Only a couple of years back — in Pervaiz Elahi’s time as chief minister of Punjab, to be precise — about 130 women were employed by the Traffic Police Lahore for managing traffic on the city roads in Lahore. They were famously named “traffic wardens” and outfitted with the same gear that their male counterparts got. They would patrol the streets riding their 250CC heavy motorbikes, catch the traffic violators, and challan them.
Cut to 2018, and there isn’t a single female warden to be seen around. TNS learns from sources that all female traffic wardens that were deployed on the city roads have called it quits for one reason or the other. Most of them left the field duty because they were facing harassment at the hands of men in the street. They were pushed by their families to resign.
A former lady warden, not wanting to be named, says she was often catcalled by her fellow male wardens and the officers too. “All men are the same, whether they are on the roads or in their offices,” she declares.
She also says that she discussed the issue with her family members, upon which they decided that she should only work indoors and that too at a women-only workplace. “So I requested my seniors to transfer me.”
There were many who excused themselves from field duty because they could not follow the strict route regime. A ‘route’ means the points at which the CM or any high-ranking official shall be crossing the road. On such a day, the wardens are supposed to stand alert for a good eight hours at a stretch. If they report late, they are taken to task or kicked out. On March 8, 2009, 18-odd female traffic wardens were suspended by the then Chief Traffic Officer (CTO), Lahore, Sarfraz Ahmad Falki for reporting late on duty. Ironically, it was the International Women’s Day and the media saw it as an occasion to highlight the issue. Within 24 hours, the wardens were reinstated by the then Inspector General Police (IGP), Punjab, Haji Muhammad Habib Ur Rehman.
Arif Ali Rana, the spokesperson for CTO, explains that 29 out of the 132 female wardens who had been hired resigned purely because of their personnel reasons. “Some of them were getting married and their in-laws did not want them to continue in the job. About a hundred female wardens were deputed at offices of the traffic police in Lahore. Today, they are found issuing driving licenses in the security of their offices only. They also operate computers.”
According to Rana, the female wardens “prefer office work over patrolling the roads. Yet, the City Traffic Police (CTP) has trained six female wardens who will soon take up the job on Main Boulevard, Gulberg.”
He believes that female wardens are “strong enough and trained well to deal with harassment in the street.”
The CTO spokesman says that the CCTV cameras have been installed in the city, and any objectionable act by the commuters towards the female wardens is punishable. He is hopeful that this shall serve as a major deterrent for the miscreants.
Rana says that the female wardens were removed from the roads also because the CTP wanted to deploy two male wardens along with every single female warden. “No female warden is deployed alone anywhere.”
When asked why the female wardens were not allowed to take a loo break while on duty, he says that the cops, whether male or female, cannot leave their assigned points at any cost when they are on VIP route duty. “They have the option of making wireless calls. They can contact the traffic inspector or the Deputy Superintendent Police (DSP), Traffic in case of an emergency.”
Fauzia Viqar, Chairperson, Punjab Commission on Status of Women (PCSW), says the government is aware of the situation, “We plan to launch a crash course in gender sensitisation within the police department. This should help matters.”
She also calls for starting “motivational training” for the female wardens, besides setting up makeshift toilets for them. “The men can relieve themselves almost anywhere but the women can’t.
“Besides, they [the female traffic wardens] should be allowed loo-break during duty hours or even if they are deployed on a route. They can be substituted by others for the break, and this won’t make a difference.”
A female warden, who is also reluctant to disclose her identity, says the irresponsible traffic police officers as well as media people made it difficult for them to stay in the field. She recalls how in January 2008, a news item about a male warden and a female warden being caught in a compromising act in a car near Lahore Airport spread like wildfire. “The media highlighted it way too much, without confirming facts, and the officials also failed to cover it up. It would have been better if the matter was kept confidential and the culprits were punished without bringing bad name to the entire service.”