ISLAMABAD - The day has begun. The narrow corridor, before the lockup cell, is resounding with the stomps of heavy boots, making the prisoners peer out at from behind the grills.
Some high-pitched tones are resonating in the reporting room. The head clerk is giving instructions to the assistant standing next to her.
While the young lady constable was positioning some items in the Maal Khana (strong room), bordering the record room, the two telephone sets buzzing persistently, adding to the sense of urgency and duty.
In their light and dark blue uniform animated with their nameplates, the women police officers are dotted around - from the entrance to the backyard. Everybody is involved in performing the ascribed duty pretty devotedly. Everything seems to be as in order as anticipated. But something is still amiss.
The sole women police station in the G-7 neighbourhood of the federal capital, intended to be headed by a female police officer according to the rules, has been run by a male station house officer (SHO) since September 2013 when the then SHO Sadaf Basharat resigned.
Established and inaugurated by late Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, then prime minister, in 1994, it deals with women issues of all kinds and has a history of 18 female SHOs since its inception.
Muhammad Ashfaq, the incumbent SHO (BPS-16), is seconded as additional SHO by a lady head constable (BPS-07), lacking two tiers of bureaucracy (assistant sub-inspector and sub-inspector) between them.
"Currently 10 female ASIs are undergoing a one-year police training course in the police lines and we hope one of them will be appointed as the next SHO. But it will take six months at least," says Ashfaq. He further states if there is no female SHO available, the next most senior female officer at the police station can be appointed as SHO under Section 4. "It's not impossible," he adds.
Additional SHO Najiba Khanum has just settled in a rectangular room valued with a portrait of the country's founder. Officially, she is the senior head constable but due to the absence of a female head, she has taken charge as additional SHO unofficially, overburdening herself with administrative work as well as receiving complaints and investigations.
Despite having an experience of 19 years and qualifying the requisite training and courses, she is yet to be elevated to the post of ASI. Despite knowing that there is no official recognition for the additional services she is offering, Khanum carries on her duties quite devotedly.
She is fully aware of the fact that this police station is the only alternative in the capital for the women cops who dread of going to a male police station due to a generally tarnished perception about male police stations across the country. "Here, we are more comfortable than a male police station," says Khanum.
"There are instances when women complainants or victims coming here are not in a presentable condition. Even sometimes they are injured and their clothes are torn apart." According to the rules, the victims or accused are first presented before the SHO when they come to a police station, but here, due to the absence of a female SHO, it rests with Khanum to attend the women. "But sometimes when a case is complicated, I have to consult the SHO," says Khanum.
"The disputing parties have arrived," informs aloud the lady constable. Reconciliation, compromise, rapprochement; her job has started now. It's a dispute between two neighbours this time. They were called by the women police station after receiving a complaint from one of the parties. There is uproar. The complaining woman, pointing fingers fiercely at the accused, utters allegations loudly. One of the accused interrupts. But Khanum mediates, letting all grievances to be voiced. She measures the behaviour of the two quarrelling sides. After accusations and defences, she intervenes.
"I always prefer a settlement between disputing parties," says Khanum, adding "As they are mostly women, I wish to solve their disputes through reconciliation, if possible, before sending them to the SHO." "Women being dragged in courts is undesirable," she emphasises.
Despite a force of 35 lady officers, the women police station always faces a dearth of staff as most of them are out on essential duties at different places in coordination with courts and other relevant departments. With only one vehicle available for the whole police station during any incident or emergency situation, lady officers themselves manage their transport to reach out to the women in trouble.
With the second door of her room opens towards the backyard, only a short spell of fresh air could make its way through the uneven foliage and a few trees into her room from behind. It was a single moment when she could heave a sigh of relief during one long hour of power outage.
"We will be more comfortable with a female SHO. It will also relieve me from the extra load of work," says Khanum, with a hint of fatigue suddenly appearing on her face.