KARACHI, Sept 14: Deprived of all basic amenities and severely lacking in facilities, the city’s only women’s police station belies all government claims of women’s development and empowerment.
Years of infrastructural neglect and departmental shortcomings have reduced the facility, located in the heart of the city at Civil Lines, to a lock-up equally dismal for the staff and the women under custody.
Established in 1994 by the then prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, the facility was conceptualised as a place that could freely and confidently be approached by women wishing to lodge complaints, and serve as a safe shelter for women accused of an offence. Given that it has jurisdiction over the entire city, the women’s police station was envisaged as employing a full-fledged force and performing all the other functions of a police station, including investigation.
At the moment, however, the only purpose being served is that of prisoners’ custody.
The dismal state of affairs is symptomatic of the discrimination against women that is characteristic of our society. In 1997, the women’s police force was deprived of the location initially reserved for it, the better-equipped Artillery Maidan police station, and sent to an old building in the same area. Then, the staff were sent to the CIA South before finally being shoved into a small, dark, crumbling building in Civil Lines. Most of the records related to cases initially lodged with the women’s police station were lost during this process, creating immense difficulties for women accused of various crimes.
Today, the place is a travesty of a police station.
Shortage of staff, facilities
The facility is supposed to have a sanctioned strength of over 70 policewomen, including five sub-inspectors, 12 assistant sub-inspectors, 12 head constables and 50 constables. In reality, however, there are only two sub-inspectors, two constables, an SHO and an additional SHO who perform multiple functions when someone is absent. In addition, three women perform miscellaneous tasks under the posts of Police Qaumi Razarkar. Their salaries are voluntarily paid by their superiors. One of the two lockups is being used as a storeroom by the neighbourhood police.
On the average, eight to ten women are daily under custody of the women’s police station. In order to ensure the provision of food, the police stations concerned are asked to deposit payment in advance.
“There is no water here at all and we have to fetch it every day from roadside cabins,” staff members told Dawn. “The telephone lines have been inoperative for some weeks because the Karachi Water and Sewage Board (KWSB) has dug up some roads in the area and we are provided no stationery or mobile van.” They added that all the roofs of the five-room station leak and they have to drain the water out themselves when the place floods during the rains.
‘Nobody wants to come here’
Such recurring problems are one of the reasons behind the acute staff shortage.
Policewomen are either not posted to this station, or when transferred, soon arrange a further posting. “It is such a dingy place that nobody wants to come here,” said one of the policewomen. “Anyone with good contacts can easily avoid it.”
According to SHO Ghazala Parveen, the station is used primarily as a lockup for women arrested from all over the city on different charges. “They are kept here until their cases are decided in court or they are sent into judicial custody,” she said, adding that merely eight to ten cases, mostly of a civil nature, are filed here monthly. These are then transferred to other police stations since the women’s station does not have an investigation section. “Without the required manpower and facilities, there isn’t much we can do,” observed Ms Parveen.
Some cases are referred to the women’s police station but staff members claim that these are the ones in which policemen see little prospects of making money.
Given the host of problems faced by the women’s police station, one is bound to question its utility. For that, the SHO has an unequivocal answer. “Although this station is deprived of every basic facility, I nevertheless defend its existence since it is vital to have a police set-up that caters exclusively to women. Given the conditions prevalent in the country, it is predictably unsafe for any woman to spend a night at any other police station,” she asserted. “This station ought to be made fully functional and equipped to investigate women’s cases, particularly those concerning hudood matters. It should be allowed to fulfil its objective.”