Islamabad’s women in Blue
ISLAMABAD: When Assistant Sub-inspector (ASI) Sameena Sarwar was a young girl, growing up in a village in Gujar Khan, she dreamed of wearing a uniform. She says, “I never accepted communal accepted wisdom of appropriate behavior for girls; I rode my bicycle to college, I wanted to prove that anything my brothers could do, I could do better.”
Her dream came to reality when she passed the test for Pakistan’s police force and was invited to train at the National Police Academy. “Training at the academy is difficult, but only for those who come there in the force unintentionally,” she says with a smile.
Ambitious, Sameena trained along with the men at the academy, enjoying every feature of the training which included marksmanship, physical fitness and courses on examination and investigation. She says, “My favorite was rappelling. Descending from a high building with only a strap up tied around you is dizzying but that was so thrilling.”
At 24, she was now the Station House Officer (SHO) at the Islamabad Women Police Station in Sector G-7 with 46 women officials and 6 men under her command.
It is a job with huge responsibility; she lives at the station and has to be on call 24-hours a day. “I manage the assigning of duties for the other girls here. We are also repeatedly required to join Rangers for search operations. Every night, I round at least two sectors of the capital. Some days, we are sent for duty at parliament or anywhere else where we are needed,” she says.
Sameena recalls her duties at the political sit-ins on Constitution Avenue, in August and September 2014 by PTI, as her most enjoyable time in the police. “Another ASI and I were directed to go in secret to the sit-ins. We would go to Constitution Avenue in plainclothes and paint party flags on our faces. Then we would spend the rest of the evening chanting slogans and dancing with the women protesters,” she laughs lightly.
Sameena explains that a woman’s softer touch is essential when dealing with household disputes. “Once, a girl came to the police station to register a complaint against her in-laws, who had taken her jewelry. Instead of registering a complaint, I went and met her father-in-law, explaining to him that the legal course would insult the family. They would have to repeatedly go to court. He understood and persuaded his wife to return the jewelry.”
“I always try my best to make sure that everyone who comes to the station leaves feeling like they have been served. We are a service. Not just a police force,” she adds.
A man’s world
The capital’s Ramna police station stands like a stronghold in the middle of Sector G-11. Inside the station, Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Arsla Saleem, sits behind a large desk. She is one of Pakistan’s 22 women police officers. Men walk in and out with files, papers and requests. She deals with most visitors quickly, her tone friendly yet nonnegotiable. Finally, instructions are given to the peon outside, the door is shut and she leans back against her chair.
It is her second month on the job. Following her graduation from the Pakistan Civil Services Academy, she trained at the National Police Academy. “I am one of Pakistan’s 22 women officers. We were commissioned after General Pervez Musharraf announced women’s introduction as regular officers in 2005,” she says.
According to her, as a woman she does not face bias from senior male officers or subordinates because she does not ask for special treatment. “When I wear this uniform, I think of myself as a police officer. Not a woman,” she says.
“This is not an easy job. But being a good police officer requires you to be brave, tolerant and have the strength to withstand pressure. It’s not a position which is gender specific but personality specific,” she says.