Devyani Srivastava, Laksha Kalappa Baleyada

Blog Series: Dispatches from the Women in Police Project

We are excited to announce a blog series based on an ongoing research project on women in policing. The NLSIU research team, in partnership with the Karnataka State Police, aims to assess the status and role of policewomen in the state. This means understanding the experiences of policewomen across levels, their roles and service conditions, and how police officers—men and women—view the need for more women in an otherwise male-dominated profession. The final research findings will be presented in the form of a report to the Karnataka police department (and made public only thereafter).

The idea behind this series is to share field notes and emerging insights from the project in the hope of generating greater interest in the functioning of an institution that serves as the first port of call for those seeking criminal justice.

Women in the Indian Police

Women cops are slowly but steadily growing in number and visibility across India, particularly in metropolitan cities. From regulating traffic in busy thoroughfares; guarding markets, schools, colleges and universities; patrolling streets in police vehicles; to receiving complaints in police stations, it is far more common today to witness women performing these crucial policing functions. Popular culture, too, seems to be catching up, with a spate of recent films and web-series showcasing women donning the khaki uniform in central roles.

This growing visibility has been accompanied by heightened policy commitment over the past decade towards increasing women’s representation in the police. While gender diversity in policing remains fundamental to realising the constitutional promise of equality of opportunity, the Government of India first adopted a target of 33% for women’s representation in the police only in 2009. The goal received further impetus following the gang rape and death of 23-year-old Jyoti Singh in December 2012. Increasing the number of women police personnel was a central demand of the ensuing public movement for women’s safety, and in turn, a key measure taken by police departments to address concerns around women’s safety.

As a result, the country has seen a steady increase in women’s representation in the police, from 4% in 2009 to 10% in 2020. Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Maharashtra, and Gujarat have the highest percentages of women police personnel: 14% or above. Meghalaya and Tripura have the lowest, at just 5%. In Karnataka, this figure is 8.42%.

No Indian state is close to achieving the 33% target. In fact, states with higher women’s representation in the police have been showing signs of plateauing—in Tamil Nadu, this figure has hovered between 15% and 19% for several years now.

About the project

What has been the experience of women in uniform? What motivates them to join an institution known to be dominated by men, and how do they navigate a policing subculture that is often marked by—if not actively valorises—machismo? What are the distinct challenges faced by women in the police service, and to what extent do they have a bearing on their performance, growth and job satisfaction? How are the experiences of women constables different from those of senior women officers? More broadly, how does gender identity shape the experience of police officers? And conversely, how does a gender diverse workforce shape policing?

The NLS-Karnataka State Police research project (2022-23) seeks to gain a deeper understanding of these issues. Supported by the Hanns Siedel Foundation India (a leading German foundation that enables training opportunities for police officers in Karnataka), the project involves one-on-one interviews with senior women police officers and focus group discussions with women constables in at least 10 districts across the state. In each district, 6-10 police stations will be selected based on population size, demographic diversity, and presence of women personnel. The project also includes an attitudinal survey to gauge the views of male and female police officers on the importance of having women in policing. This is crucial in order to assess the support, at all levels, towards increasing women’s role in policing.

The findings of the study will culminate in a comprehensive report to be submitted to the Karnataka police department. Its aim is to help ground policy discussions and institutional planning for increasing women’s representation in the police. In particular, it will inform the design of a series of interventions, which will include strategic training, sensitisation and dialogue. The larger aim of the project is to address, challenge and transform the organisational culture in policing—which includes mindsets and practices—in a gradual albeit firm manner. Such interventions are crucial to create a conducive environment for gender mainstreaming within the police department, not only as a goal in itself, or even in fulfillment of legal obligations, but as a requirement for improving policing overall.

What to expect 

In the run-up to the submission of the official report, this blog series will bring you emerging learnings and reflections on various aspects of the project like gender diversity, policing culture, and how we conduct our research.

Spending time in a police station, observing its daily happenings, interacting with officers on duty, offers a unique glimpse into the functioning of an institution that is often feared and distrusted but little understood.

As researchers engaged in legal and policy reform work, we are also interested in observing informal practices, interactions between men and women as well as between ‘seniors’ and ‘subordinates’, and how class and caste shape these interactions. In short, we want to present the ‘human’ side of the state’s coercive wing and spur critical and productive engagement with issues surrounding police reform in the country.

These fortnightly dispatches from the study will comprise observations that flow from our visits. No names will be revealed, and nothing shared with us during interviews and FGDs will be discussed.

We hope you find this series useful and look forward to any feedback you’d like to share.

About the Authors

Devyani Srivastava is the Principal Investigator and head of the Women in Police Project, Karnataka. Based in New Delhi, she is a researcher on access to justice, police reforms, human rights and gender diversity, with 15 years’ work experience in the non-profit sector.

Laksha Kalappa Baleyada is an advocate practising before the High Court of Karnataka and trial courts in Bengaluru. Her focus areas are civil and commercial litigation, including contractual disputes, intellectual property rights disputes, land laws, labour laws, service disputes and consumer disputes. She has worked for over seven years with litigation teams at King & Partridge and Dua Associates, Bengaluru. Laksha is a junior fellow with the Women in Police Project, Karnataka.