It's just another day in the office for the newly appointed Kollam city Commissioner Ajeetha Begum. However, the media and the public can't stop exulting over the news. Ajeetha is taking charge from her husband, Satheesh Bino who has now become the District Police Chief of Pathanamthitta.
Ajeetha is amused by all the attention.
Speaking to The News Minute, the IPS officer says, "We are two officers belonging to the same batch. Even during our training, there was no difference between man and woman. We were trained alike and we work alike. For me, it's a normal process. I've already handled four districts and this is my fifth district. Compared to the other four districts, this is the first time media has given me so much attention for taking over."
Adding that it is perhaps the rarity of such an occurrence which has got everyone excited, Ajeetha says, "It's not common to find husband and wife holding charge in the same district...probably that's why. But for me, this is just another district, that's all. It doesn't change the way I will be working."
Married for five years, the IPS couple has two young children, a son and a daughter. In fact, Ajeetha has just returned to work from her maternity break.
How hard is it to run a family when both of them have such demanding careers and getting transfer orders are part of the job?
"We find it very difficult to run the family together," admits Ajeetha. "We were posted in the same district, Kollam, for the first time. I was Kollam Rural SP before I went on maternity leave and he was the Kollam city Commissioner. Apart from a short while in Ernakulam when I was in Crime Branch and he was the SP, this is the only time in our entire stint in Kerala that we were in the same district. We only used to meet during weekends."
Ajeetha says that it's the children who miss out the most when the parents are in two different places.
"When my son comes back from school, he doesn't see his dad. He sees him only during the weekends. So when my husband comes, he will dress up well because we have to dress well for guests! I had to tell him that his dad is not a guest and that he need not dress up for his arrival," laughs Ajeetha.
However, Ajeetha believes that a strong relationship will survive the challenge of physical distance. "It shouldn't matter where you are. After all, half the male population in Kerala is in Gulf only," she jokes. "Since we're of the same rank, it's difficult for us to be placed in the same district. We understand this."
Conversations between the couple tend to be about work but Ajeetha says that they take the effort to give each other personal space and time. They enjoy traveling and watching movies together.
Asked about gender equality in the police force, Ajeetha says, "I can't say that gender doesn't play a role. I've been in service for the past 8 years. Personally, I haven't faced a situation where someone has treated me differently because I'm a woman. I've never experienced that in my life. But within the police department, there are officers of various ranks, so if you compare this with the life of a woman constable, she will have a different perspective altogether. I have an insight about it - they are not treated equally or on par with their male counterparts...at my level, it depends on the interest of the officer. If you're interested in field work and active enough, the government always considers you and treats you well. And public recognition is also much better. Though my male counterparts also work very hard, I get more recognition compared to them."
Ajeetha says that times have now changed and that people have become more open towards seeing women in careers that were previously considered male bastions. She feels families should be more encouraging of young women taking up demanding jobs because there is plenty of opportunity for them to prove themselves to society.
Ajeetha and Satheesh are of the same rank. Does Ajeetha feel there is a difference in approach between a male and female officer when it comes to police work?
Ajeetha is thoughtful for a moment and then she says, "It depends on the individual. There are certain stereotypes attached to a woman when she's in police work. Like she'll be much softer when dealing with the public and there are many such gender stereotypes. But in my experience, I find many male officers also being very sensitive, including in women's issues. Of course, being a woman officer, I do want to focus on women and child issues but that doesn't mean male officers don't want to do the same."
As the new Commissioner of Kollam city, Ajeetha has three top priorities: women's and children's issues (for which she plans to focus on educating men), bringing down traffic accidents, and curbing drug dealing.