India's Policewomen Battle Sexism at Every Level

By Nita Bhalla 20 August 2015

NEW DELHI — India’s police force is not only drastically short of women, it is also plagued by sexism, with women given menial duties, bypassed for promotion and scared to report sexual harassment by male colleagues, a study said on Wednesday.

The report by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative found that despite a federal government call for the force to raise the proportion of women to 33 percent, women make up only 6.11 percent of India’s 2.3 million police.

In countries like the United States, women account for 12 percent of the police force, compared with 0.9 percent in Pakistan and 7.4 percent in the Maldives.

Interviews with male and female police officers in five Indian states found that women faced a deep-seated gender bias across the police force which started at recruitment and carried on throughout their career, said Devika Prasad, co-author of the report “Rough Roads to Equality: Women Police in South Asia”.

“Everywhere that we went, women police across ranks told us one of the most discouraging things for them is that there are no women on recruitment and interview boards and selection panels,” Prasad said at the launch of the report.

“We also found that women are assigned desk and clerical jobs and not given frontline operational duties such as investigations. We were constantly told by male police that policing is a man’s job and that women can’t do the job as they are not strong physically or psychologically.”

As a result, women are concentrated in the lower ranks of the police and made to work on specific ‘women and child’ crimes where they record statements and register complaints, but gain little experience, reducing their chances of promotion.

The study showed that more than 80 percent of policewomen are constables, the lowest rank, 7.8 percent head constables, 3.35 percent assistant sub inspectors and only 0.02 percent hold the top ranks—director general and additional director general.

The report also found that there was little acknowledgment by the police leadership of sexual harassment, and that many policewomen did not even know there was a law against sexual harassment in the workplace, and how and where to complain.

“There is a real fear that they will be maligned, punished and victimised. We found that they would not speak to us formally, but during breaks they would tell us sexual harassment is endemic,” said Prasad.

State Minister for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju said the findings were a matter of great concern, and attributed them to society’s stereotyping of women as weak and inferior.

“The strength of women in the police is abysmally low and this is not a happy situation for anybody,” Rijiju said at the launch of the report, adding that he rejected the idea that women were weak and unsuitable for field operations.

The federal government has urged India’s 29 states to raise the proportion of women in their police forces to at least 33 percent, but this is difficult to enforce as policing is the responsibility of the states, Rijiju said.

But he said he would ensure that one-third of all police jobs went to women in India’s seven Union Territories, which include Delhi, the Andaman and Nicobar islands and Puducherry, and which are under the control of the central government.

The government has four years of its five-year term to run, and Rijiju said he would meet the target by the end of the term.