Ashutosh Mishra

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: The commissionerate police’s move to appoint female special police officers (SPOs) to combat crime against women is a welcome step if only because women can deal with such cases more sensitively and strike an easy rapport with the victims.

The idea of drafting in students and working women for this work is excellent since the most common crimes against the members of the fair sex like eve-teasing and harassment take place either in and around schools and colleges or at workplaces. With a better understanding of such crimes, these SPOs should be able to respond to calls for help quickly and sympathetically.

With no remuneration promised the SPO’s job is going to be voluntary service of sorts but will have some obvious rewards like boosting the confidence of the girls who take it up. Apart from being trained to deal with such cases, they will have access to senior officers of the police force as the SPOs are expected to act primarily as a link between the society and the police. The initiative, in a way, is part of the larger social policing drive.

Experience of the past shows that a large number of crimes against women, both major and minor, go unreported because of the hesitation of the victims to approach the police. More than the fear of social stigma it is their discomfort in dealing with policemen that acts as an obstacle.

Even though we now have exclusive women police stations and women personnel can be found in almost all police stations victims of rape and molestation still do not feel at ease with them because they are seen as part and parcel of a force that has traditionally been dominated by men and hence not perceived to be sensitive to and sympathetic towards the members of the fair sex.

Though a lot of positive developments have taken place in the last few years to improve the image of the police force the change in public perception is bound to be slow. That is what makes the role of SPOs important. They will enjoy special powers but will not be seen as police officers in the strict sense of the term. Women will find them easy to approach and narrate their ordeals. They will be more like friends with police powers.

The move brings to mind state police’s past experiment with special police officers (SPOs) in the Maoist belt. These officers were basically young tribals from areas where the rebels had been active. In most cases, they had seen Maoist activity including violence from close quarters. They could be trusted to keep an eye on the rebels and act as a bridge between the regular police force and the people facing the threat of rebel violence. The Maoists resented the presence of SPOs in their areas of dominance and gunned down at least two of them between 2010 and 2012.

Women SPOs may also have to face challenges in the discharge of their duties but they can overcome them with determination. Once they take up the job they should be proud of what they are doing.

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