The Women Police Station is situated on the second floor of a building facing a busy road in central Lahore. Considered to be a pioneering center for women emancipation in Pakistan, it is the only Women Police Station in Lahore covering a city of 4 million women.
The main purpose of this police station is to create an environment where women, independent of the fact that they are victims of more powerful perpetrators, are treated fairly, without violence and with due respect to basic human rights.
As I near the police station I notice the emblematic blues and whites of the square building behind a big shady tree in the vast courtyard, surrounded by plants that grow luxuriantly in the cool shadows of the structure.
[quote]It is quite tricky to reach the floor dedicated to the women’s police station[/quote]
Outside the main gate there is a guard slightly bored of the long hours, standing in front of the three meter iron-gate that protects the premises from curious eyes. His job is to personally take care of newcomers and direct them to the right place inside the facility. Despite this initial promise of being a welcoming place for women, it is actually quite tricky to reach the floor dedicated to the women’s police station.
In order to gain access to various departments in the building every visitor has to walk through an arch beyond the courtyard that hosts on either side two cells for temporary detention where people are usually sitting or resting on the bare ground.
The actual Women Police Station is a complex of rooms situated on the second floor of this building and, according to the figures released by the officials of the police station there are 51 staff members for the operation wing – of which only 29 are actually working – and 18 for the Investigation department – in which there are only 8 working at the moment.
The atmosphere in the building is quite relaxed and nobody seems to deal with very important issues. A police officer is getting a luxuriant shave comfortably sitting on a barber’s chair placed in the middle of the reception room. The nonchalance with which the whole scene unfolds makes everything feel like a daily routine.
[quote]Women police officers in plain clothes are sleeping in the warm noon air[/quote]
Along the corridor that leads to the stairs there are charpoys where women police officers in plain clothes are sleeping in the warm noon air.
The person in charge of the women’s police station is Fehmida Yasmin, recently promoted to Superintendent of Police.
She says: “I am relatively new here. My main objective for the future months is to change this place and re-arrange it in a more functional and efficient way. One of the main objectives of this office is to provide assistance to all the women who need consultancy about a case. They could be either the offender or the prosecutor. Anybody can walk in here and ask for our assistance. Very often we even receive cases coming from other cities.”
The women police station not only has a department that conducts the operations of patrolling and monitoring (much as their male counterparts), it also employs the majority of its resources in counseling, which for the Lahore justice system is a much-needed service.
Ms. Fehmida Yasmin said: “The approach of this police station is not just to file cases but to do counseling in order to avoid taking too many cases to the court. The state can spend less in activating courts for cases and the judicial system is less stressed. There is also another positive aspect. Trying to fix controversies without sending cases to the court teaches people how to deal with the problems that they have on a daily basis. Some people come to us thinking that it is very easy to bring somebody to court, but there is a very long series of procedures that needs to be followed, which includes fact checking. Fact checking, in fact, will determine if a case is suited to go to court or not”
I am a bit skeptical of this approach, considering how often in Pakistan the police itself is perceived as complicit and corrupt, but in the light of a judicial system where court cases drag for years, local police dealing with smaller interpersonal matters (provided they are themselves culpable and above board) could be one of the solutions provided to a populace often deprived of justice.
Ms. Fehmida Yasmin went on to say: “What we are trying to do is to educate police officers who work in this station to take a different approach to people who end up at this police station. It happens several times, especially with people accused of a crime, that there is a rude attitude toward them. I am trying to communicate to all the officers here that we need to change this. Being accused is not equivalent to being guilty. A year ago a person jumped from the second floor of this building due to the pressure that police officers of this station exerted on him. I am trying to change all of this and make things more comfortable for everybody. The general rule is to deal with people who come here gently and with respect.”
It might seem obvious, but one of the reasons that led to the creation of this police station was to provide an environment in which women can walk in freely and be welcomed politely. In the women’s police station personnel are trained to be polite and help women solve their problems without making them feel guilty or threatened by the presence of rude police officials in a predominantly male environment that usually discourages women from even stepping inside a police station.
Irum Bukhari, Secretary of the Women Development Department said when questioned about the Women Police Station in Lahore: “The idea is to actually let men and women coexist. The most effective and long term project is to let women and men in every police station work together.”
In fact, at this station, women police officers work closely in contact with male officers. They have to be accompanied by men in order to be ready to handle the ‘toughest situations’.
In the real world, however, things do not seem to run as easily and smoothly as they do on paper. The facilities are visibly decaying. Toilets are dirty, small and not all of them are functioning properly. Rooms and their furniture are old and badly kept. Nonetheless, male and female officers find time to sleep comfortably, as if the state of the facilities is not part of their daily duties.
According to the figures offered by the head constable of the women police station, Sajjadur Rehman, they deal with approximately 40 cases per months, which makes, since the beginning of 2013, approximately 360 cases. Forty of those cases were taken to Criminal Court. Between 80 and 90 to Civil Court. More than 40 are still under the scrutiny of the investigators. All the other cases, approximately 200 were solved within the police station (No official documents were provided in order to confirm the data).
Despite the large number of cases that the police station seems to deal with on a daily basis, for the whole time we have been there, 2 days, from 10 until 4, only one person walked into the station other than Ms. Fehmida Yasmin and her sleepy staff.
It is not clear whether the services provided by this police station are effective, but what is clear is that there is room for improvement and growth. Despite the bad furniture, the decaying facilities and the laziness of the male and female staff this place presents a chance for women to fight for their emancipation, independence and rights, but the government needs to take active interest in implementing these services, as well as advertise it more efficiently among the population so there won’t be any more time for early afternoon naps.