Women in Maharashtra’s police department may have won the battle against discrimination in duties but continue to fight a war – one for basic facilities like toilets and housing, and a chance at a more balanced life.
Police sub-inspector Archana Patil grew up in Sangli, far away from Mumbai’s murky world of crime. But three years into the job, she found herself in the midst of a gut-wrenching investigation.
She had caught a middleman in a human trafficking ring, and now had to use him as bait to get to the core of the racket. Patil went undercover as a prospective candidate. “I slipped into a burkha and accompanied the middleman. I felt completely lost. What was I doing?” she said, recalling how she felt during the investigation.
“My heart was pounding with fear. A woman appeared from nowhere near a bus stop and several burly looking men came in a van. When I was asked to get into the vehicle, I clutched my 9mm glock luger tightly and nodded twice,” she said. She was signalling to her team, which was trailing her, to act.
That first field assignment left Patil shaken, but got her hooked to the job. “It helped me shun my hang-ups,” said Patil, now a key member of the police station’s detection squad.
But a junior colleague, Shabana Makdum, was a little more apprehensive. “Fight-vite kar lungi, lekin purine laash ko handle karna difficult ho raha hai (I can fight, but it’s getting difficult to handle decomposed bodies),” she said of a time she fell ill after doing a ‘panchnama’ of an exhumed body.
For Makdum, joining the police department was the last option while preparing for the state public service commission exams. “I did not qualify for revenue or the other comfort jobs on my first two tries. So when I was selected for the police department on my third attempt, I jumped for it.”
Makdum, however, is clear that she won’t get married as she can’t handle the pressure of a job and a family. “I’d rather not think of the latter, so that I can do justice to the profession,” she said.
“At the end of the day, I feel satisfied with my job as it gives me a chance to serve people. While other jobs are meant for personal gains, here I fight for others.”
Patil, married to an advocate, said she was able to go on that tough assignment because her husband and mother-in-law were supportive.
Several women in the department, especially at the constable level, aren’t as fortunate. Insiders said while officers had better facilities, such as housing, women constables have been neglected after they were recruited in large numbers after the reservation.
Shalini Dongre has been attached to a police station in the central suburbs for two years, but is now preparing for other jobs. “I was lured by the fancy of the uniform. The realities are very different.”
“While the officers have separate washrooms at work and housing facilities in the city, we have to share the common toilet. Many of us get hardly any rest as we live in far-off places like Panvel or Badlapur because we can’t afford rented accommodation in the city. We work 13-14 hours and health goes for a toss,” she said.
She welcomed police commissioner Dattatreya Parsalgikar’s plans to put up mobile washrooms for women traffic constables and officers in some parts of the city. “That is a good move. But what about fixed duty hours and housing for the constabulary?” she asked.