SrinagarWhen Afroza Jan joined J&K Police department as a constable,almost a decade ago, she thought the biggest challenge in the job for her will be the physical exertion and crowd control during law and order situations. She was soon proved wrong, I never thought that it was the absence of toilets that will irk me most, Afroza says. A woman is a woman after all; no matter how independent and macho she feels in her khaki uniform.
Afroza is one of the hundreds of Kashmiri female cops who dread outdoor duties because of the absence of female toilets in public places and government buildings in and outside the Srinagar city. The cops complain that they have to hold their bladders during outdoor duty hours because people at restaurants, hotels and residential houses do not always allow them to use their washrooms. Holding too, as per them, is always not an option especially during longer dutyhours in winters when it is very cold and they need to use washrooms many times a day.
Every time there is any government function that involves outdoor duty, I pray to God that it is not me. I can work 12 hours a day but inside the police station where I have privacy and access to washroom, Afroza says. Our seniors tell us that we are police and we should know how to manage in any situation, but what can one do with natures call? she asks.
Besides the widespread bias that female cops face at the hands of their male counterparts in the police force, it is the absence of gender sensitive policies in the department that causes physical and mental agony to these women.
This is a male dominated profession in a patriarchal society. The empowerment of women is only on papers. From the surface everything looks fine but if one scratches a little, the situation is very ugly, says HameedaBano, a female constable posted in Srinagar.
Last time during elections, Hameeda was posted in a polling booth set up in a government school building. It was middle of the winter and the bare walls and floor of concrete building was ice cold. After couple of hours of duty, Hameeda needed to use washroom, I was almost in tears when I saw the washroom. There was no door and no water. For whole long day I was carrying out my duty while painfully holding my urine, recalls Hameeda.
This was not the first time, Hameeda adds, that she found herself in a situation like this. Last year she encountered series of horrible situations during her duty at various examination centers and sports tournaments.
In the conservative society of Kashmir where women are discouraged to mingle with the opposite gender, a job in the police department is always the last resort. Most of the Kashmiri women who join police forces are either less educated women who have minimum job options or the ones who are pushed into this profession by poverty or family responsibilities.
Although these women cops earn enough to survive and make ends meet, the lack of women friendly policies in the department and the silence over their basic needs still makes them feel outsiders within the force, I came into this profession because my husband was not earning enough to run the house and raise our three kids. Otherwise the department is not women friendly, especially not for a shy woman like me, says Waheeda Jan, 35-year-old cop and mother of two children.
Last time I was deployed for VIP security duty for whole day by the roadside. The department had kept one single mobile toilet for both male and female cops. I badly needed washroom because I was on my periods but when I saw so many men outsidethe toilet, I didnt go, she recalls.
Waheeda is anxious ever since she heard that female cops have more severe cases of dehydration, Urinary and Reproductive Tract Infections because they avoid drinking water during outdoor duties, hold urine for longer hours and stay unhygienic during menstruation owing to lack of access to toilets, I am very scared and worried about my health. Our top officers are sleeping over the issue.
A top police official when asked about his inputs on the issue, he agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity, we have provided all the facilities at our police stations for our female staff but we cant ensure the same facilities outside when they are on outdoor duty. It is the job of municipality and government, the official said. If our female staff is suffering, it is because of the failure of the overall system and governance. It is not the failure of our department, the official added.
Saleema Akhtar, a cop who has been working in the department for last 13 years doesnt agree with the official. She believes that the department needs a complete overhaul when it comes to facilities for female cops. According to her, there is an urgent need of female only toilets, female friendly duty hours and locations and childcare facilities within the police department, there are either unusable or same toilets for males and females in many police stations. There is complete lack of privacy and hygiene, Saleema says.
Nobody talks about our needs. This culture of silence runs deep in our society. Our officials will only indulge in blame games, adds visibly upset Saleema. (the names in the story have been changed on demand)
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