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Police, power, patriarchy

Police departments are home to deep-seated gender bias and stereotyping. Even women cops are masculinised, completing a vicious circle.

Written by Rahul Srivastav , Manini Srivastav |
Updated: July 11, 2016 12:03:01 am
Police, india police, Uttar Pradesh police, police officers suspended, police officer abuse, police bad behaviour, police station, india  news In one case, the officer on reaching the spot, after getting a call from Dial100, hurled abuses at the female complainant: “Kya 100 no tere baap ka hai?(Does 100 number belong to your father?”. (Illustration: C R Sasikumar)

In two separate cases in different districts of Uttar Pradesh, sub-inspector (SI) rank officers were suspended after videos of their abusive behaviour with female complainants went viral on social media. One was a station officer (SO) and the other in- charge of an outpost. In one case, the officer on reaching the spot, after getting a call from Dial100, hurled abuses at the female complainant: “Kya 100 no tere baap ka hai?(Does 100 number belong to your father?”.

In another case at Lucknow, another SHO notorious for misbehaving with women and women constables, after his suspension, said that lady constables apply lipstick and frequent hotels. Such behaviour has led the current Director General of Police, UP, S. Javeed Ahmed, to comment that bad behaviour has become a part of police culture and policemen think they can solve problems this way.

There is no denying the fact that misbehaviour with complainants by policemen has reached pathological levels and it becomes worse when the complainants are women or belong to the weaker sections of the society. On job interaction with several policemen at the lower rungs backed with empirical study, has revealed that disrespectful attitude towards women complainants, as well as female colleagues and subordinates, is a byproduct of patriarchal prejudices nurtured by policemen. It was also found that policemen shared the gender biases of the society.

Such prejudices have also led to a progressive masculinisation of the police force. In other words, there is mindless violence and an attitude of dominance through aggression. Such mindset spawns a culture that converts the police department into a patriarchal fief. The entry of a woman within the precincts of a police station and articulation of her grievances is perceived as a threat to the department’s masculine monopoly.

As part of a 2006 study conducted by the author along with a psychologist from a police training college, a questionnaire was given to about 100 newly recruited constables. The objective was to judge the patriarchal prejudices of male constables. It contained a series of questions which were cleverly value loaded and focused on types of subjects, play activities, dresses, and jobs suitable for girls/women. The questionnaire also tried to ascertain what the policemen thought were socially appropriate behaviour for women. It sought answers in terms of yes and no and these answers were statistically analysed with the help of the psychologist.

Not surprisingly, almost all the answer sheets reflected a deep-seated male bias: Girls were considered suitable for humanities and boys for science subjects, a doll was more appropriate for girls than a toy gun, a salwar suit was preferable over western attire, and teaching and working in an NGO, sewing and knitting were deemed better for women than being an engineer, scientist, pilot or a police officer. Smoking and drinking by women in public places received a resounding no. And shockingly, women going to police station at night also received a no.

Considering that the interviewees were fresh recruits, their responses and attitudes were a carryover of their socio-cultural conditioning. Such attitudes are nurtured during their tenure in the department, making the police indifferent and insensitive to problems of women, even utterly hostile to them. Such an attitude explains the humiliation rape/molestation victims have to undergo at the hands of investigative officers at police stations as well as in the courts by cross examiners, who confront them with utterly unpleasant questions. Such a problem is not specific to UP. It could be worse in some other states

Apart from such manifestation of prejudices, the department is also plagued by discrimination by denial. This means women SIs and constables are given less serious assignments. Women constables at police stations are usually deputed to accompany women victims or escort women accused to hospitals. Women SIs are usually asked to investigate dowry-related cases or instances of violations of the excise act and the arms act. They are assigned the duty of day officers and not engaged in the more challenging tasks of raiding, checking vehicles, or dealing with law and order problems. The allocation of roles follows the traditional paradigms in our society that prescribes clearly defined roles for men and women, and then devalues the roles that are assigned to women.

Most women constables and SIs voluntarily opt for office work, day duties, certain types of “soft” investigation and non-field assignments. This can be partly understood given the variety of domestic responsibilities they have to shoulder. But predominantly it’s the corollary of the social framework — years of faulty family and peer group socialisation and failure of the education system. A multiplicity of factors lead to women internalising prejudices.

Stereotyping and its legitimisation at the supervisory levels, and the acquiescence of such behaviour by women constables and SIs makes them mere appendages of their male counterparts. Their work in the police force becomes an extension of their roles in the family and they are engaged to assist and accompany, and not assigned responsible and commandeering positions. Rarely will a woman SI be posted as the SO of an important police station. The police station reserved for women officers is the mahila thana.

A discussion on such thanas will require much more space. However, it shall not be entirely out of place to discuss their functioning briefly. Such is the stranglehold of patriarchal norms that mahilla thanas start becoming clones of other police stations: Women SOs in order to prove themselves as more efficient, start modeling themselves on the lines of their male counterparts. The desire to portray a macho image makes them misbehave with the complainants in a manner similar to their male counterparts. They start imbibing the worldview, value systems and behavioural patterns of their male counterparts. This leads to a process of cognitive dissonance, an unending struggle between their real and projected self.

Eventually, the police becomes synonymous with masculinity and women cops undergo a process of masculinisation, completing a vicious cycle. A mahila thana becomes like any other thana. Women here will have the same experience as in any other police station. A reverse role stereotyping takes place: Being abusive, apathetic, insolent and insensitive becomes the rites of passage for the entry and survival of women in the police department. The discourteous attitude of the department needs to change. It needs to become gender sensitive. Mahila thanas need not become mirror images of other police stations.

Rahul Srivastav is additional SP/ PRO to DGP UP and Manini Srivastav is assistant professor, department of psychology, Lucknow university. Views are personal.

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