- In Pakistan where patriarchy is so well entrenched it is like second skin, Amna has faced zero gender discrimination, neither from her seniors nor from her under-command personnel.
- Having served in places like Gujrat, gender discrimination has never been an issue.
I noticed it in Netflix’s Unbelievable–a mini-series based on real incidents of sexual assault: the importance of something that has been the missing component in the handling of sexual assault cases globally for so long it became the norm. In many countries it has undergone a gradual transformation. In many countries, including mine, it is still a vague idea that uncomfortably nestles with many others whose implementation would take place in the distant, no-timeline future.
Unbelievable is about a serial sexual assaulter and police’s years-long efforts to catch him. Unbelievable is the un-layering of the blatantly patriarchal, misogynistic system’s inability to empathise with and support a victim of sexual assault. Focusing on handling of the same case by male and female police officers, Unbelievable is an unapologetic jolt to societal and systemic treatment and stereotyping of victims and survivors of sexual assault. In carefully worded empathy and humanity, the conduct of a good female police officer is a display of her perspective and treatment of a sexual assault case. Not all male cops are awful, but the majority have a predisposition to act in an insensitive nonchalance and hurried exasperation when the victim is an incoherent young female whose description of her trauma is sketchy and fluid.
In Netflix’s Broadchurch, a brilliant, three-season British crime drama that deals with the murder of a child, a shocking court trial and a serial rapist, the police duo is made up of a man and a woman. In the third season, the one on rape, in addition to the female detective, it is the male officer whose empathy is so noticeable it is like sunshine in a gloomy town that celebrates in its tininess the close bonds its inhabitants have with one another.
On being asked why she didn’t report her rape for so long one survivor says: “My GP…told me I should report it. I told her I didn’t want to. I didn’t tell anyone. Till now. I know what happens. I read the papers. I’d had a lot to drink. Plus short skirt, nice top, make-up. You think I don’t know what they’d do to me? I know how women like me get treated.”
The response of DI Alec Hardy is empathetic, unrehearsed, succinct: “Not by us.”
That is my dream Pakistani police officer. “Not by us “are the words that I wish to see translated into action when the case is of a child or a female or any other victim of abuse and violence. In a society where speaking up about sexual abuse is a taboo, victims remain hidden. The fear of judgment is so strong the pain of a violent assault takes refuge in silence. A rape victim faces a new form of assault in Pakistani police stations and hospitals. All of that must change. Some of it has. Through those who are my ideal of a police officer: kind, non-judgemental and a thorough professional.
In my search of such police officers, I thought of Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Amna Baig.
I met Amna at the TEDx Islamabad 2018 where her speech was a glimpse into who she was: irrepressibly funny, self-assured yet self-effacing, very gracious. After an effusive expression of mutual admiration, we didn’t stay in touch, but we became what many truly busy–she–and wish-they-were-busy–me–are in the twenty-first century: bilateral Twitter followers. Amna is much more than an utterly warm and female-empowering Twitter buddy. She is that officer of the Police Service of Pakistan (PSP) whose work ethic is representative of my ideal cop: rare but real.
A native of Hunza, Gilgit-Baltistan, a NUST business school 2013 Economics graduate, Amna’s inspiration came from her retired civil servant father whose work record was a lesson in the positive difference a bureaucrat could make in ordinary people’s lives. He was in DMG, Amna opted for PSP.
Currently, Amna is posted in Islamabad with the Frontier Constabulary as an Assistant District officer.
For Amna, her PSP career has been very rewarding. She believes that it is one of the most empowering careers for a woman in Pakistan. In a society that lays a great deal of emphasis on appearances, a uniform itself is very empowering. “Societal legitimacy” is important to Amna, and PSP has that.
In Pakistan where patriarchy is so well entrenched it is like second skin, Amna has faced zero gender discrimination, neither from her seniors nor from her under-command personnel. Having served in places like Gujrat, gender discrimination has never been an issue. It was a huge surprise for Amna. Being one of the misconceptions attached with PSP, her endorsement is encouragement to female aspirants of PSP.
Another thing that Amna has noticed in PSP is that promotion is directly connected to quality of work. A good female police officer is not a fictional character. She is very much a reality in Pakistan. Hard work and competence are the key factors. The reward and reprimand are according to your work not gender.
What bothers Amna is the skewed ratio: half of the country’s population is female but only 1.6 percent is in police. The number must increase. The minuscule number serves as a multi-locked steel gate: half of Pakistan’s population is hesitant to go to a police station to report a crime.
Empathy is the keyword. That is the USP of PSP women. On several occasions, women have told Amna that the presence of a “Madam” –the formal term to address a female high-ranking civil officer–gives them courage to enter a police station. Amna wants women to report crimes. Security of life is their fundamental right. Presence of female officers in police stations is the first step. It is also the most important one.
In the world of police tainted with uneven treatment based on the material worth of a complainant, police stations are a no-go area for most people. The negative connotation attached with the fundamental right of safety and justice is a major peeve with Amna. Every day, her presence erases it. A bit.
Young women joining the police force is what would change the system, Amna believes that. A rewarding and empowering career for women, it needs more women to make it substantial and a force of change. Amna has seen the positive impact women make generally; many policemen have said to her that they wish they had a “madam” as their DPO, their senior officer. Men in uniform, having worked with Amna, think that women are more empathetic towards the public as well as the police.
As Amna says, living in the 21st century our girls should have new dreams. When they look at her or any of her female colleagues, she sees hope in their eyes. That is one of Amna’s goals. That young women are free to choose. Their future should be devoid of demarcations, without the gender “unsuitability” of a career. Young women should be the master of their tomorrow. A career choice is a personal choice, and so is its “appropriateness.”
What also must change in the twenty-first century is the ratio of women in police. Amna is very vocal about it. Twelve years ago, there were only two women officers; now the number is forty-one. In her batch, there were nine officers. Seven were women. That to Amna is a big, positive ratio.
To Amna, the increasing induction of females in civil service is a “silent revolution.” The change is slow, but it is tangible.
Police career is very interesting, very empowering. That is what ASP Amna says. ASP Amna Baig loves her job. There is nothing else in the world that she would rather do. Every day is a new Netflix series happening in her office, a new case, a new interesting story to look into and solve.
The downside of a police career is subjective. The disadvantages are relative. Some people might think it is a negative thing that there are no fixed working hours. You hardly get time off, a weekend off. You are overworked. It is a compromise on your personal life. Amna is aware of all these things; she was aware of them when she joined the PSP.
Police work is teamwork, Amna is a firm endorser of that. It starts with a strong family support system. If you don’t have that your work might suffer. Police work is very draining, mentally and physically; emotional support is a requisite. You need to have a good team at work. In Amna’s words, “If you don’t have a great team at home, it is very unlikely that you’d be very good at your work. I’m very lucky. My husband is super supportive and so are my in-laws. They are the major reason I’m able to do my job well.”
Civil service has many perks. It also demands time and dedication. Many women make it to civil service, but what they lack is the right kind of support from their families. Along with many other things, this is another societal kink that has no place in Pakistan that must change to keep up with the rest of the world.
Another thing that Amna has noticed after the general oh-we-didn’t-know-Pakistani-police-officers-were-like-you response–is the prevalent misconception about police that they are not like “regular” people. She finds it hugely problematic. She feels one reason is because people have a certain image of police, that police are khatarnaak (dangerous), different from regular people. Mostly, when police are criticised, it is based on the news on the internet. Most people have not had a direct bad experience with police; the negativity builds up on someone else’s bad experiences with police.
Amna thinks it’s only fair that people speak to police officers first, and then judge. Criticism is easy. Working with insufficient human and material resources is not. Police are criticised for many things, and Amna is pragmatic. She is aware of the structural, systematic and systemic flaws of her organisation. But she also wants people to understand that police are extremely under resourced.
Empathy works. It was and is important for Amna as she feels there are certain issues that are simply women specific: domestic abuse, dowry issues, husband’s reaction on birth of a girl child, widow’s property grabbed. During her posting in Rawalpindi as ASP, Amna made special allocation of time for female complainants. Two or three days every week were allocated for cases of females; some issues were resolved at the police station level in one hearing.
There was much firefighting. Her job in Rawalpindi was difficult: security duty and maintenance of law and order. In her hectic schedule, Amna always made time for women related cases. Many times, her interactions with women felt like counselling sessions.
Read more from Mehr Tarar
- Two more glorious steps towards a more humane, more compassionate Pakistan
- Five life lessons learnt on the trip to Pakistan’s Abbottabad and Nathiagali
- Dreams are made of this: SP Aisha Butt of Police Service of Pakistan - a hero
- In the Pakistan Administrative Service, there is an officer who works to change: Deputy Commissioner Hamza Shafqaat
In her office, Amna always have time for the female constabulary. Issues in women police stations, Amna’s concern for her under-command women is empathetic and constant.
During her posting in Rawalpindi, Amna dealt with numerous cases of sexual assault. In cases in jurisdictions that only had male officers, Amna would be asked to help. Women felt comfortable with her. She listened without passing a judgment. In a machismo-scented environment where sexual assault is treated as an undesirable triviality, Amna’s kindness made a difference. It still does.
In cases of crimes against children, Amna always makes sure she is there. In Amna’s words: “I made the victims as comfortable as I could under the circumstances. I ensured they were not made to relive the ordeal. And I always went to the hospital with them for their examination.”
She is many things but most importantly, she is kind. ASP Amna Baig is a hero because her work ethic is a diurnal manifestation of that one quality that the world needs in abundance: empathy.