In 2010, when women first entered Mumbai’s traffic police department, several questioned their ability to stand for hours in extreme weather and deal with the city’s notorious drivers. But this soon changed after Home Minister RR Patil instructed the police department to reserve a certain number of positions for women in the force.
Savita Chavan, 31, takes care of a signal at Vakola and wants to break the image that women lack in stamina or ability. “A woman can take care of one signal on her own. Traffic in my division can be maddening because of the proximity to the airport, but it has taught me to be alert and patient.”
Talking of the challenges she faces, Chavan said, “Handling errant drivers requires skills — you have to talk to everyone in their language. Bikers are the toughest to deal with.
Whereas, motorists usually stop, but have big egos; to explain them something you have to be polite. Whereas, with an auto or a truck driver, I need to talk differently.”
She further points out areas in which women can handle the situation better. “Male constables feel uncomfortable arguing with female drivers; we have no such qualms. People believe that male constables take bribes, but hesitate to bribe us, so we are in a better position to make them pay fines.”
Providing an insight, Sr. Traffic PI, Mrudula Lad, said, “The police department alone takes HSC-level candidates and for a middle-class family it is a necessity to earn a livelihood. Female constables can continue with their studies along with their work. The stability of a government job gives a woman a better opportunity of getting good groom.”
Sheetal Kedar, 32, voluntarily requested for traffic duty. She said, “I applied for this post because unlike other police jobs, which demands 12 hours of work, this job has an eight-hour shift. After marriage, my in-laws and husband expect me to do household work and this job allows me to manage it.”
That Kedar’s residence is not too far from her posting at Borivli may not be a mere coincidence.
Joint commissioner of police, traffic, Vivek Phansalkar, says, “We try to post women closer to their homes so they don’t spend much time commuting. Male constables have been instructed to encourage female constables and in initial stages a senior accompanies a woman and guides her.”
Traffic duty is done in two shifts 7am-3pm, and 3pm-11pm. Depending on the nature of traffic in an area, rotation of the shifts takes place at regular intervals — ranging from every eight-days to every month.
By the end of the first year, the department only had 50-100 women, today the number has increased to 323 (of 3,010 constables) and Phansalkar is proud of it. “In 2010 we had 12 women in our department and they never worked outside. We were concerned about how they will take to the streets, whether people will listen to them and also other safety issues, because traffic constables usually work single-handedly. But, women have done exceptionally well. People say they’re happy to see women on the roads, doing a good job,” he says.
The problem the department has to address is provision of separate toilets and changing rooms for women; according to Phansalkar it is a priority and is being implemented in new beats and chowkies.