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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 June, 2003, 07:29 GMT 08:29 UK
Indian women join elite police

Charles Haviland
BBC correspondent in Madras

Women commandos in Tamil Nadu
The women will escort dangerous criminals and protect VIPs
A crack company of women police commandos - the first such batch in India - has just completed training and is now part of the most elite police division in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

The company of 151 women was commissioned by state chief minister J Jayalalitha at the end of a gruelling three-month training course.

I met a group of them kitted out in navy blue uniforms with brilliant white gaiters on the shooting range of the police commando headquarters, where they trained and will live, in the state capital, Madras.

"We trained in shooting, weapons handling, swimming, rowing, rock-climbing, rappelling and horse-riding," says S Pradeepa, a native of the Nilgiri hills in the west of the state.

She has been in the police for six years, but this was something different.

"It was thrilling, especially rock-climbing and rowing which you can only do in a team."


Most of the women come from humble backgrounds, many from remote rural areas, and these were utterly new activities for them.

Their modest and quiet-spoken demeanour - they even brought me tea - belie their exceptional toughness.

Inspector-general of police (operations) K. Rajendran (left) and deputy superintendent N. Dhamodaran (right) with prize-winning commando Kalaiselvi
Rajendran (L) and Dhamodaran (R with top commando Kalaiselvi)

The training included a three-day relay race from Madras to Cape Comorin, India's southernmost point - a distance of 700 kilometres (440 miles).

That meant going without sleep for 72 hours.

Inspector-general of police (operations) K Rajendran, who has overseen the process, said the women's training was as tough as that given to the men - in fact the women also trained in parasailing, an activity not available to their male colleagues.

"They were very determined and focused," he said.

"It's brought their self-esteem and self-confidence to new levels."

The women commandos will work mainly alongside their male colleagues.

Deputy superintendent N Dhamodaran, in charge of their training, explained that they will escort the toughest criminals or suspects, both male and female, from prisons to courts, and also be assigned to protect VIPs.

When I asked him if women had any particular qualities in this work, he pointed to patience and tolerance, and a lack of hastiness in making decisions.

Separate campus

Trained in bomb detection, it is the commandos who are called in if and when terror alerts take place.

Tamil Nadu is more fortunate than some other states in that it does not have many of these.

Occasionally, however, there are security scares involving leftist or sectarian extremists.

Women commandos in Tamil Nadu
The women, including Pradeepa (L), had as tough a regime as the men

Pradeepa laughed off my suggestions that the commandos might get bored.

"We'll be there ready to do our duty," she said.

A handful of the new commandos are married.

One, 28-year-old Muniammal, took four days' leave during training to tie the marital knot before rushing back.

Another, Subhashni, has a four-year-old child.

In a society where the pressure to marry is great, "marriage and childbirth won't be any constraint", Mr Rajendran said.

There are family quarters available at the commandos' centre.

The male commandos stay on an entirely separate campus - the men and women mix at work but not socially.

Mr Rajendran told me the idea of a company of female commandos came from the chief minister herself, who he said was keeping up the state's historical tradition of elevating women.

Ms Jayalalitha - a former film star - has already set up nearly 150 all-women police stations, intended to make it easier to solve crimes against women. She has just promised 40 more.

Living as they do in this regimented environment, it is expected there will be some natural wastage among the women commandos and the idea is that the state will settle down to a ratio of about 120, alongside 300 men.

Doing this high-risk police work is "is a dream come true", says Pradeepa.

"We're mentally very much alert. And physically we are fit. So we can dare to do anything."

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