When promises are made by politicians, and they are not honoured, they must have the courage to face tough questions, including (peaceful) protests. However, despite breaching the trust of people, by breaking publicly made promises, when aggrieved people protest, the administration often comes down heavily and slaps them with cases on frivolous grounds.
Nine young women, whose careers were at stake because of such a promise being made and broken by the Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan, were arrested in the state's capital Bhopal.
In 2017, the CM had promised that the minimum required height would be reduced for women in the state's police recruitment drive. The women, who protested because they felt that the administration didn't keep up its promise, were slapped with section 151 (arrest to prevent a cognisable offence). The women allege they were treated like criminals and made to undergo a pregnancy test even as policemen peeped into their changing rooms. Meanwhile, the police department has denied any wrongdoing and claimed that the due process of law was followed.
The unfortunate incident nevertheless brings to light the lack of gender sensitivity in the Indian police force. While the abhorrent attitude of the police is only reflective of the larger malaise of patriarchy in our society, it is expected that as protectors of people, law and order, they lead by example.
Sadly, the Indian police have mostly held archaic views about women. When in the early 1960s, the Punjab Police Commission sought the views of other state governments over recruiting women into the police forces, many responded saying it would be an unwise decision as women are "not suited" for the job.
Despite the central government in 2013 recommending that the police forces comprise 33 per cent women, and each police station have at least three women sub-inspectors and 10 constables, the number is abysmally low. In fact, at 7.28 per cent India has one of the lowest gender ratios for its police forces in the world.
With increasing crimes against women, it is imperative that the police forces have enough women to ensure gender justice.
Despite the recommendations of the government, it is sometimes found that women do not show interest in joining the police forces. For instance, Andhra Pradesh has done away with separate eligibility criteria for men and women (except physical measurements), cadres and common promotion-cum-seniority panels to ensure equality.
Yet, the state doesn't have enough women in the police departent. Among the many factors responsible for this is the poor working condition for policewomen across the country.
A study found that most police stations don't have basic facilities such as toilets, housing, maternity and child care policies for women. The discrimination starts at the recruitment process itself, as the women arrested in Bhopal experienced.
Even in society, many hold the belief that policing is all about brawn and women are 'naturally not suited' for the job. However, numerous studies have revealed that women officers use less force, are better at defusing violent confrontations and possess better communication skills and hence are more successful in eliciting the public's cooperation.
A study by the London Metropolitan Police revealed that there is a perceptible difference in how women and men officers deal with their patrol duties, respond to violent confrontations and in their commitment to law enforcement.
It is therefore, high time the state governments ensured there are more women in the police forces and also improved the facilities for them to ensure that they are on par with their male counterparts, if we want to sensitise our forces and make them more citizen friendly.
Governments must ensure there is gender sensitivity in the police force for it to have a modern and progressive outlook. While this is an acute problem that needs to be immediately addressed, states like Madhya Pradesh, which has the ignominy of having the highest number of rapes in the country, must introspect.
As elections approach, the people too must collectively ponder over why we have such an insensitive police force and what policy changes can ensure more sensitive and humane law enforcement agencies.