By: Tehmina Qureshi
Karachi: Clifton SHO Syeda Ghazala is a far cry from the image of a rough and tough policewoman with a stoic face and an even more stoic attitude. She is warm and hearty and laughs the most at the jokes she cracks at her own expense.
She is also afraid of guns. “No, no, I hope I don’t have to shoot anyone! Allah na karey! (God forbid!)” she shudders, unconsciously putting both her hands up to shield her ears as if a bullet might whizz past at its mere mention. “But that doesn’t mean I am not prepared for it. I just took over… let’s take each day as it comes.”
Don’t be too quick to dismiss Ghazala just yet, though. Through her career she has earned a reputation for being a notoriously good investigation officer and busting many a female gang. “I have registered 260 FIRs in my whole career, and out of them, in 160 cases the suspects were arrested. In 57.8 percent of the cases I got convictions,” she rattles off the stats.
And being in command is not something new to her. She began in the mainstream force as the in-charge of the police complaint cell in North Nazimabad, from where she moved on to manage the complaint cell for the entire District Central and then the whole South Zone.
Her last stint was as an SHO of the women’s police station in Saddar. Surely, being a mother of four also had a part to play in honing her skills. Even then she was hesitant to take charge of the Clifton police station when her superiors first made the proposal. “I refused it at first. I didn’t understand what I could do here,” she admitted candidly.
But the driven woman, who had defied her family and joined the police force as a young girl because she liked the uniform and wanted to help people, is not afraid to rise to the challenge. “Till 2pm I will be inspecting banks in the area to check their security arrangements. Then there might be protocol duty,” she says. “The time for snap checking is between 7pm and 11pm. The police station usually comes to life after 7pm…” She is, of course, referring to street crimes. Right now, curbing them is her top priority.
The trump card
Ghazala’s appointment comes at a time when the Karachi police are facing a barrage of criticism regarding the ongoing targeted operation, which, according to the law enforcers, has resulted in significant reduction in the crime rate. During this week alone, 14 people have been killed on sectarian grounds.
Her incredibly likeable personality also gives rise to suspicions that she was appointed to swing public opinion back in favour of the police. The move seems to be working extremely well. She has been swamped with interview requests and is getting a lot of airtime. “Yesterday I gave 11 interviews,” she says. “I am getting calls from all and sundry, even from those who don’t have any policing problems.”
When The News was interviewing her, three women working as diaper packagers in Khadda Market turned up to complain against their employer. They claimed that their employer had paid all their male colleagues but not the women. They had seen Ghazala on TV and then come looking for her help.
The women received the sympathy they expected from the SHO, but the case did not fall under her jurisdiction. Nevertheless, she asked her subordinate to contact the Darakhshan police station and look into the matter. She was professional as well as empathetic, both of which traits the Pakistani people have stopped expecting from police officers.
Paving the way
Ghazala is a clever woman. She comes armed with strategies to sidestep the political pressure that comes with the territory, and she also realises the full burden of responsibility resting on her shoulders.
“I want to see women choose policing as a career as they would choose medicine or engineering. I hope and pray that I am able to surpass all that is expected of me from my superiors, women in the force and those who come to me for help.” she says. “My success or failure as the Clifton SHO will determine the future of other women who wish to become a part of the mainstream police force and also of those who are already part of it.”
Her superiors too had told her as much. But her driving force is the feeling that she can help someone by doing her job. Her goal is to establish community policing as well as make the environment of police stations comfortable for the victims who come to seek help.
But it remains to be seen how she handles the pressure of policing, even if it may be in a relatively peaceful area. And Ghazala is fully aware that she is being closely watched by everyone: her peers, superiors, subordinates and also the people of Karachi.
“Come back in 15 days and see what has changed. They say one shouldn’t ask before the right time and more than what is his destiny. But what’s the harm in trying?”