Women in India are often reluctant to approach the police forces of the country, because of a certain negative and unhelpful image. Udaipur’s new all-woman patrol squad hopes to remedy that sorry state of affairs.
It’s a quiet morning for Anita Kumari, 30, and her partner, Sushila Jiloya, 24, till Anita’s mobile device crackles to life informing her of a distress call from a teenage girl. As soon as they receive the complaint – a Class XII girl is being harassed by a boy who wants to get ‘friendly’ – the duo take down her contact particulars, hop on to their bike, and jet off to meet her in person. A frank talk with the youngster reveals that she has been receiving calls at all odd hours and obscene pictures on WhatsApp. Anita takes matters into her own hands, calls up the boy masquerading as the girl, and tells him that she’s ready to meet him at a nearby park. When he arrives at the park, Anita confronts him. Then, calling her colleagues from the nearby police station, she reprimands the boy who by then is down on his knees begging for forgiveness. Eventually, he is let off with a harsh warning. In minutes, the whole problem is efficiently resolved.
Anita and Sushila are members of India’s first all-women patrol squad in Udaipur, Rajasthan, that is conscientiously maintaining a vigil at places frequented by women and girls – schools, colleges, malls, and other public spaces – to provide them with a sense of safety and confidence. A month into service, and these smart cops are already making heads turn with their smart uniforms and even smarter police moves.
Sushila, who rides pillion with Anita, identifies with the sense of fear and anxiety that women and girls go through when they have to not just bear violence but also muster the courage to report it – not the easiest of things to do. She clearly remembers how she had felt helpless when she had to face harassment day-in and day-out as she made her way to her college in Sikar.
Approaching the local constable didn’t even seem like a viable option at the time, something that she and her colleagues in the women’s squad are hoping will change.
“Women don’t feel comfortable about approaching the police until things really go out of hand. There is a lot of inherent mistrust that has set in, and that is the widespread perception that people have nowadays. We, however, are trying to change that. Gradually, we are establishing the fact that the women’s patrol squad is different. We stop by elderly people’s homes when we are patrolling localities and catch up with them just like their daughters, and talk to girls standing alone on streets to find out if everything’s okay. We try to empathise with people – it’s crucial to make them trust us,” she elaborates. In the first 30 days that they were in action, the patrolwomen received maximum complaints about sexual harassment and drunken hooligans.
The idea to raise an all-women patrol team came to Udaipur’s Additional Superintendent of Police (ASP) Thakur Chandrasheel in April this year. He had been part of two UN Peacekeeping Missions in the past, and had closely observed the policing system in several European countries.
Chandrasheel was convinced that change in the way things were being done on the ground was the need of the hour – and that women would, in fact, be perfect to spearhead it.
“Patrolling in India is a male domain, but in the West women are also part of community policing. After taking permission from my senior, the Superintendent of Police, I got down to planning an all-woman patrol team, because women tend to be more sensitive to community members’ needs. We wanted to take policing to people’s doorstep,” he explains.
As the team was to be picked from within the force, the first step was to identify 24 young and physically fit women constables. The chosen candidates were then told about the concept and explained how they would do more meaningful things than just being there on raids and anti-encroachment drives or escorting women prisoners to courts. After the policewomen cleared the selection process, they began a gruelling four-month training. This included aerobics and weight training, martial arts, riding and weapons training, and classroom sessions for polishing their soft skills. They also received training for first-aid for road accident survivors before rushing them to the nearest hospital. For around six hours daily, the chosen women were on the job. “We wanted them to be ready for any kind of emergency situation,” says Rajendra Prasad Goyal, Udaipur’s Superintendent of Police (SP). In the meantime, the process for an approval for a new uniform from the state police headquarters was underway.
Their khaki-clad colleagues wanted them to look different and distinct.
By August, the female-only patrol team was ready, down to all the last details. These included motorcycles fitted with red-and-blue beacon lights, a P.A. system, a car battery, and first-aid box. The women in blue have their very own wireless set, an Austrian Glock pistol, fibre canes, and black golf caps.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje flagged the well-turned out patrol squad off on October 6, 2016. Over two months, the women have connected with their target group – women, children, and the elderly – and terrorised trouble-makers. “Crowds disperse when we ride by their areas – they are scared of us,” says Laxmi Choudhary, 26, who joined Rajasthan Police in 2013.
The squad works in two shifts of eight hours each. It has divided the city into five zones for patrolling. One motorcycle with two officers handles each zone from 7am to 11pm. There are five helpline numbers on which people can reach out to them, either by calling in or text messaging. The force is also available on WhatsApp so that anyone can freely share pictures and videos as evidence of problems.
For the time being, local FM stations are informing people about these numbers during their broadcast.
Soon the police department will circulate postcards containing these numbers and information about women rights in schools and colleges.
So far, the team’s work has impressed people and shown positive results. Hooligans largely keep off busy public spaces and alcohol shops close by their 8 pm deadline. Even unauthorised guides run for cover when they see flashing beacons of the patrol team. Besides controlling crime, the team resolves traffic snarls, rushes to road accident sites, and is the first response against hooliganism.
The women are stars in the city, and in their families as well. Anita shares how her 11-year-old daughter is always eager to know about her activities of the day. Laxmi adds that her mother-in-law is happy to look after her six-year-old while she’s on duty.
All over the world, policing is about protection and community management that is essentially dependent on free-wheeling interactions. There’s little room for intimidation, fear, suspicion… attributes that have become synonymous with our homegrown force. The patrolwomen of Udaipur are working towards transforming public opinion and they are doing it rather well.