You carry a purse, I carry a weapon: Dr Sunniya Ashkoor Wani

Dr Sunniya Ashkoor Wani

Dr Sunniya Ashkoor Wani, the first female to hold the post of DySP Gandhi Nagar is also the first female KPS officer to be awarded Best All-Rounder award. She is not only the daughter of a reputed Police Officer but also, the Iron Lady of J&K- a name she has made for herself. In conversation with Pallavi Sareen about the recent incidents in Jammu & Kashmir, she talks about what it takes to be an empowered woman.

Pallavi: Being a female lady officer, how did you handle the mobs since largely the belief is to send male officers to handle such situations?

Dr Sunniya: Being a lady officer, we know how to manage everything. A lady has to manage her home, kids and older people alike. In work too, the same kind of efficiency is needed just the quality of work is different. My senior officers have full faith in me and my team-mates supported me throughout. So, it was a joint effort. During these protests, I was the only woman officer and since I am the SDPO of this area, I was the one leading the charge. I do have female officers working under me but they were just backup. The crowds, however, consisted of mainly men and there were only a few females present in the peaceful protests.

Pallavi:  How did you maintain the law and order situation?

Dr Sunniya: We had told the crowds beforehand that the protest should be peaceful and we would be present throughout for their security. We were there to ensure that whatever the protestors did, they did under the ambient of law. We stood there for the security of the mob and for the maintenance of law and order. So, nothing untoward happened.

Pallavi: Somehow your regions were the most peaceful, before the curfew and even afterwards. How?

Dr Sunniya: Curfew means when the military takes over. After the curfew was announced, I and my Tehsildars marched out and we announced that there was curfew so no one was supposed to leave their homes. Some people who had emergencies could use a curfew pass. There was also relaxation. Some people tried to gather together even during curfew but we told them that Sec 144 has been implemented. Under that, they cannot gather in a mob. Some young boys came and said they just wanted to light candles. They said “We are not getting violent. We are doing it peacefully.” Most of them didn’t even know what Sec 144 meant so I had to explain it to them and actually teach them.

My people, they listen to me and they also know that as soon as things get normalised, they will also get a chance to work again. There were marriages, someone had died, some people had functions to attend. So everyone was being bothered while the curfew was going on. Everyone wanted things to be normal again so they cooperated and made efforts from their side as well.

Pallavi: You were a Doctor before and then became a KPS officer. How did that transition occur?

Dr Sunniya: I had never wanted to be a Doctor. When I was a kid, I always used to say that I wanted to be like my father who is a renowned Police Officer. There was an uncle who once said that ‘Don’t say you want to be like your father. Say you will be a better officer than your father.’ I quite agreed with that. I just wanted to wear the uniform. My elder sister is a Doctor. So when she was doing her MBBS in GMC, my father told me to pursue the same. I wanted to take arts because I had to prepare for competitive exams. But at that time ‘arts’ subject had a lot of Taboo attached to it. No bright student used to take arts.

I cracked AIEEE as well and so I thought I could do engineering, but then again, they did not wish for me to move away from them. So, I was compelled to take medical. They told me to complete my MBBS and then I could decide whatever I wanted to do. I even got a Gold Medal from the former Governor for topping in Medicine. Then I devoted one year with full concentration for civil services and I cracked it.

Pallavi: Best Cadet of your batch, Gold medal in MBBS, cracked civil services in just one year. You have a lot of badges of honour. How did you manage to do all this at such a young age?

Dr Sunniya: I have always been very determined. So whatever I was doing, I would take full interest in it and devote myself completely. I had just one year to crack civil services and I would see that if I took more gap years I would be left behind. My batchmates were already doing PG. So, I just had to give it my all.

I was working in the Crime branch before this and they have investigative work. That has its own charm but now that I am here, in the executive, I love my work and I love my duty.

Pallavi: As a woman, do you believe that you have to prove yourself in every situation? A male officer may be doing the same work that you are but for you, as a female officer, do you think every situation is a test that you have to pass?

Dr Sunniya: That is very true but that thinking is now getting changed. The thing is that if I don’t do it, such mindset will never change. People from the very beginning have seen ladies working at home only, not in the fields. That is inbuilt in our patriarchal society. When we talk about women empowerment, it is brought on the ground through the work that we do. When we actually do something, as a woman, people notice it and then start believing that females can do this.

If I am given a chance and I back off from it, I will prove every other woman wrong who thinks that she can also do it.

Pallavi: Do you think it is even harder for you since people have a lot of expectations from the daughter of Mr Ashkoor Wani?

Dr Sunniya: It is a double effort for me because I have the name of my father to carry. I cannot give someone the chance to say that she is the daughter of such a police officer and yet she is unable to do this thing. If someone is giving 20%, I have to give my 60%.

I have put his name after my name because I am his daughter, other than that, no professional relationship. He says he will not speak about me with anyone. It is my foot, I have to establish it. That tag should be mine. I know I have to work a lot harder than male officers because I have to prove two things. I can do things independently without the support of my father and being a woman officer, I cannot say no to anything.

Pallavi: Policing is considered a physical occupation and so generally the preference is male officers. Has your physicality as a woman ever acted as a hindrance in your work?

Dr Sunniya: In today’s time, the most powerful weapon is your mind and not the strength of your arms. What women can do with the might of their mind and by her convincing power, no one else can do it. I can convince the mob, I believe I have that quality. I can at least make someone listen and that is a quality that women have.

There are qualities that give women an edge. Today’s policing is mainly community policing so the first attempt is to talk it out and settle things. But wherever we have to use physical strength, we do it. Even in this curfew, I had to use strength and I did with the lathi. The trust of people in you is the basic model for policing these days and people do trust females more.

Pallavi: How do you feel when you see that you are the first female officer sitting on that chair and there has been no one in this position before you?

Dr Sunniya: This is the kind of moment that makes me feel like I am creating history. It makes me feel extraordinary. I wish that any girl who thinks something should make it happen. Since 1947, no female had gotten the award of honour and when I got it, I felt like I had made my name. Now, I can die in peace. I wanted that moment to happen and I wish I can make more such moments happen.

Pallavi: Don’t you miss the normal things in life in your busy schedule? What are your hobbies or the things that you miss out on because you are working?

Dr Sunniya: I really miss shopping and I was just thinking I need a holiday so I can go shopping. In these past few days, it has been so hectic that I haven’t seen the face of my family for more than half an hour. I had a cat who gave birth to small kittens and one of them died. My mother was giving me a call but I was busy with work. What can you do about these things?

I had even tweeted about this that “You carry a purse, I carry a weapon.” I am proudly carrying it. It is my choice. I have chosen it.

Pallavi: Who is your inspiration?

Dr Sunniya: My dad, definitely. He is my role model and I have always looked up to him. But my mother is my backbone. Whenever my dad used to be out, working, it was mainly my mother who took care of me and it is all thanks to her that I am here right now, sitting in this position. Everything I am is because of her.