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More than a woman

Updated on: 19 May,2024 12:55 PM IST  |  Mumbai
Makepeace Sitlhou | smdmail@mid-day.com

Being a tribal and a woman is an accident of birth, says new Meghalaya police chief, Idashisha Nongrang, who has set a record for the Northeast

More than a woman

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Tomorrow, May 20, is a big day, not only for Idashisha Nongrang as she takes over as the Director General of Police in Meghalaya, but also for the state and the Northeast region, where she is the first tribal woman to become a police chief.


While Nongrang is filled with pride given that this is what she has trained for over the last 32 years of service, she’s already tired of being preluded with ‘first woman’. “I’ve been an IPS officer with so many years of service,” she told mid-day. “Being a woman is not a qualification but an accident of birth, same as being tribal. I don’t think UPSC or anyone looked at my gender during the process of empanelment.” 


The adulation over her sex, unfortunately, comes with being in the Indian Police Services, which has thus far seen only four women before her reach the highest post. The first was the late Kanchan Chaudhary Bhattacharya, the second female IPS officer after Kiren Bedi who was appointed DGP of Uttarakhand in 2004 and on whose life the Doordarshan show Udaan, broadcast in the 1980s, was based on. Nongrang is the fifth in the country, after Rashmi Shukla’s appointment earlier this year in Maharashtra, S Sundari Nanda in Puducherry (2018) and Letika Saran in Tamil Nadu (2010). 


Nongrang also carries the legacy of hailing from a state where the three indigenous tribes—Khasi, Garo and Jaintia—follow matrilineal tradition. Among them, the family name and property rights are passed down to the youngest daughter, or the Khatduh. Nongrang is the Khatduh of her family, and has been taking care of her parents while her elder sister lives abroad.

As the outgoing Director General of Civil Defence and Home Guard, Nongrang has trail-blazed an illustrious career in her home ground since her appointment in 1992 when she joined the Assam Meghalaya cadre. Back then, there were just three other female officers in her batch and she was the first IPS officer from her state. A ’92 batchmate, who requested anonymity, described her as “tough, straight forward, dead honest and absolutely no nonsense; But with her heart in the right place.” 

Not surprisingly, she has been a role model for other officers in the state: Former IPS officer, Mariahom Kharkrang, who retired as Meghalaya’s Director General of Prisons, said that Nongrang was the rare “lady” officer of her time. Although more women civil services candidates are opting to join the police force today, it is still not considered a job suited for women, even in a matrilineal society. 

“Policing is not perceived as a very easy job for women to undertake, especially since there’ll come a time when they will have to raise a family, have children,” he told mid-day. 

That said, hardly anyone in the state is celebrating Nongrang’s appointment as one that has broken the glass ceiling. “She’s earned it through sheer hard work and merit,” said Patricia Mukhim, Editor of the local daily, The Shillong Times. “Saying that she got the job because she’s a woman [the other two contenders were male officers] devalues her contribution to the Force.”

Nongrang has led several counter insurgency operations in the state, especially at the height of militancy in the ’90s and early 2000s, and has spent more than a decade in the Intelligence Bureau. Kharkrang describes her as an upright officer who leads from the front, and is known to give credit to subordinates and take responsibility for the team. 

“A day before she was to join the East Khasi Hills district, there was a shootout with militants in the village,” he recalled. “Jokingly, she told me that she had to put on her uniform on a Sunday and be baptised by fire.” 

Local political parties such as the United Democratic Party, Voice of the People’s Party and the state unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party had also batted for her, wanting a Khasi tribal woman as DGP. Mukhim said that the parties were just trying to score brownie points. 

Beyond her sex, there’s much hope pinned on Nongrang to not only improve law and order in the state that has seen much upheaval for some years now, but also change public perception of the police force, which has taken a hit. Last week, two men were lynched by a mob for allegedly trying to rape a 17-year-old girl in Eastern West Khasi Hills district. The villagers did not allow the police to take the accused into custody and the men died on their way to the hospital. Crimes against women have been on the rise, with 690 cases registered and 812 cases pending investigation in 2022, and cases doubling in 2020 from 2019.

As she prepares for her first day on the job, Nongrang is acutely aware of the high expectations from her. “I will work to the best of my capability as I’ve done in all my years of service,” she said. Her priority, she says, would be to restore faith in the police, and step up prevention and detection of crime. “We want to show the public that we are here to help them, and not harass them.”

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