By: Salman Nizami
The image of Kashmiri women wearing police uniforms is meant to inspire pride and hope for a future where the rights of women will be protected in India. So why would female police in Kashmir be ashamed to admit they wear the badge? They say that they regularly experience sexual harassment and discrimination at the hands of their male counterparts. “Except for my very close family members, no one really knows that I am a cop,” said one woman posted in the Police Control Room Srinagar. The woman, who asked not to give her name, says she tells most of her family that she works with an NGO. That is because the rumours about sexual abuse in the police department and threats made by militants are so widespread that many of these women are ashamed to say they work in the police department.
In interviews with 15 policewomen in the Kashmir region, I have found many incidents of abuse and harassment by male officers, who see them as immoral for accepting work in this field. “They want it to be like the time of the 1990s when militancy was at its peak,” said Parveena, who also asked that her family name not be used. “They tell us every day we are bad as we don’t talk to them freely and if we refuse their proposal.” She added that she knows several of the women working with her who have been sexually harassed by male police.In Jammu and Kashmir the women police wing was established in 1965 with a staff of one SI, two ASIs, three HCs, and 27 constables. The strength of women police in the state has increased manifold and some women officers of the state have been directly recruited as DSPs through the state civil services examination, but in the Kashmir culture that is not fully comfortable with women working outside the home, these women face significant risks. We have found disturbing allegations of systematic sexual coercion of female police by their male colleagues. The women at the training centres hardly looked like victims as they assembled and loaded assault rifles. But none dared to give their names as they alluded to what is an open secret in Kashmir. “Some women are being promoted only if they agree to give sexual favours,” said one female officer posted in the Police Headquarters Kashmir.
Most of the Kashmir female police have many children, and most are poor. Though they say they would like to serve their country, just as many say they joined the police because to be paid about Rs 20,000 a month is better than working as a maid. The threat of job loss is a powerful one. According to experts this is especially true in the police department where it has been shown that 60 percent of policewomen face harassment from colleagues. Not only does sexual harassment impact psychological wellbeing, it has also been linked to health problems relating to emotional distress. During the meet with the policewomen of Kashmir privately, several told of terrifying experiences. They agreed to speak on the condition that their names be withheld, and the only place they felt safe enough to talk to a journalist was in the women’s cell, Srinagar. “It’s a fact, women in the police are being used for sex,” said Tabassum (not her real name) who is in her mid-30s. “It’s happened to me. Male cops ask for sex openly because they think only those women join the police in Kashmir who have no family restrictions and who work for fun,” she said.
In Kashmir, even in famous markets like Lal Chowk, Residency Road, Regal Chowk or Dal Lake, a wide array of supposedly ‘immoral’ conduct can get a woman labelled ‘bad’. Anything from wearing the wrong clothes to sitting in the front seat of a car, or simply working outside the home can cause dangerous rumours. However, another policewoman named Ishrat says that on one occasion her room was invaded by a group of men who abused her in front of her other two female colleagues. Ishrat, who is married, recognised some of them as policemen, but she did not report the incident for fear of public disgrace, and because she believes the former police chief already knew. Another woman in her mid-30s, Safoora (also not her real name), says she was also sexually harassed by her officer on duty after the threat of losing her job and the only income supporting her children.
According to experts, what makes victims in the police profession particularly vulnerable is that they must rely on the integrity of their own colleagues and supervisors to provide the intervention and protection of the law. They also have to repeatedly prove themselves and are monitored more closely than male officers. Male officers tend to exaggerate the mistakes a woman recruit makes and use them as proof that all females are incompetent. Male officers trust that male officers will maintain the solidarity of the brotherhood, but do not trust women to do the same. However, the Kashmir policewomen say abuse is so widespread in the Kashmir police that they are practically ‘trafficked’ when they are transferred from one district to another. Salary and promotion depend on sexual favours. Ishrat says that she would never encourage a woman to join the police. “I have daughters of my own, and I would never ever want them to join the police department,” she said. Another woman of Baramulla District, in her late-30s, says that after almost 10 years in the Jammu and Kashmir police department, police officers stopped demanding sex from her. “Anywhere you ask for a job in the police department, they either ask you to give yourself or bring them girls,” she said. She named several policewomen who act as madams and agents for policemen in Kashmir.
The Jammu and Kashmir government officials denied all charges made in this story. “The women police are working closely alongside their Kashmiri brothers. I totally reject any report that they are being abused by their male counterparts,” said Sajjad Kichloo, Minister of State for the Home Department. But advocates in Kashmir say the problem is not limited to Srinagar. “We’ve received many reports of abuse of Kashmir women police in many parts of the Valley, and violence against women in Kashmir is at very high levels. One of the solutions put forward is for more females to join the police department to address this issue,” he said. “It will be very difficult to take this seriously when females join and are themselves abused by other officers within the force.”