Lahore: This is the walled city of Lahore: teeming with traders from cloth to oils to dry fruits, merchants of the past holding their ground firmly into the present. It’s Rang Mahal’s all male police station, the name poignantly compliments its current figure of authority Station House Officer(SHO) Ghazala. She debunks quite a few myths about women in authority, for starters she carries herself well wearing appropriate daywear makeup and unlike a fire breathing, baton-charging individual. Make no mistake she has a tangible air of authority about her and although soft-spoken has a finality to her words.
SHO Ghazala is candid when I ask her about her acceptance as the ‘Boss’ of this predominantly male police precinct; apprehensive of the same she has gradually marked her territory with the formula of give respect and take respect. She feels she’s been received well by not just her subordinates but also the public both male and female of this conservative area. Her passion for her job has largely helped her achieve this position only to be followed by the support of her husband and mother-in-law. She admitted to a complete lack of personal life while calling upon the public’s cooperation as the recognition of this sacrifice.
To the fact that professional women are often accused of gaining position by offering sexual favors she replies that a woman can compel a promotion merited solely by her capabilities. In the beginning of her career she felt that her voice went unheard in official meetings but it’s not the case anymore. Ghazala believes that although the image of police force is tainted but all are not black sheep. She has won over public confidence by maintaining secrecy over individual cases and demonstrating humane side of the force. I ensured the transparent legal action against perpetrators says Ghazala. In year 2002 Bushra Ghani was the first female SHO in the history of Lahore police, she was deputed at Yaki Gate police station. Fifteen years later Ghazala followed suit…the huge time lapse is due to various factors including gender bias, lack of self confidence in women police and discouraging antics of the ”Thana culture” according to Ghazala.
To gain popularity amongst the literate class women police network have visit different colleges, held workshops and give better understanding of the inner workings of the force and the bright career opportunities it presents.
‘Panchayat’ is a common course taken to resolve conflicts in this area and SHO Ghazala has headed many. She says that her decision is valued and carried out without question. Women belonging to areas falling not only under other precincts but other cities are also looked after by her. A woman complainant was dealt with efficiency and empathy in front of us and when I asked her why she came to SHO Ghazala from another city she simply stated that she felt secure and reassured by her. Wondering how she stays comfortable and looks so graceful in her thick uniform in Lahore’s sweltering heat. Let us embark on my journey to meet the SHO of Women’s police station on Lyton road.
You would be pleasantly surprised to see a petite young girl smiling behind a large desk who had nabbed a most wanted dacoity Proclaimed Offender last night, as I found out during our discourse. As to how is she treated by coworkers and public despite being in uniform SHO Nabila smiles and says that people are very mindful of the authority emanated by the uniform and also refrain from vulgarity and slurs because she is a female, that’s a win-win I remind myself. But surely, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows…she feels that the influx of educated women in the force sets a precedent at all levels from sexual harassment to public dealing. But remorsefully admits to one off incidents which mar the force’s integrity. Complainants are pleasantly surprised by the amicable persona of the police officers and their unexpectedly empathic treatment of their problems holds Nabila. She tells me about the lock up that is filled with all sorts of accused females and ironically, I inquire about their safety she reassures that she has zero-tolerance policy for any misconduct towards these women.
Endorsing SHO Ghazala on the fact that the support by husband and in-laws is a prerequisite for a successful working woman she adds that it’s a two-way street…for a woman to win over this sort of support the dying institution of joint families has to be revived by her. When I inquire about the unfulfillment of even the meagre 15% fixed quota of female head constables and constables she claims that numerous women showed up for recruitment and how the winds of change are already blowing.
To the allegation of bribery against the force Nabila asserts that the temporary worldly gain can deprive her family of peace and true happiness. Nabila now delves into the details of how she arrested PO with four FIRs against him in Defence A police station. Her impeccable planning and laying an infallible trap for the PO led to disbelief morphing into praise and envy amongst her colleagues. Nabila doesn’t deny the thrill and the sense of accomplishment as her elixirs to carry out such operations. She admits that breaking the stereotype of a female police officer motivated her and she still succeeded. Mother of a toddler Nabila speaks fondly of her daughter and adds that taking out time for family is a priority although very difficult.
According to the figures there are only 602 police women out of a force of 35000. To investigate this lopsided figure I met with Doctor Haider Ashraf DIG Operations Lahore. He admits that there is a shortfall of female police in the force due to many factors including lack of inclination of women to join police in general. Women police role models are another deficiency in his view, which is changing now. DIG Haider reveals that the two lady SHO’s of Lahore were put through similar training as their male counterparts and later deputed on merit due to their exceptional abilities. He also appreciated the new powerful Avatar that these SHO’s are displaying like the successful capture of the dacoity PO by Nabila. Responding to the question regarding the reaction of people towards female SHOs he says that complaints of police highhandedness have significantly reduced and the system has become more efficient. He claims that females are encouraged to join the force and is hopeful that with changing times more of them will do so.
It seems that injecting young blood into the police system has brought about many positive changes from taking away its brutal, corrupt image to making it more empathic to the public’s woes .