GenderStats 13: Women’s representation in India’s police force

25 August 2022 | Gender Equality, Gender Gap

Akshi Chawla

Akshi Chawla

Associate Editor, CEDA

While women’s representation in the police has been growing in recent years, the pace remains slow. They made up only 10.5 percent of all police officers in the country as of January 01, 2021.

Improving women’s representation in the police is important by itself. Women should be equally represented in all areas of public life as a matter of equal rights and just representation. Additionally, gender-equal workforce enhances the capability of law enforcement agencies to build trust and legitimacy, better fulfill the mandate to combat and prevent crime, safeguard social order and serve communities (INTERPOL, UN Women and UNODC, 2020). Equal representation of women in the police was described as a “necessary ingredient for good governance” by India’s home ministry back in 2013. 

India has been aiming to ensure at least one woman in every three police officers for years now. Based on the recommendations of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (set up in 2005), the Central government has been issuing advisories from time to time asking states to increase the representation of women in police to 33 percent of the total strength. 

Yet, despite this push from the top, that target remains far off. 

There were 2,17,026 women officers in India’s police as of January 01, 2021, the most recent data available shows. Together, they made up only 10.5 percent of all police officers in the country. While women’s representation has been growing in recent years, the pace remains slow: their share has grown less than 6 percentage points since 2010.

Source: Data on police organisation reports of the Bureau of Police Research and Development,
combined for multiple years by the Indian Justice Report (2022)

While the lack of collated global data on this indicator prevents a truly global comparison, where it exists, data shows that the police remains a male-heavy profession in most parts of the world. In the ASEAN region, for example, the share of women in the police varies between 6 percent in Indonesia to 20 percent in Lao People’s Democratic Republic (INTERPOL, UN Women and UNODC, 2020).

Driven by the Centre’s push, several Indian states have, over the years, announced policies to reserve a certain share of police posts from time to time, with many states announcing a 33 percent quota. However, the actual share of women in the states is a far cry from the numbers, and no state has met its own quota yet.

 

Data as of Jan 1, 2021. The strength of police includes Civil, District Armed Reserve, Armed and Indian Reserve Battalion.
Source: Data on police organisations, Bureau of Police Research and Development (2022)

 

As of January 01 2021, Chandigarh had the highest share of women in its police force (22.1 percent), followed by Tamil Nadu and Ladakh with 19.4 and 18.5 percent of women officers, respectively. The lowest shares of women police officers were in Jammu and Kashmir (3.3 percent), Tripura (5.2 percent) and Meghalaya (5.9 percent). 

Among the central police services, women’s representation lags further behind: they made up just 3.4 percent of all members across nine specialized forces – with the Railway Protection Force having the highest representation of 8.9 percent, and the National Security Guard having the lowest (0.6 percent).

Central Armed Police Force & Specialised Force Strength of women Share of women in the force
Assam Rifles 938 1.6%
Border Security Force 5,318 2.3%
Central Industrial Security Force 8,560 6.1%
Central Reserve Police Force 8,248 2.8%
Indo-Tibetan Border Police 2,106 2.5%
National Disaster Response Force 170 1.4%
National Security Guards 54 0.6%
Railway Protection Force 6,003 8.9%
Sashastra Seema Bal 2,051 2.6%
Total 33,448 3.4%

 

Among all its benefits, perhaps the most critical impact of improving women’s presence in police is on citizens’ access to justice, especially in cases of sexual violence. Not all survivors of sexual assault report the crime to police – often due to social stigma, but also because the police response is typically insensitive, unhelpful, even humiliating. 

It was in light of this that among its many recommendations, the committee headed by Justice J.S. Verma in the aftermath of the gruesome gang-rape of a young student in December 2012, observed that it was especially important that the number of women police personnel on patrol and on duty in police stations be increased, so that women could feel comfortable in registering complaints of sexual harassment or threats of a sexual nature. 

Setting up of women help desks is another intervention that the Central government has been pushing for since the 2012 incident to make police stations more approachable for women.  

In a randomized controlled trial covering 180 police stations serving 23.4 million people in the state of Madhya Pradesh, Sukhtankar, Kruks-Wisner and Mangla (2022) found that police officers in stations with women help desks were more likely to  register cases of gender-based violence and other complaints filed by women. This was particularly true when women officers were assigned (randomly) to run these desks. The study saw a notable increase in FIRs registered for women’s cases, and the researchers note that the increase was driven almost entirely by help desks run by women police personnel. 

Dismissive narratives that women often file “false cases” against men can also contribute to lower likelihood of the police filing FIRs, the study noted further. Women police officers were less likely than their male colleagues to ascribe to the narrative of “false cases”, the researchers found. 

Based on their findings, Sukhtankar, Kruks-Wisner and Mangla (2022) argue that even in very patriarchal contexts, police responsiveness could be improved by focusing attention on women’s cases and by greater gender representation within the police.

 

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