On 21 September 2020, the National Police Commission (NPC) granted approval to promote a female police officer to the rank of Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG), which should have, in an ideal world, been a cause for celebration. Unfortunately, this was not the case.
The appointment made DIG Bimshani Jasin Aarachchi, the first female DIG in Sri Lanka, which shed light on the problematic police regulations where it allegedly states that a women cannot become a DIG, as brought to discussion with the petition raised by 32 male police officers who felt their rights were being infringed.
Five months after her appointment, the Supreme Court (SC) set dates to hear the petition signed by 32 Senior Superintendents of Police (SSPs) challenging the appointment of DIG Bimshani.
We at The Morning Brunch spoke to a few individuals who have expressed their stance on this issue, standing with DIG Bimshani.
NPC needs to work fast and hard: Shanuki de Alwis
Advocate, brand purpose consultant, and talk show host Shanuki de Alwis pointed out that the issue here was the fact that regulations actually allow this kind of discrimination to occur. “If there is no allocation for a female officer, did these police officers have the right to petition it?” questioned de Alwis. “The question is, if they were allowed to petition it, why is there only a police force for males?”
She stated that the NPC needs to pull their socks up and make these changes now, and start increasing the quota and promotion of female officers because “it’s 2021, and it is high time these changes are implemented”.
De Alwis believes that DIG Bimshani shouldn’t have to fight fundamental rights cases to be able to get what she deserves, nor should any other female officer, for that matter. “I really think that rather than focusing on the men who are petitioning, we should be focusing on changing the regulation, and the National Police Commission needs to work very hard and very fast on making those changes.”
She further commented that we as a society should push for these reforms as well as demand that we have more female representation in seniority in law enforcement. “What DIG Bimshani has done for women and children in her capacity has been enormous, and the changes she has made within the Police Department as well on victim complaints and sensitisation of the Police towards women’s issues taking place.”
DIG Bimshani has made a huge contribution and it is important for us to have women in these positions, because, as de Alwis noted, one of the biggest problems for 52% of the Sri Lankan population is domestic violence. “We really need our own representation to empathise with it and help Sri Lanka progress in those areas.”
She concluded saying that there needs to be no challenge posed to women who are deserving and qualified to reach the upper ranks.
Constitution allows discrimination against women: Aritha Wickramasinghe
“I think the petition is pathetic and is a perfect example of toxic masculinity,” stated iProbono Equality Director Attorney-at-Law Aritha Wickramasinghe, adding that it has taken the one and only woman in the history of the 154 years of the Sri Lanka Police to trigger these male police officers.
Wickramasinghe believes that this is very unfortunate and embarrassing, adding that he wished the Supreme Court appoints an all-female panel for the hearing to give these officers a peace of mind.
When asked if he thought these officers were coming from a legal standpoint, he commented: “Of course they don’t have a legal standpoint; they have said that the media has said that granting women big positions violates their right to equality and equal opportunity, which has caused irreparable harm to their career prospects.”
Wickramasinghe commented that he doesn’t understand how giving one woman an opportunity violates these grounds, adding that the basis of these police officers is that the Police’s internal rules don’t have a position for a woman. “That is frankly what I would call nonsense. At the end of the day, the Constitution of this country, which guarantees equal opportunities and prohibits discrimination based on data, is superior to any internal rule book of the Police or any organisation.”
He also observed that Sri Lanka’s Constitution expressly also allowed discrimination in favour of women. “Positive discrimination in order to enhance the status of women is explicitly permitted in Sri Lanka’s Constitution. But I think we can all agree that having one police officer, one senior DIG among several male DIGs, is not really even positive discrimination in favour of women – it is still discrimination against women.”
He also noted that if anything, there should be a direction given to the Police that they need to increase the opportunity for women to be holding big positions, which should adequately reflect the number of women in the population.
It is an institutional issue: Dr. Harini Amarasuriya
“It is completely unacceptable in this day and age that the regulations, as the petitions claim, do not allow for a woman to be appointed as DIG,” stated rights activist, senior university lecturer, and MP Dr. Harini Amarasuriya, also noting that it is utterly ridiculous that in 2021, women are still having to fight to get a promotion to a higher grade.
She noted that on the other hand, the Police is supposed to interact with the public and its major responsibility is to serve the public, of whom 53% are women. “The Police in the senior ranks are unable to represent more than half the population, which is also very problematic. We know that there have long been problems with regard to insensitivity of the Police in dealing with issues of domestic violence, sexual harassment, and rape. Most women are extremely uncomfortable in dealing with the Police even though the Police are there to help them out.”
She said that if this is the attitude within the environment of the police force, then it’s very clear why women of this country have no trust or faith in the police system to help them. She also highlighted that this is a very problematic issue and should not be something they are confronting in this day and age, but should have been dealt with much earlier.
Dr. Amarasuriya believes that it is an institutional problem, rather than being one within the individuals themselves. “I think it’s more complicated than these 32 individuals. Clearly, the institution has failed them, as well as DIG Bimshani,” she said, adding that these police officers must feel deprived in some way and feel that they’ve been treated badly.
“I don’t hold the 32 individuals responsible; I hold the institution responsible for creating such a cringeworthy situation which we should all be ashamed of, where the 32 men are claiming that a woman’s promotion is affecting their rights.”