When women tasked with protecting others fall prey to harassment

Woman constables say sexual harassment rampant in force, but Commissioner Rashmi Shukla says that’s not the case

Written by Atikh Rashid | Pune | Published: June 24, 2017 7:41:07 am
Maharashtra police, Maharashtra woman police officers, discrimination in Maharashtra police, Woman constables sexual harassment, Pune City Police, Pune Police Commissioner Rashmi Shukla, indian express news Image used for representational purpose only.

Last year: 0

This year: 1

That’s the number of complaints received by the Internal Complaints Committee, also known as the Vishakha Committee, of the Pune City Police from woman staffers about facing sexual harassment from male colleagues. In the Pune Rural Police, the same committee has received only two complaints. Of the 9,000-strong personnel in Pune City Police, 2,400 are women. Pune Rural Police has 3,280 personnel, 368 of them are women. Going simply by the number of complaints, it appears that the police force has a healthy work environment for woman staffers.

Interviews conducted by The Indian Express — with woman constables, woman officers and male staffers of both the Pune City Police and Pune Rural Police — however, revealed that it’s not rare for “protectors of the rights of others” to become the victims of harassment themselves. The women and men, who spoke on condition of anonymity, shared incidents of harassment the woman staffers face from time to time. Some of them cited cases where the alleged harasser was let off by the Committee, which claimed that the woman levelled false charges as she was angry about being allotted a “difficult duty”.

A police official pointed out a complaint taken up by the Vishakha Committee of the Pune Rural Police, when a woman constable accused a senior male colleague of sexual harassment. “… The committee didn’t find any evidence of wrongdoing. Instead, it found that the woman constable was “irregular” in her duties. The constable pressed for the CCTV footage to be examined. To her shock, she found that the relevant part had been edited out. The complaint was disposed of. Both she and her husband, who also worked in Pune Rural Police, were transferred out of the district. The police inspector was transferred too, but within Pune district,” shared an official.

Another woman constable shared an episode she witnessed. “A police inspector, who was nearing retirement, had this habit of summoning woman staffers to his cabin… He then picked on this clerk… he used to call her to his cabin every day… he would talk to her, make lewd remarks, even comment on her appearance and attire. She tolerated this for some time. But soon, she got fed up and one day, she made up her mind and refused to entertain his requests to wait in the cabin. He got the hint… but then he started finding faults with her work, her office timings, duty hours, assignments. The result was that her salary was stopped for two years. She slipped into depression,” said the constable.

She said she managed to convince her young colleague — who had taken leave and refused to join again — to report to work and “continue to fight”. A top police official told The Indian Express about how once a senior officer had to be suspended after he made advances towards a woman sub-inspector; someone he used to refer to as his “daughter” within the police department.

A constable, posted at a chowky in the heart of the city, spoke about a senior male constable who had the habit of playing “double meaning Marathi songs” loudly on his phone, despite objections by her and other women colleagues.

However, Pune Police Commissioner Rashmi Shukla denied that women personnel from the force might be facing sexual harassment. “… I can personally vouch from my experience in Pune City Police for the last one year that there’s no sexual harassment of woman officers or constables here. They are the protectors. It’s them the girls turn to when they face harassment in the society. They know the law,” she asserted. Shukla said if the woman staffers faced sexual harassment, they would have reported it to the right authority.

“We have woman officers at every level, right from PSI to ACPs to myself… I am accessible to everyone. I personally go meet the constables and other staffers. I do not agree when you say that they are facing harassment but not reporting it. It’s likely that they are unhappy with the duties they are given and complain about it, but that can’t be confused with sexual harassment. Sexual harassment — what you are talking about and what the Vishakha Guidelines deal with — is not taking place in Pune Police,” said Shukla.

Suvez Haque, superintendent of police, Pune Rural, said that the senior officers are sensitised frequently and the constables and junior officers have access to him and other senior colleagues. “They can come to me and complain to me about anything they are facing… confidentially, if they want to do so. However, I will soon start holding a separate darbar for woman constables of the police stations, for a better feedback,” said Haque.

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