In filing a Fundamental Rights petition against the appointment of a woman officer to the post of Acting Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG), the thirty two aggrieved Senior Superintendents of Police have placed the spotlight on a glaringly discriminatory practice in the country’s police department.

The petition which is to be heard on May 18 states that the appointment of Bimshani Jasin Arachchi as the Police Departments first female DIG violates the standard procedures followed in the promotion of senior police officers.   The petitioners, all males, also claim that Ms. Jasin Arachchi’sappointment is irregular as the provisions that allow for the appointment of DIG’s do not include the word ‘woman.’

And that indeed is the crux of the matter; that the police department has, up to date, failed to address this anomaly which does not allow women police officers to rise beyond an SSP.

The petition has naturally caused quite a stir, not only amongst women, but amongst the general public who uphold the right to equal access and equity between genders.   The United National Party it was reported was standing with Jasin Arachchi, while female parliamentarians crossed party lines to express their support for the woman DIG.

According to a Sunday Times article published soon after her appointment as DIG in September 2020, Jasin Aarachchi had, in the year 2000 been denied a promotion to Assistant Superintendent of Police, even though she had cleared both the exam and interview, because she was slightly shorter than the requisite height.  The article which profiles her period with the police, from her recruitment as a Sub Inspector 1997 states that she had fought and won that battle in the courts.

One wonders whether police recruiters missed the fact that she lacked the height requirement, when she was first hired to the police force!

Her appeal to the National Police Commission saw her appointment as an ASP being backdated to December 31, 2007.  While the case meandered through the courts, other female cadre who had risen through the ranks were also appointed as ASP’s but their letters had been dated January 1, 2008, making her their senior.

Then, swiftly promoted to SP and SSP between 2016 and 2019, she was appointed Acting Deputy Inspector General and assigned a field position in 2020.  The quick promotions meant she has not met the required number of years a police officer must serve in the ranks of SP and SSP, therefore making herineligible to be made a full DIG, the report states. (‘Male dominance in Police Department robs women the chance of getting top positions’)

And now she faces yet another battle, brought about by some of her male colleagues.

The Sri Lanka police first recruited women to the force in 1952 states the Police Website. And here we are today, sixty nine years since that first woman was recruited, with no provision within police regulations for women to go beyond the rank of Senior Superintendent of Police.   Had Jasin Arachchi not been appointed to the post of Acting DIG, her male colleagues and superiors would have been quite happy to continue with the status quo.

The National Police Commission meanwhile has attempted to address the imbalance of cadres in the Police Department. With a plan to ensure both genders are better represented in the Police, the Commission had made provision to increase the female cadre in the Force from 11 to 15 percent beginning January 1, 2019.  Explaining the reason, the NPC website states that this policy had been launched to ..ensure that there were more female police officers who could deal with issues specific to women and children. Another reason for this increase was also to even the promotions given to both men and women.”

Obviously, the Commission had noticed the discrepancies in terms of gender balance and the need to address it.  Moreover, the contention of the petitioners that police regulations do not include the word ‘woman’ when appointing DIG’s, does not seem to have been seen as a drawback by NPC.  

To begin with, why is it necessary that the regulations allowing promotions or appointments to the position of DIG should include the word ‘woman’?   Should it not be a given that irrespective of ones gender, one could hold the top most position  of the department as long as the required education, experience and ability etc. are met?

Sri Lankans are proud of producing the world’s first woman Prime Minister, even though Sirimavo Bandaranaike was elected to that highest office of the land, following the death of her husband.  If education and experience were the criteria to be elected to that office, she pretty much had little of either, having been suddenly thrust into the role of being the leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, and then the Prime Minister.

And, when she and her daughter, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (CBK) were elected to those positions, did the rules and regulations of this country include the word ‘woman’, thereby clearing the way for them both?  What of the many other high positions women in this countryhold?   Are those clearly marked as cadres for ‘women’?    We have women holding the positions of Governors of Provinces, Mayors and Chairpersons of Local Government, Heads of Department and School Principals to name just a few.  So, why not in the Police Force?  

CBK as she is popularly known was the fourth woman in the world to be elected president, and the first woman to hold the post of Executive President. If we are to go by the argument put forth by the petitioners, then neither mother nor daughter would ever have had the opportunity of becoming Heads of Government!    

Of course Sri Lankans never miss the opportunity of reminding the world the Sri Lanka holds the first place in electing a woman as Prime Minister, and that too way back in 1960, each time a woman is appointed to a similar high office in some other country.  US Vice President Kamala Harris’s election was one such, even though our numbers of women politicians is dismally low.  

Perhaps the police department has forgotten, or would rather prefer not to know that Sri Lanka’s women were amongst the first in Asia to win the right to vote.  And that was way back in 1931!

The petitioners, according to media reports is seeking a revocation of Jasin Arachchi’s appointment as DIG, claiming that it violates their fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

Public time and money would have been better spent if the petitioners fought to win the right of their women colleagues to be treated on equal footing and afforded equal opportunities. If they believe their fundamental rights are being violated, the same argument holds for all women deprived of aspiring to hold any high office, not just in the police force.

The police department and rest of society that fails to accept gender parity, needs to get over their patriarchal attitude at least now; wake up, it is 2021!


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