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D&I Expert | Ex. DG Police | Public Speaker | Sutapa Sanyal

Sutapa Sanyal

Sutapa Sanyal

"Life is about fighting your internal demons and becoming a better version of yourself." Sutapa Sanyal

Building an Early Foundation:


There was nothing intentional nor was there any long-term micro-planning regarding this shift from police to working on issues related to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, POSH etc. I feel everything is interconnected. Hence, the transition was purely organic, evolutionary and a natural progression. I was working on these issues even then, one way or the other and continue to do so, as they fall within the area of my core passion.


When I reported for the training at the National Police Academy, way back in 1985, I found myself to be the only woman in the entire 1984 Batch of IPS officers and I had a similar experience when I joined my cadre, UP, in 1986.


Unfortunately, the needle hasn’t moved as much as it should have over these years so far as gender diversity and inclusivity is concerned in the police. So, all along I was at the receiving end of the lack of gender diversity and inclusivity in my profession and that left an indelible imprint on my mind and emotions. Had there been more gender diversity and inclusivity, my professional and personal life would have been one notch easier, perhaps richer, in terms of happy experiences this realization inspired me to continue my work on the same issues, like discussing the unconscious biases which all of us carry, encouraging gender mainstreaming and gender justice as well as advocating Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity at various platforms etc. even in my post–retirement phase. This realization inspired me to continue my work on the same issues, like discussing the unconscious biases which all of us carry, encouraging gender mainstreaming and gender justice as well as advocating Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity at various platforms etc. even in my post–retirement phase.


As the Presiding Officer of the ICC of UP Police, which is the second largest police force in the world, I realized that another push back factor for many women in the force is sexual harassment at the workplace. This is hugely under-reported because of the stiff hierarchy in the forces, the fear of a backlash by being singled out for overt and covert trolling and the ever -pervasive blaming and shaming likely to be faced by the complainant or the “aggrieved woman.” I therefore continue to engage as an external member of the ICC for several organizations and hold trainings and workshops on POSH, both for ICC members and employees, of various organizations. Similarly, I continue to work on issues related to Child Rights and Child Protection and prevention of Human Trafficking, the work which I had started as DG UP Police Mahila Samman Prakoshth, back in 2014.


Call it serendipity or the “conspiracy of the Universe”, I was initiated into this work since I was the senior most woman IPS officer of the UP Cadre at that point of time and the responsibility somehow devolved on me. Rest was all hard work, some out of the box thinking on these issues and widespread support from Civil Society.


The journey from Setbacks to Success:


My parents did not put any restriction on career choice. There was just one unwritten rule in the family, I had to complete my studies, start working and become financially independent at the earliest. Now in those days you did not have too many career options. So you either started your own business (entrepreneurship), or became a teacher/lecturer, doctor, lawyer, engineer or a civil servant. My inherent proclivity towards academia, first took me to the profession of a lecturer in Economics after the completion of my Masters. Perhaps the background of Economics made me see the inequalities and injustice around me even more clearly and made me realize that the Civil Services provided the best space to do what I wanted to do. Hence, I took the UPSC exams in 1984, got selected, reported for training at National Police Academy as a probationer, worked extremely hard, passed all the exams and eventually became a full-fledged IPS officer.

The challenges started thereafter. When I reported to the National Police Academy, I found myself to be the only woman officer amongst 78 male officers and many times I had to face the entire spectrum of discomfort, humiliation and gender discrimination, being the only “odd” specie in that family!  Yes, these new challenges made me feel emotionally very low at times, amplified by the extremely tough physical training of the Academy. However, the human mind finds out a way to cope and for me it meant dusting off the pain and humiliation of yesterday and standing again in the line for the Parade and PT, at the crack of dawn, the very next morning.

Obviously, I was in awe of my male colleagues and many a times felt like quitting because in no way could I match up to their physical prowess during most of the outdoor activities of our training. However, some voice in my head kept egging me on and made me realize that I had come so far in life not just to come this far. It suddenly dawned on me that life was more about fighting your internal demons, becoming a better version of yourself and not competing with others---something which has stuck with me till date!

So far as the actual policing was concerned, I realized a simple truth early on--that you needed to know your professional craft very thoroughly, work diligently, be firm but compassionate and be fair and just to everyone who crosses your path. Once people get this message about you, many things get sorted out on their own.

Women Leadership Beyond the Barriers:

Most women face a lot of barriers all along their journey and it is the same for women in leadership positions too, rather it is kind of a double whammy for them. The unconscious bias against girls and women that is prevalent in society leads to gender stereotyping, gender discrimination and overt and covert acts of misogyny. This manifests as a continuum, ranging from sexual innuendos/sexual harassment to full blown gender-based violence like sexual assault /murder/honor-killing etc.  Added to this is the “culture of silence” which prevents the victim or survivor (women and girls in this context) from speaking up and that emboldens the perpetrator. The victim is silenced by a veiled threat of facing more trouble in the future than what she is undergoing currently, if she speaks up.

This “culture of silence” is equally exhibited in the “bystander apathy” when no one helps or speaks up even if a woman or girl is being victimized in public. These sub-cultures are highly pervasive, hit hard at one’s self-belief and prevent the growth of a robust society where in women are able to reach a stage of self-actualization and give their optimal best.

At the workplace, gender bias shows up right from the stage of recruitment and becomes even more visible during field assignments, transfers and promotions giving rise to workplace inequalities and the phenomena of “glass escalators”, “leaky pipelines” and finally the “glass ceiling” as women start climbing up the leadership ladder.

However, there is no single-point, linear or straight jacket solution to this because it is a complex problem with multiple layers. As a starter, each one of us must first endeavour to examine our own implicit biases and blind spots and become the change which we want to see around us. Let us begin by treating our sons and daughters equally so that they grow up into strong, secure and sensitive human beings. Women also need to see through the narratives which promote gender bias, recognize their inner strength and challenge the status quo.


Power-packed Lessons from my Mentors


Mentors and role models came in the form of my parents, an American nun (the Principal of my school) and the IPS officer under whom I trained as Assistant Superintendent of Police. They came into my life at different points of time but the common unspoken message all of them gave to me was that if I stretched myself enough, I could learn anything and do anything.


The message was also loud and clear that if one is convinced of one’s beliefs, then one must stand one’s ground, weigh in others’ suggestions but decide for oneself and then face the outcomes, good or bad! These were valuable lessons which got amplified over my lifetime and became useful hacks and templates to live my day-to-day life and tackle the challenges it brings. However, here is a disclaimer– do not “copy-paste” the journey of your mentor or role model into your own. Use their journeys as templates, learn from them but maintain your uniqueness and individuality because you are better being a “you-er” you than being anyone else!



Wisdom for the Rising Leaders


First of all, recognize the important role you can play in making a difference to people’s lives, whether you are a thought leader or a religious leader or a political one. Once you have taken care of this then “Just Do It”! Go ahead and bring about that difference, irrespective of its size. Be extremely careful of what you think because that in turn will determine your speech as well as your actions.


True leadership also means being responsible in your private and professional lives and walking the talk, because people look up to you and emulate you. Last but not the least; since in today’s world, there is so much of pain, suffering and hurt around us, everyone needs to heal. Hence, the endeavor should be to become a compassionate and empathetic leader--a messiah who provides succour to those whom she or he chooses to lead.


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