Calcutta police have revived a proposal to raise their first all-women battalion barely three weeks after Mamata Banerjee broke Bengal’s political glass ceiling to become its first female chief minister.
“We intend recruiting around 2,600 women, or 10 per cent of the existing strength of Calcutta police. Even if 2,000 appointments are sanctioned, an all-women battalion comprising 600-700 women cops can be formed to make the force more gender-sensitive,” a senior officer said.
So did it require a woman on top in Bengal for the 155-year-old city police to strike a blow for gender sensitivity in the force?
“The erstwhile Left Front government was okay with recruiting female cops as long as we didn’t raise the strength of the force. It was a condition that was almost impossible to follow; we shelved the project,” the official said.
One of the first things Mamata told the police brass during a meeting recently was to increase the “visibility” of women in the ranks. According to officers, an all-women battalion was not just a step towards correcting city police’s pathetically lopsided gender equation — 280 women to 25,720 men — but also practical policing.
“Political parties often use women as shields during protests and processions. The commonest allegation against the force on such occasions is that the male cops misbehaved with the women. We know these are baseless allegations but our officers and their teams have to shoulder the blame,” the officer said.
Female offenders also misuse their gender to evade arrest.
“In 2005, I was posted at Maniktala police station when information arrived about the whereabouts of a woman accused in a cheating case. An all-male team went to arrest her as there was no lady cop at the police station. The accused disrobed when she spotted us, stopping us in our tracks,” an officer recalled.
The police team had to wait 40 minutes before a female colleague arrived to take the accused in custody.
A handful of female cops from the local police station and those on standby at the PRB in the city police headquarters are now deployed whenever a protest involving women needs to be controlled. “Once we have an all-women battalion, it will be easier sending a contingent from there rather than gathering a team from here and there,” the officer said.
The proposed battalion will be a part of Calcutta Armed Police. Lalbazar presently has eight battalions, all men.
Almost half the personnel are posted in the 48 police stations under Lalbazar — nine more are set to be added to the list — while the rest work in the detective department, the special branch, control room and the traffic department.
“Each of the city police stations has three female cops, two constables and a sub-inspector. We need more women in the police stations to play a role in community policing,” said the officer-in-charge of a police station under the south division.
Community policing includes increasing police-public interaction by organising free medical camps, sports tournaments, and health care and educational programmes for street children in a locality.
The decision to have a women-only battalion has left the few female cops in the force relieved.
“We do not have separate toilets or changing rooms in the police stations. We do not even get a car drop at night. A battalion should change things for us,” said a sub-inspector.