If women in Tamil Nadu are a safer and happier lot today, they have their sisters in khaki to thank. Ever since the state came up with the idea of all-woman police stations (AWPS) to solve women-related crimes, the police force has become more approachable and greatly effective. What's more, several other countries are looking at how they can emulate this unique idea.
Started in 1992 in the Thousand Lights area of central Chennai as an experiment to enable women to seek police help for domestic violence, sexual and dowry harassment, the AWPS today are a 198-strong force and growing. “With the highest number of AWPS (198 of the total 290 in India) in the state, the police force has become more approachable and efficient,” says Dr Mangai Natarajan of John Jay College of Criminal Studies, New York.
Natarajan, who has been researching women policing for the last 15 years, reveals that the “Tamil Nadu model” is much discussed and studied by women's activists and in academic circles across the globe. She herself has presented the state's case in forums including the Australasian Conference on Women and Policing, 2005 and 2006; Seventh Biennial Conference on Crime, Justice and Public Order, Bucharest, 2004; and Academy of Criminal Justice and Science Meeting, Chicago, 2005.
According to Seema Agarwal, DIG (administration), Tamil Nadu now has one such unit in each sub-division. While other states get 10 to 20 cases a month, each AWPS in Tamil Nadu receives 150 to 200 petitions monthly, Agarwal says.
Apart from the AWPS, there are round-the-clock women helpline numbers for those in distress.
According to Chennai City Police Commissioner Lethika Saran, the women personnel receive training in counseling and mediation from Madras University. “We first attempt to solve the matter by talking to both sides. Only when counseling fails do we take the legal route,” Saran says.