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You don’t have to call yourself a feminist to understand why no police organization in the world has been affected by the “Me Too” movement that started on social media last year to denounce sexual assault and harassment in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. India’s police organizations are no exception.

This should be an occasion to take a clear-eyed stock of the situation of women in police in India and a right moment to ask uncomfortable questions. For a young woman job-seeker, how woman-friendly are our police forces today and how attractive is a career as a policewoman? For a woman police constable, what is the level of job satisfaction and how gender-intelligent is her job environment? For a woman police officer at a leadership position, how leveled is the occupational playground vis-à-vis her male counterparts? How common are incidents of gender discrimination and sexual harassment in our police organizations? Do India’s police have a problem like Harvey Weinstein?

In 2016, the ministry proposed creating Investigative Units for Crimes against Women (IUCAW) at police stations in crime-prone districts across states. The planned 200 units comprising 15 personnel each will be equipped with specialized investigators dealing primarily with crimes against women and at least five of them will be women.

Despite reservation and advertising of vacancies for women constables in Andhra Pradesh between 2005-2010, quotas went unfilled. The intake of women police in Rajasthan, Haryana and Assam did not match the number of women in the employable category. In some states, there are simply not enough takers for the job.

Next, the Jharkhand state police manual says that women police “are not to be substituted for male police but they should be employed on duties which they alone could perform more effectively and with greater advantage than male police”. Women police are only to perform specified tasks, which include escorting female prisoners, duties in relation to cases of violence against women and children, helping men police in any investigation involving interrogation or execution of warrant or in any matter concerning women generally, watch duty of female suspects and any miscellaneous duty according to ability. The language clearly reflects a subordinate role being assigned to women police.

The role of women in the police has been steadily increasing. The Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and major criminal laws now require every case of sexual assault to be recorded and investigated by a female police officer. The arrest of a woman and searching a woman must be done by a woman only. Even juvenile delinquents are believed to be best handled by the women police officers as they are more compassionate and communicative with children.

Further, the police are required to deal with varied situations of public order involving women, ranging from outrage generated from incidents of brutal sexual assault on women to the terror unleashed by women insurgents. Public agitations by female groups are not very uncommon. While women might be small in number in insurgent groups of J&K and the North-East, their number is quite high in the outlawed CPI (Maoist). Except for the Maoist’s top body, their participation is sizable at the lower level. Many a times, the village women accuse security forces of sexual harassment during anti-Maoist operations. It is difficult for the forces to defend themselves as they are rarely accompanied by a female contingent. Despite all this, women are still under-represented in the police force.

One of the paradoxes is that the ‘police’ and ‘public order’ are in the State List and ‘criminal laws’ in the Concurrent List. While the central government has the right to enact criminal laws and amend them whenever needed to include intervention of women police, it cannot compel state governments to increase women’s strength in their police forces. The states are singularly responsible for maintaining police forces, be it their constitution or total strength. with an intention to bring in some reforms in the police, most of the states enacted their own state police acts instead of the central act that was prevalent then, The Police Act, 1861. This colonial legislation contained provisions relating to the establishment of the police force in states and could have been amended to ensure some minimum strength of women in the force across the states.

-Dhwanit Gor

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