“Many people feel they don’t have to answer a woman”: Experience of a female traffic cop in Chennai

Braving Chennai's heat and some irreverent motorists, traffic policewomen like R Bagavathi make our roads easier and safer to navigate.

A traffic policewoman in Chennai is no less than Wonder Woman, battling the city’s heat, traffic and pollution with great strength; and when you violate traffic rules, she wields her lasso to catch you.

“A little less than 1% of the traffic police force is made up of women,” says S Rajendiran, Joint Commissioner of Traffic Police (South). “Despite the small number, the force is very motivated and competent in what they do.”

We catch up with R Bagavathi, a woman traffic police constable (PC) in Chennai, to discuss her journey as a traffic woman PC in a role which is dominated by men.

A day in the life of…

What does a regular work day look like as a traffic policewoman in Chennai?

I have been in the traffic police force since January 2021. Usually, our duty varies every day from traffic regulation in junctions and even bandobast duties. I have regulated traffic at a junction near Stanley Hospital.

We get to know what we will be doing the following day around 10 pm the night before. Due to this, the timings may also vary. But the duration of our duty is mostly eight hours, with four hours in the morning and evening each.

The city is hot and humid and there is a lot of pollution. As a traffic policewoman in Chennai, have you felt any physical difficulties because of that?

Even though I wore masks, there used to be dust and pollution, especially in my junction, which is in North Chennai. But managing traffic is our duty, and we have to brave the circumstances. This is why we get training, and we learn to manage and strive even in harsh physical conditions.

Read more: Why Chennai needs to put its ‘heat action plan’ to practice right away

Tackling traffic violations in the city

National Crime Records Bureau has ranked Chennai as the metropolitan city with the most number of road traffic accidents as of 2021. What are the most common traffic violations you have observed while managing traffic in Chennai?

Many people do not stop when the signal turns red. These people usually drive in a hurry and may have to drop their children at school or get to work. We try to stop them on the zebra crossings.

motorists wait on chennai roads
Many riders flout traffic rules by skipping signals, among other things in Chennai. Pic: Creative Commons

Apart from this, we have also observed people not wearing helmets while riding their two-wheelers. Of course, we file a separate case for that.

In some cases, when we attempt to stop the traffic violators, they rush past us without paying heed.

Read more: Road accidents in Chennai and what can be done to prevent them

We often see cases of rash driving or people going in the opposite direction on a one-way road. How can we improve this situation?

We can observe an increase in the number of privately-owned vehicles in Chennai, especially post-pandemic. Earlier, many used to depend on buses and trains. Even in our houses, we have more than one privately owned vehicle.

However, in recent times, enforcement has been tightened, especially with CCTV cameras spotting people flouting the traffic rules in 12 junctions across Chennai. Because of this, people are adhering to rules like wearing helmets better than before.

Moreover, Greater Chennai Traffic Police (GCTP) has started issuing spot-fines in Chennai, ranging from Rs. 500 to Rs. 10,000. This will reduce people being negligent towards traffic rules, compared to them being fined Rs. 100 or Rs. 200 in the past.

Earlier, some people did not consider Rs. 100 as a huge amount. Now, the fine for traffic violations has been increased, and we hope to see better adherence to traffic rules.

If you were given the power to make or better enforce some new traffic rules in Chennai, what would you do?

To effectively prevent drunk driving, we can impose a fine of Rs. 10,000 on the pillion rider as well, apart from the main rider. It may create a scenario where the pillion rider discourages drunk driving, as they have to pay Rs. 20,000 as a fine in total.

Being a woman traffic PC in Chennai

How do you manage trips to the restrooms while on duty? Do you find such crucial facilities satisfactory for women traffic police in the city?

Bagavathi: Sometimes if I have to visit the washroom, even during my periods, it has been a bit difficult during bandobast times. But in most cases, my colleagues cover my junction for a bit while I attend to my personal needs. It is like a family inside the traffic police force, where we look out for each other.

When we are part of a police station, we will note where we can find washrooms within that particular station limit. Since I regulated traffic near Stanley Hospital, I could use the hospital’s washrooms without much difficulty.

Rajendiran: Some places have mobile toilets. Also, we post the women police force at major junctions, nearer to the police stations. If they want to use the washrooms, they can go easily.

Traffic policewomen in Chennai are fewer in number than their male counterparts. Have you faced any hurdles because of your gender?

There is a lot of difference when a traffic policeman catches a violator compared to a policewoman. The violator is highly likely to listen to the male PC compared to a woman PC in Chennai. Usually, male police personnel are the ones to issue fines for traffic violations.

Moreover, many people think that they do not have to answer if a traffic policewoman questions them. Especially, when we warn share auto drivers to not let many people crowd inside the auto, we cannot expect them to respect us.

For instance, a man had parked a car in a zone not meant for parking. When I asked him, “What happened, sir? Why have you parked here?”, he used a vulgar word against me, which hurt me at that moment. Then I called my higher official, who imposed a fine on him for the violation. He later expressed remorse for treating me with disrespect.

But not everyone treats us with rudeness. Many people respond courteously to us. Also, when people get used to seeing us every day, they start listening to women PCs.

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