Ernakulam: By the time Sub-Inspector (SI) Anitha* reached her desk in central Kerala’s Ernakulam district, she had already spent eight hours in the field. She was staring at another two or four hours of desk work before she could call it a day. “I think we spend anywhere between 10 and 12 hours a day at work,” said the officer with 25 years’ experience. “But I do not have complaints. That is how police work is and I am used to it by now.”

Despite a police force that works regular 12-hour shifts, Kerala was ranked 13 among 18 large states in the police’s capacity to deliver, in India Justice Report (IJR) released by Tata Trusts, a philanthropic body, in November 2019. The IJR looked at three other pillars of the judicial system--prisons, legal aid and judiciary. Even though Kerala was rated the best for its prisons and legal aid and fifth for its judiciary, the state’s police capacity was ranked fifth from the bottom.

The report compared 18 large and mid-sized states (with a population of 10 million and above, where more than 90% of India lives) and seven small states (up to 10 million population) based on four pillars of the justice system.

As of January 2017, 6.3% of Kerala's police personnel were women (ranked 10 among the 18 states) as were 2.1% of its police officers (ranked 17)--better only than Telangana (1.5%)--the report showed. In four years to 2016, the share of women fell both in the police force and among police officers, data show. Speaking at the passing-out parade of SIs in Kerala on November 10, 2019--three days after IJR was released--Pinayari Vijayan, the Kerala chief minister, had acknowledged that the presence of educated women in the police force would help women and children approach them without inhibitions.

Indian police is made up of 85% constabulary and 15% officers, according to IJR. Of the two arms of the state police--civil police (which includes the district armed reserve or DAR) and armed police--the IJR considered only the former which is tasked with “law enforcement, protection of life and property, and crime registration and investigation, among myriad other tasks”.

Kerala bucks national trend of more women police

India--which has the second highest population globally--has one of the lowest police-to-population ratios in the world (151 police persons per 100,000 population), IJR noted. This is 42 fewer than the sanctioned 193 police persons per 100,000 population.

Countrywide, as of January 2019, there was an overall vacancy of 20% or 528,165 police personnel against the sanctioned strength (civil, DAR and armed) of 2.59 million, according to the 2019 ‘Data on Police Organisation’, the annual report of the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD) of the Ministry of Home Affairs, released on January 29, 2020.

In India, most of the recruited police personnel are going into reserve battalions (that are not on active police duty) and special units, and only half a million [of nearly 3 million] of the police are in police stations, Jacob Punnoose, former director general of police (DGP) of Kerala, told IndiaSpend. “If we can have 50% of them in police stations, it can help policing more.”

The number of women in the Indian police increased 90% in six years to 2018, data from the BPRD showed. Between 2017 and 2018, this figure rose 9.5% to 185,696.

In Kerala, women’s strength in the police force (including armed police) increased 42% in six years to 2018. Between 2017 and 2018, this figure rose nearly 10% to 4,304.

The strength of women in certain ranks in the civil police--constable, inspector, sub-inspector, head constable, and assistant sub-inspector--in Kerala increased by six personnel (0.2%) to 3,148 between 2018 and 2019. Kerala’s women police in these ranks formed 2% of the women in such ranks nationwide--lower than in neighbouring Tamil Nadu (10,545 or 7%) and Karnataka (6,522 or 4%).

At its current rate of growth, it would take Kerala 30 years to reach the recommended 33% figure of women in the police force. Nine other Indian states will take more than 50 years to increase the share of women in their police forces to 33%, as IndiaSpend reported on November 7, 2019. Madhya Pradesh will take 294 years to reach this figure.

Bureaucratic delays in selection and appointment--which is done through the Kerala Public Service Commission--are roadblocks in increasing the share of women in the force, retired and serving police officers told IndiaSpend. However, the state has taken steps to quicken the process, experts said.

Public service commission: Corruption-free, but delay-prone

Police persons in Kerala are recruited, as we said, through the public service commission. “It is corruption- and complaint-free, and offers a well qualified set of people, but leads to long bureaucratic delays,” said Punnoose, adding that for a recruitment order issued in 2012, personnel were selected in 2018 and trained in 2019. This is unlike other states where there is direct recruitment, he added.

But steps are being taken to address this delay. The first batch of SIs who were directly recruited to the Kerala police completed their training in 2019. The batch of 121 included 31 women--forming a quarter of the batch strength, OnManorama reported on November 9, 2019.

“We would like to have at least 10,000 women officials in the force. The Kerala government has taken a policy decision for the special recruitment of women police officials,” Loknath Behera, DGP and state police chief of Kerala, told IndiaSpend. “But at the same time, we are also making the recruitment gender-neutral (like in civil services).”

“Due to the lack of direct recruitment earlier, there would only be a few posts for women DySP [deputy superintendent of police] or SI,” Punnoose said. “This blocked the promotion of many women constables.”

Since 2018, there is no separate quota for women in the recruitment of sub-inspectors in the state, Punnoose said.

There are a number of women Indian Police Service (IPS) officers and the state would like to create some more posts of woman DySP, non-IPS woman SP [superintendent of police]. We are pressing the government to create these posts, Behera added. The state also added the first ever women’s battalion in 2017.

This step, meant to increase the representation of women in the force, may not really work. “A separate battalion for women may not be the way to go,” Maja Daruwala, chief editor of the IJR and senior advisor, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, told IndiaSpend. “It creates a showpiece rather than signal an intention to integrate women into the mainstream,” she said. However, the addition of women SIs in the service “will impact the numbers quite positively”, she added.

Daruwala’s sentiments were echoed by a serving woman IPS officer who spoke to IndiaSpend on condition of anonymity. “Kerala had a separate cadre for women police and the recruitment was only at the constable level before the 2018 integrated batch. There was only one [woman] DySP for the entire state,” she said.

In a separate cadre system, women recruited at lower ranks can be promoted only when there is a vacancy for a woman in the higher rank. “It is important to understand that there is a need to have more vacancies at all ranks for those recruited--say an SI to be promoted as an inspector,” the IPS officer said. “This again becomes a problem if there is a cadre system specifically for women.”

Well-qualified women personnel, but tasked with desk work

When Anitha’s batch joined nearly three decades ago, women were hardly involved in investigations. “We were attached to the circle inspector’s office,” Anitha said. “Now women are involved more in investigations.”

The large majority of police tasks are administrative, managerial, investigative, and court- and people-contact related, and research seems to indicate that these are much more suited to women's intervention, noted Daruwala.

Veena*, a head constable who joined a decade after Anitha, agreed. Much of the work used to be documentation. “When I joined, men continued to do the job they did, but women were [usually] involved only if there were women-related crimes, or a dharna or an event where women would be present,” she said.

Most of the women who had qualified in both their batches were at least graduates, though the eligibility was a 10th grade pass.

“Often, the women in the force are given desk roles and not field duties; they are rarely visible in the field,” said the woman IPS officer. “There is no need to doubt their calibre because most of them, both male and female, are educationally well qualified. It is just a lack of opportunity and lack of confidence as they have not been exposed to or experienced field jobs,” she added.

Women cops now a statutory presence

Women, who now have a mandatory presence in police stations and have exclusive functions when gender-based crimes are reported, are “woefully in short supply”, found the IJR. “By statute, too, now women police officers are required to be available to take account of complaints of sexual violence that women bring to the police station,” said Daruwala. “So you need more numbers to fulfil the legal obligation here.”

Bihar has reserved 38% positions for women in police (civil, DAR, and armed police), 16 of 36 states and union territories have 33% reservation, 10 have less than 33%, and seven states have no reservation (data for Kerala were not available), 2019 data from BPRD show.

“I have seen instances where the designation of women officers--though from the same batch--ranged from DySP, CI [circle inspector], SI and even ASI [assistant sub-inspector]. But from now on everyone will be SIs after 23 years irrespective of vacancies,” said Veena, the head constable.

“The present practice in most places is to look at the vacancies, decide on the intake numbers and then recruit women in numbers as close to 30% or 33% of those vacancies,” said Daruwala. “An all-women recruitment may increase the numbers in the force. But there will be resistance to this kind of step.”

“At the level of the constabulary, a quota may be needed due to reluctance to join. But at higher ranks it will be easier for women to qualify as the stress on physical prowess is less,” said Punnoose.

Need for gender sensitisation

“The truth is you cannot recruit and retain women by exactly the same processes and into the same atmosphere as men,” said Daruwala. “The leadership, both political, executive and in the police, have not taken sufficient account of this. Women have different biological needs, and have a social role expected of them,” she said.

About 41% of police personnel--both men and women--had a “high degree of bias against women in police”, IndiaSpend reported on August 29, 2019, based on the ‘Status of Policing in India Report 2019’, released on August 27, 2019.

Over 50% of the personnel (both men and women) feel that men and women in the police force are not given completely equal treatment, said the study, adding that women police personnel are more likely to be engaged in in-house tasks including maintaining registers and data, while male personnel are more likely to be involved in field-based tasks including investigation, patrolling, and law and order duties, it noted.

In Kerala, 78% of policemen reported that male and female police personnel were being treated completely equally as against 60% of policewomen, the report added. Less than half of the respondents--46% of men and 45% of women--reported that they had received training on sensitisation towards women in the last two or three years.

“The police establishment has to change itself to be much more inclusive than it is now,” Daruwala added. “Until this issue is addressed, the problem of low numbers and an unwelcoming atmosphere is likely to persist.”

Long work hours take a toll

The shortage of staff also means enhanced workload for male and female personnel. This is especially true during local religious festivals or during protest rallies in which women participate.

Anitha recalled that during the Sabarimala season in 2018, when women were allowed to enter the temple for the first time, her team was deputed for nearly a week to take care of law-and-order-related tasks. It was difficult to find a suitable place to stay or a toilet to use, Anitha said. “We were given a primary school to stay in, which did not have lights in the bathrooms or enough place,” she said. “We had to find a house on our own, we cleaned it, and even then the facilities were very basic. We also paid for it. It may have changed since.”

Long working hours combined with few weekly and monthly offs characterise the lives of Indian police. About 24% of police personnel in India work for more than 16 hours a day, on average, and 44% work more than 12 hours, IndiaSpend reported on October 23, 2019.

Further, 73% of police personnel reported that their workload is taking a toll on their physical and mental health.

Three in five policewomen (59%) in Kerala said that they have had to stay back at work after duty hours ‘many times’, the Status of Policing Report 2019 noted.

The woman IPS officer agreed. “I know of officers who are SHOs and they hardly get a day off in a week.”

Not only is the individual overstretched and overstressed, “...police organisations are unable to properly specialise, supervise themselves, address the special needs of vulnerable communities, or be equipped to carry out effective crime prevention and investigation”, IJR noted.

For every policewoman in Kerala, there were 4,302.12 women in the population as of January 2019, BPRD data showed. This is 21% lower than the ratio of one policewoman for every 3,391.44 women nationwide.

The way forward

When filling vacancies (and otherwise), it must be ensured that the share of underrepresented groups such as women and other marginalised groups is increased to assure that the make-up of the justice system reflects the diversity required in society, IJR recommended.

Kerala has taken a step in this direction by recruiting women from tribal communities, said Behera, Kerala’s DGP.

While increasing the sanctioned strength of the force is needed, the induction of more women requires funds for facilities such as crèches, separate toilets and accommodation so that they do not have to travel long distances. “Inclusion of such schemes in planned expenditure will help the force,” said the woman IPS officer.

“There is a need for progressive and proactive policing especially when there is increasing crime against women and children,” said Punnoose. “We need a women's revolution in the police force in India. If states do not integrate male and female cadres in the police, it will not be good for progressive professional advancement,” he added.

“The police establishment and everyday policing all over India--whether it is high crime or ordinary assurance of safety and security of the general population--has to be freed from the possibility of political interference,” said Daruwala.

Meanwhile, Anitha is optimistic of the impact of better policing including initiatives such as the women’s cell and all-women police stations in Kerala. In almost three decades of police work, the police’s attitude to people has changed a lot and made them more approachable for the public, she believes. “I think if we interact with people a lot more, many of the issues can be resolved and reduce [our] work stress,” she said.

*Names have been changed to assure anonymity.

(Paliath is an analyst with IndiaSpend.)

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