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Book Review: S.K.Ghosh’s ‘Women in Policing’

By Mansoor Ahmad

Title: Women in Policing
Author: S. K. Ghosh
Publisher: Light and Life Publishers, New Delhi, 1981

In modern society, women have been doing the same work which was once considered exclusively to be man’s work, for instance, women have gone to space, joined modern revolutionary groups and armies, fought on battle fields, been appointed heads of states and countries, participated in sports and games, and the like. Women even surpass men in many of the so-called men’s activities which challenge the supremacy of men. Kiran Bedi, for example, was the first woman to join the Indian Police Service in 1972, and proved her ability at par with men in policing. Similarly, due to various developments, the traditional stereotype of women as mothers and carers, with prime responsibility for running the home and family, is being replaced by role models of strong, independent, and successful women in all spheres of life. Ghosh says that ‘the moral problems of the society can be solved better by Women’.

In his book, Women in Policing, Ghosh shows that more and more countries are entrusting duties connected with women and children to women police. In the United Kingdom, women have risen to important administrative ranks, and out of eleven inspectors of constabulary two are women. Israel has one of the best traffic police in the world and ninety percent of the personnel are female. Their reliance on tact and on ingenuity, and their very presence, certainly provides a greater sense of security to those who for any reason are in the custody of the law. The working of policewomen in various countries shows that many phases of police responsibilities required could be better performed by women. In the enforcement phase of the work, policewomen are generally more acceptable to women and children who have been victims of sexual crime. Women police officers find it easier to get leads about the offenders in cases of sexual assaults which male officers have failed to get in interviews because the victims have more confidence in women. Aggressive and physical policing is not the final definition of good policing; good listening, compassionate understanding and human responsiveness are equally important characteristics. Policewomen have these qualities to a much greater extent than male policemen have. As a woman, she is seen as a less threatening authority figure and better able to establish understanding with the public. Also, as a female representative of a police agency, she is less burdened by public resentment of her authority; and as a woman, she tends to project the social consciousness so essential to police-public dialogue and understanding. The feminine capacity to dispel male anger may be due, in part, to the value system of male criminals.

The author claims that women have added a new dimension to police operations, but when it comes to India it has different connotations. Strongly rooted traditional concepts of the role and status of women in society tended to preclude objective appraisal of the capabilities of women in the law enforcement field. The author analyses that there is a rigid view that police work is man’s work, and this attitude has delayed the entry of women in the police force. In India, the use of women in policing was first mooted only after the partition of the country in 1947 when police had to deal with large scale offences like kidnapping, abduction and rape, and relief camps were started for the protection of unattached women and children.

However, women have broken out of their traditional roles as housewife and mother and moved historically in the political, industrial, professional, and administrative fields, but there is still slow progress in the law enforcement field. The author points out that the attitudes towards employment of women police essentially have gone through three major periods of change in the history of women police. The first period was when the police departments hired women for conducting searches on female prisoners or suspects, but without police powers and were paid a certain amount for each search. The second period brought gradual acceptance of women in police force because of their specially ascribed roles, that is, to protect women and juveniles from the evil forces of society. In recent years, a third period has developed that emphasizes the equality of men and women in all types of police work and the police woman’s role could no longer be seen as that of an adjunct specialist with limited purposes. The author highlights that police administrators, by and large, resist the recruitment of women in their police forces on several grounds. They may claim that women are not emotionally and physically equipped to handle the man’s job of policing; there may be sexual affairs with male officers; police women may get married and have children and resign and become lost to the department. They claim a higher degree of absenteeism than males and the resentment of male officers forced to work under female supervision. But statistics show that many police responsibilities could be better performed by women. As Public Relations Officers, police women have played an important role in improving police-public relations. Police women have been useful in keeping surveillance over women and juvenile criminals and also in search and interrogation. However, the author also highlighted that many women reject police work because of various factors: around-the-clock work schedule, including holidays, the personal risk factor due to dangers inherent in the police job, strict pattern of operations and discipline and separation from family life in the case of married women. But despite the difficulties the author notes, police employment will continue to rise rapidly in the future, as population and economic growth create a need for more officers to protect life and property, and provide other police services.

A woman in the police force? Once that might have seemed strange, but today it’s becoming commonplace around the world. 

Mansoor Ahmad is a PhD Scholar at the Department of Sociology, University of Kashmir.


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Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on ‘Narrating Care: Disability and Interdependence in the Indian Context’, edited by Nandini Ghosh, IDSK, Kolkata, India and Shilpaa Anand, MANUU, Hyderabad, India.

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