Time for Police to grow up

Thursday, 14 October 2021 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Recently there was some rare good news from the Sri Lanka Police. Three Female Senior Superintendents of Police (SSPs) – A. R. Jayasundara, N. D. Seneviratne and W. J. Padmini – were promoted to the rank of Acting Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG). This was indeed welcome news. Previously the promotion of SSP Bimshani Jasin Arachchi to the same rank was challenged in the courts by 32 of her male counterparts claiming that there were no vacancies for such a promotion. 

While seemingly vile, this assertion was not without merit in law. For in fact the structure of the Sri Lanka Police has been designed in such a way that it is differentiated on gender. Until the recent developments, there were only cadre positions available up to SSP for a female officer. Now after many years of legal battles, a handful of cadre positions have been created for female officers to become DIGs.

Though these recent promotions are most welcome, it also exposes the glaring discrimination that exists within the Police Department and the outdated political, bureaucratic and patriarchal structures that prevail within it. While in other countries, including in South Asian neighbours, a female could rise through the ranks of the police even to become its chief, the Police Department in our country is still holding on to its archaic structures that differentiate officers according to their gender. Even these recent promotions have been on the basis of creating ‘cadre positions,’ especially for females. An outwardly magnanimous gesture but in reality an unnecessary barrier that differentiates male and female officers depending on their gender rather than on their merits. Despite female and male officers joining the Police force undergoing the same training and being placed on the same salary scale, female officers are placed on separate career paths from the very beginning. Even their identities and ranks are differentiated with a prefix ‘W,’ From Woman Police Constable (W-PC) to now Woman-DIG. As a result, a female police officer can only progress within her designated gender-specific structure. For example, there could only be eight SSP ranked female officers within the Police Department while there are 162 male officers in the same rank. Once these eight positions are filled, a woman officer cannot apply for a vacancy arising in the remaining 162 SSP positions, even if she were equally or more qualified as compared to her male counterparts, because those 162 positions are reserved for the male cadre. 

Now that a few female DIG cadre positions have been created, this would be the same case for that rank. According to the current structure, none of these female officers can aspire to be a Senior DIG or eventually IGP. The question that begs an answer is, why not? What special qualifications or attributes do the male officers possess for them to be uniquely and exclusively qualified to be SDIGs or IGP? There is none. The Sri Lanka Police is thus institutionally structured to retain male dominance and curtail female participation. Therefore rather than rejoicing on the bare minimum progress made in recent weeks is time to address this glaring structural disparity in order for the Sri Lanka Police to be a respectable institution of the 21st century.

While there are numerous examples of female police officers serving with distinction at the highest levels in numerous police forces around the world, Sri Lanka need not look beyond our own South Asian region for inspiration. Kiran Bedi, the first woman in India to join the officer ranks of the Police Service who later rose to the rank of Prisons Inspector General (IG) of New Delhi, was instrumental in making significant changes in the way prisoners were treated in India. Today she is an advocate for rights and a leader in India’s anti-corruption movement. The Sri Lanka Police has a long way to go to reach such inspirational levels. The old boys club that has prevailed within the Police Department has not done itself any favours in winning over the trust of the public by perpetuating its power structures that have seen confidence in the police deteriorate through the years. Empowering women within the service, allowing for greater participation in decision making and breaking down archaic patriarchal structures will help the Sri Lanka Police modernise into a 21st-century law enforcement agency that suits the times. It is long past time for the Sri Lanka Police to grow up.