted on the directive of the MHA to see to it that a reservation policy is implemented. Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Bihar, Sikkim, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand,Tripura, Telangana, and Uttarakhand – and the Centre (for all seven Union Territories) have a reservation policy of 30% or more for women in their police forces.

Funnily enough, it was pointed out at the launch of the report by Devika Prasad that the Maldives—the one country in South Asia with the highest representation of women in the police, at 7.4%—does not actually have a reservation policy. In Bangladesh, women account for 4.63% of the police force (double what it was in 2011) but in Pakistan, only 0.9% of police personnel are women.

 The CHRI report suggests that one of the systemic problems in India is that the Police Act, 1861 perpetuates the notion that the police exist to strong-arm society. The first time the representation of women was addressed was in the Model Police Act 2006. The report pointed out that even in states with better records of integrating women in to the police like Kerala, not a single one of the state’s 475 police stations had a female Station House Officer in charge.

The downside of All-Women Police Stations

Women Police Station Sign in Karnataka. Credit: Kenneth Lu/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Women Police Station Sign in Karnataka. Credit: Kenneth Lu/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

The report also pointed out that several women in the police force feel that the All Women Police Stations (AWPSs) that exist in certain states to deal exclusively with crimes against women and children, further isolate women within the police force. A respondent to the survey from Odisha said, “We are making laws and procedures with the effect that women should be kept away from the police. My suggestion is that instead of AWPSs, we strengthen all the police stations to be gender sensitive and post adequate women officers and staff at the police station”. The need to remove separate cadres for men and women in the appointment process at lower levels was also emphasised.

The lack of adequate facilities for women police personnel in police stations has also been dealt with extensively in the report. Most police stations in the country do not have separate toilet facilities for women, aside from those that are IPS officers. The absence of adequate accommodation and maternity and childcare facilities was also highlighted for being one of the main reasons for a low intake of women. The report acknowledged that the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Bureau of Police Research and Development have made good suggestions to improve the state of affairs. The report cited the following as the immediate order of business:

  • Integration of cadres for appointment
  • Joint training exercises
  • Mandatory induction of women at lower levels in more police stations,
  • Significant reduction in discrimination during allocation of work and the
  • Definite implementation of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013
  • Improvement in toilet, accommodation and maternity related facilities.

The conclusion being that unless these changes are made soon, the pace of integration is likely to remain glacial.