Getting More #WomenInForces To Innovative Policing, This Cop Is Raising The Bar

Last updated 1 May 2017 . 15 min read

A staggering low amount of only 6% of Indian police officers are women, but these women IPS officers are creating great impact across the country. Sutapa Sanyal is one such top woman IPS officer. Her grassroots efforts for women-friendly policing have been recognized nationally and internationally.

On the invitation of the British High Commission, she took part in a Women Leaders Delegation to the UK, to discuss and develop strategies to prevent Violence Against Women and Girls in India. She has also represented India at the Specialists Group on the Protection of Children at INTERPOL, in France where she worked with Interpol officers on issues concerning children in India.

She has also been part of the Govt. of India's Micro Mission 7 on Gender-Based issues, leading the sub-group which recommended policy suggestions on "Preventive Strategies  for Crime Against Women."

Sutapa Sanyal, the highest ranked woman IPS officer from the U.P. cadre, handles not one but three departments in the state, Mahila Samman Prakoshth, Civil Defence and State Human Rights Commission. She founded the Mahila Samman Prakoshth (MSP) which is focused on women and children's welfare. Under MSP there are 9 programs including Vikalp and Nav Chetna (training for police officers). Mahila Samman Prakoshth's programs have won praise by Members of Parliaments (MPs) from India, Canada and UK.

We got the opportunity to strike a one-on-one conversation with the Director General of UP Police, Sutapa Sanyal and her tireless work at the grassroots and on a large urban scale to address various issues pertaining to women.

“I grew up in a family of lawyers and civil servants, so I was always attracted to law and efficient governance. My father was my hero. He was from the State Civil Service in Bihar, and after retirement practiced law at the Patna High Court. He always taught me to stand up for and defend the rights of others, specially the underprivileged. In my family, gender was never a limiting factor and my parents always told me that there was always more room at the top. Their faith in me really propelled me forward.

However choosing the police service was still an unconventional step. I was always at the top of my class academically, and after my Masters in Economics, I began teaching as a Lecturer in Economics in Patna University.

At the same time, I started preparing for the UPSC. I always wanted to be in a position where I could directly help people--and the administrative service was the best option for this three decades back. I was very thrilled when I got into the Indian Police Service. However, my mother was very concerned about the tough training that I would have to undergo.

I came from a simple middle class family where we had traditional middle class values, with an emphasis on academics and art. In fact, nobody from my family was in the police service, but suddenly there I was, riding horses and wielding bayonets. It was definitely a physically gruelling year of training, and I was the only woman in my entire batch. But I realized that if you stay true to yourself and perform well, you earn respect from others and they soon start to view you as a capable professional regardless of your gender.

Importance of mentors

I've learned the importance of having great mentors. When I was new to the service, I had the privilege of working under some exceptional senior officers, and it taught me the fundamentals of police work so strongly that I've never forgotten them. These officers--all men--considered me an equal and deserving officer and again never made me feel disadvantaged.

This is why I am a big proponent of the UN's HeforShe campaign, because in so many places, you'll find only men in senior positions. It is imperative that these men recognize the talent of juniors, irrespective of their gender.

I've also learned the importance of having women mentors.

I unfortunately did not have many at the time that I was entering the police force, but today I make sure to mentor other younger women in the force. It's important to reach out and give support and advice to younger women, so that they can flourish as leaders within the police force as well as further  the cycle by encouraging other women to get into the profession so that workplaces become more gender-balanced.

Elephant in the room

Also, I think it's time that we openly acknowledged and talked about the extra responsibilities that women often have, specially in terms of raising children. Parenting responsibilities still fall disproportionately on the shoulders of women, although it's changing massively and I see lots of women and men sharing equal responsibilities within the home.

Policing is a tough job when you have young kids, but you devise ways to conquer the challenges. For instance, there were days when I would have to go to a crime scene in the middle of the night, and I couldn't leave my young daughter alone at home. So I would take her along in the car and park the car at a distance.

My child would be asleep in the backseat while I went in and did my duty in the middle of the night. Despite my busy profession, I always made time for my children and till date, they think I was the most over-involved parent, even surpassing other parents who weren't working. I take that as a badge of honour, because I was always decorated at work as well, and my children thought I was always around, so I feel like I must have done a good job at both.

I serve as the Director General of Mahila Samman Prakoshth or MSP, a special police department specifically for the welfare of women and children. I have set up and led MSP from the start. MSP has helped thousands of women and children get justice, security and dignity through innovative policing programs.

We have established 6 key programs at MSP--all of which aim to connect the police to the community they serve and improve the responsiveness of the police force towards women's issues.

1. Vikalp portal for reporting Crimes against Women: MSP's flagship program is Vikalp, a web portal that enables women to register complaints directly online. They don't have to go to the police; rather, the police comes to them, following a "thana at your doorstep" concept. Police has to take action on every complaint filed in Vikalp within 24 hours, and the case is not closed until complainants report that they are satisfied with the police action. Vikalp is thus a rare case where the total power lies in the hands of the common person, and police help is guaranteed.

By leveraging ICT and digital inclusion, we try to make sure that women don't have to go through unnecessary hassles in order to get police help. Thousands of women in Uttar Pradesh have already used Vikalp to access the criminal justice system--and around 48% of the total users are from rural areas, indicating that women from traditionally underserved areas are being reached in an unprecedented manner too.

2. Nav Chetna (Gender-Sensitization and Training Program for the Police): I am also working hard to improve the quality of police response in cases of violence against women.  In order to accomplish this, we have devised a comprehensive training program for police officers called Nav Chetna (which means "New Consciousness" in Hindi). Through the Nav Chetna program, police personnel are sensitized about gender-based violence, and are taught the latest laws, investigation methods and cognitive behaviour techniques in order to respond to sensitive crimes involving women and children.

Under this program, over 7500 police officers in different ranks have been trained in all districts in U.P. I have also created booklets describing the best practices and training procedures for women-friendly policing. We have partnered with UNICEF in order to carry out special training about crimes related to children as well.

3. Ru -ba-ru (Police-Public Interaction Forum): a "cop connect" program through which the police connects directly with students to interact on issues like cyberbullying, legal literacy and adolescent counselling etc.

4. Saathi- Citizen Cadet program: This is a program that channelizes the informal leadership of women's collectives to fight against gender-based violence. It involves citizens directly in Community Policing by creating a corps of citizen cadets, so that they can come and report the problems of women to the police directly even if those women victims themselves are unable to do so. They also help us spread information about our other programs and laws to women in villages.

5. Akshaya: a self-defense training program that has trained over 14,000 girls in self-defence across U.P.

6. Adhikaar: Adhikaar is aimed at enhancing women's legal literacy about their rights and the laws protecting them. Women cannot claim their rights if they are unaware of it. So under Adhikar, we carry out massive public information campaigns to discuss laws like the Domestic Violence Act and Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act, etc, and help women access official resources to seek help during critical times in their lives.

Imbibing the characteristics of community in police programmes

It's important to acknowledge that while women are getting empowered,  a lot still remains to be done for women safety.

Women are very courageous and every day I am inspired by the tremendous resilience and strength of ordinary women.

We need to make it easier for women to report crimes. This is why we started the Vikalp portal so that women can report crimes directly from their home, without having to do rounds of the police station. After reporting the crime, they get a special ID through which they can track the police activity and not only that, they can indicate whether they were satisfied or unsatisfied with the police action. This is the first app of its kind in India that gives women a voice and a means to give direct feedback to the police.

I've also established the Saathi Citizen Cadet program across Uttar Pradesh, where we induct women as special police officers from the community, who act as a link between the police and the community. We collaborate with Panchayats, self-help groups and local women leaders to spread information about the laws and programs of the police. At the same time these citizen cadets know their communities very well, and they can encourage other women to approach the local police with their problems.

Collectively, MSP's programs have reached over 5,00,000 women, and many more have been affected indirectly. All these programs, coming from the police,  are encouraging women to speak up in a society where the "culture of silence" and "victim blaming" is rampant. They have also helped bridge the trust deficit between the police and the citizens they serve.

Lackadaisical attitude towards sexual harassment at workplace

Coming to urban landscapes, Safety at Workplace in India is improving after the insightful Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act. I recently released a report on 'Reflections on the State of Women Safety at the Workplace in India' by FICCI, wherein they catalogued best practices to be followed by employers. At the event, I spoke with HR heads of many leading companies and made it clear that women safety should be a top priority for them.

Unfortunately, I still find that many companies, especially small to mid sized companies do not have HR policies and procedures to address women's complaints, nor do they plan out women safety measures in advance. Once an incident happens do they start shifting the blame or try to put up programs in an ad-hoc manner.

Through the police, we are sending a very clear message to all workplaces that they need to step up. We take such cases very seriously, because we want to make it safe for women to go to work and pursue their economic opportunities.

We are also stepping up our police campaign against sexual harassment in public places. For instance, at Charbagh bus station, through which thousands of people travel every day, I have started a police booth specially for reporting any incident of sexual harassment, and have women police personnel there constantly to monitor the situation.

All these measures should go a long way in increasing women’s safety, but we need the cooperation of ordinary citizens--to practice gender equality in their own homes, report incidents to the police and to give us feedback so that we can continue improving.

Violence Against Women

I believe that there is strength in numbers, and the police cannot work in isolation. The issue of Violence against women (VAW) is so huge that multiple organizations have to collaborate and become active stakeholders in order to tackle the problem comprehensively.

So from the start, I have built partnerships with other departments, agencies, certified women's organizations and collectives, and even schools and colleges. The reason? Violence against women will not stop until each and every person in our society is awakened and linked together in the understanding that gender equality is essential to the growth of our nation. In a society where women are not respected and safe, no progress can be made.

We have developed deep linkages with UNICEF, which has funded many of our programs like Ru-ba-ru and Saathi. They have also helped us set up child-friendly police stations, 20 model Special Juvenile Protection Units (SJPUs) and helped us develop tools to build model Anti-human trafficking units. 

We have also utilized the expertise of organizations like Action Aid, Oxfam, Breakthrough and others working for women empowerment to lift our programs to an international standard.

Addressing the issue of gender imbalance in the male-dominated police force

It is really sad that we have only 6% women in the police. This is being changed from the top, where the Govt. of India is trying to encourage the recruitment of more women. At my level, whenever I go to colleges or public events to speak to youngsters as part of our Rubaru programme, I always make it a point to ask girls and young women in the crowd to come into the administrative services, specially the police.

You see, women bring a vast and diverse set as well as a personal context into policing, which helps everyone. We need more women in the police as stakeholders so that they can pay special focus to issues like women's rights and children welfare, and on a day to day basis enact more progressive policing practices.

I also think career counsellors and teachers can play a big role in this direction, by talking to women about leadership and the police, and showing them that this is a highly respected, viable and enjoyable profession. 

Very importantly, platforms like SHEROES can do a lot to encourage women into this avenue. Through mentoring and talking to young women, I hope to personally motivate many of these bright, intelligent girls to become future leaders in the police force as well.

Police force as a career choice, how does that sound?

Firstly, we have to bust the myth that the forces are not a "woman's profession." If men can do it, then surely women can too.  I'd like to tell young women that the forces are a great place to build a dynamic career, even if you are a person like me who comes from a middle class background without knowing anyone in the forces. I loved reading, was quite an introvert and not at all outgoing, yet today I am absolutely comfortable as a police officer, interacting with thousands of people on a daily basis. It's absolutely doable.

Not just the police, there are many other administrative services available to women, through the civil services, such as the IAS,IFS,  Indian Economic Service, Indian Revenue Service and other Allied Services.

The story of a Better India is being written right now, and if you join the Civil services, you can help write it yourself. There is tremendous job growth, you get to help others and live a useful life--what more could you ask for?

Lola Jutta
An unapologetic writer, budding travel enthusiast and a default optimist! Life is what you make out of it.

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