Women Police in the City of Delhi: Gender Hierarchies, ‘Pariah Femininities’ and the Politics of Presence

AuthorSantana Khanikar
Published date01 December 2016
Date01 December 2016
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-17M4W6DwzElD1G/input Article
Women Police in the City
Studies in Indian Politics
4(2) 159–177
of Delhi: Gender Hierarchies,
© 2016 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
‘Pariah Femininities’ and the
SAGE Publications
Politics of Presence
DOI: 10.1177/2321023016665517
Santana Khanikar1
This article examines a broadly accepted assumption that presence of women personnel makes police
forces more gender-just, and makes an attempt to study in the context of Delhi Police, how the
inclusion of women personnel impacts gendered hierarchies and patriarchal social norms operative
within the space of a thana. Drawing on ethnographic research, I argue that the day-to-day practices and
relations between men and women personnel in a police station do not give out a picture of a gender-
just institutional set-up. Further, I argue that abuse and humiliation of women personnel within the
thana is not something totally disconnected from what the institution’s official attitude towards women
is, as could be read from various public campaigns of Delhi Police that infantilize and objectify women
while talking of ‘protective’ men as role models. In this context, it is argued that merely inducting
women into the institution without an active feminist practice against essentialization of women would
not bring emancipatory outcomes.
Femininity, gender, masculinity, policewoman, policing
After the Delhi gang-rape of 16 December 2012, widely known as the Nirbhaya case, the issue of
women’s safety has received prominence in public discourse across the country. The city of Delhi saw
massive protests by outraged citizens in the aftermath of the rape. The Delhi Police was a target of severe
criticism, for its failure to maintain law and order in the city. It suffered further bad publicity as the force
harassed the protesters and targeted them with water canons, lathi-charge and tear gas. Following these
Note: An earlier version of this article has been printed as IEG Working Paper No. 347 by the Institute of Economic Growth,
1 Centre for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament (CIPOD), School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru
University, New Delhi, India.
Corresponding author:
Santana Khanikar, Room no. 229, IInd Floor, SIS I, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi 110067, India.
E-mail: santanakhanikar985@gmail.com


Studies in Indian Politics 4(2)
developments, safety of women and role of police have remained central issues in public debates,
election campaigns and in the publicly bitter relations between the Delhi government and the Delhi
Police working under the central government’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). The police force in
Delhi, which had always been a target of public criticism due to its alleged inefficiency and corruption,
has increasingly been blamed for its inability to control crimes against women.
The Delhi Police has responded to such sweeping criticism through various measures. One of these
was an announcement from the MHA soon after the December 2012 incident. It said that 1,000 new
appointments at constable level would be made immediately, out of which 500 posts would be reserved
for women. The then Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde also directed that there should be at
least one woman officer posted in each police station (The Asian Age, 27 January 2013). In March 2015,
the central government had passed a proposal for reservation of 33 per cent posts for women, at the lower
levels in the police forces in all union territories including Delhi (Press Information Bureau, 20 March
2015), and the Lt Governor of Delhi, Najeeb Jung had announced that the number of women in the Police
Control Room (PCR) vans would be increased to 500 to ensure greater security of women (The Times of
India, 12 August 2015). Further, various publicity mechanisms of Delhi Police routinely focus on the
‘gender-sensitive’ nature of the force by highlighting provisions, such as a women’s help desk in every
police station, investigation of rape cases by women officers only, induction of more women at the police
station level and training of officers on gender issues (India, Delhi Police, 2012).
Such measures seem to be based on the assumption that presence of women in the police force makes
it sensitive to gender crimes, and thus more effective in preventing and handling such cases. Such
assumptions often do have a legal and social context. Historically, the police in India is known for its role
in perpetrating violence towards marginalized sections including women. The Maya Tyagi rape case of
19802 is one of the prominent cases where several Uttar Pradesh police personnel were convicted by a
district court in 1988. In the context of such lawlessness of the police, the National Human Rights
Commission in its guidelines on arrest has made it legally binding that women police officers should be
present at the time of arresting women as far as practicable. The fate of the Mathura rape case3 also led
to legal professors’ and activists’ and the women’s movement’s concerns with the prevalent law, result-
ing in Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act 1983 to the effect of defining custodial rape and shifting
burden of proof from the accuser to the accused. Other reforms following the Law Commission Report
of 1989, such as incorporation into the Criminal Procedure Code Section 46(4) (through Criminal
Procedure Code (Amendment) Act, 2005), which prohibits arrest of women between sunset and sunrise,
except in exceptional circumstances, and Section 46(1) (through Criminal Procedure Code (Amendment)
Act, 2008), which states that unless the arresting officer is female, a woman while being arrested will not
be actually touched on her body, were further steps towards curbing police violence against women.
Other rules such as Section 51(2) of Criminal Procedure Code, which requires that body searches of
women should be strictly by another female, along with other provisions, made it increasingly important
to have women in the police forces.
2 On 18 June 1980, personnel from Uttar Pradesh (UP) Police shot dead Ishwar Tyagi, husband of Maya Tyagi, and other relatives,
as they resisted the police molesting her. After killing Ishwar Tyagi, pregnant Maya Tyagi was beaten with rifle butts, paraded
naked through Baghpat town of UP, assaulted with a police baton leading to the abortion of her 5-months foetus in the streets and
then she was taken to the police station where she was gang-raped by policemen for 3 hours (The Age, 28 January 1988).
3 Mathura was an orphaned Dalit girl between 14 and 16 years of age, when she was raped by two policemen in a police station in
Maharashtra. Both the sessions court and finally the Supreme Court acquitted the accused policemen by stating that Mathura was
‘used to’ sex and that she might have incited the cops to have intercourse with her. Following a letter to the Supreme Court by law
professors including Upendra Baxi, critiquing the concept of consent in the judgement, a number of women’s groups raising issues
of rape and violence against women were formed, starting the debate for legal reforms.

Khanikar 161
However, the place of women in the institution, and whether their rights are safeguarded or not—in
an environment which proved to be violent towards women requiring legal mechanisms to deal with
it—was not dwelt upon much. In fact, it was only with an innovative use of the Bhanwari Devi rape case4
that guidelines to prevent sexual harassment at workplace were laid out by the Supreme Court of India
through the Vishakha judgement in 1997.
My attempt in this article is to examine this aspect of workplace gender dynamics. The precise focus
is upon inclusion of women into the police force in Delhi on the assumption of their special suitability to
deal with gender-based crimes, and to study what impact such inclusion has on the structures of gendered
hierarchy operative in the police station as a workplace. Given that policing has traditionally been seen
as a ‘man’s job’, how do the women police personnel balance between being a woman and a police
personnel at the same time? While examining the everyday strategies of women police personnel in
Delhi in their day-to-day work lives, I observe that the individual woman personnel has to continuously
oscillate between two contrary enactments of what Susan E. Martin (1980) calls a policewoman and a
policewoman. Drawing on insights from ethnographic fieldwork, I argue that inclusion of women on
such terms does not make them equal members of the force, but only signifies a balm-applying strategy
to rectify rampant gender imbalance in numbers within the institution. Such inclusion, I argue, has not
yet led to any real progress in terms of making a gender-just institution.
That the inclusion of women only serves as a token in the present form could also be gauged from the
way the police force in Delhi is officially conceptualized. In the last section of the article, by reading
through various publicity documents released by the organization from time to time, I argue that the
institution often relies on overtly masculinist rhetoric which signals towards deep-rooted ideas of
masculine and feminine role types inherent in the ideology of the institution. I argue that the daily
practices of harassment to...

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