“Courage is mastery of fear” – Mark Twain
On a sunny morning in Karthiv, Kalmunai in 1998, a young female police constable was at a check point. WPC Ayesha noticed the rather suspicious behaviour of a man carrying two pots of curd. When she asked him to show the pots, which was part of the routine checking, he became uneasy. She probed the first pot and then the second pot with a thin stick. To her surprise the second pot of curd had a concealed explosive armed with an electronic timer. The man was arrested. This is the quality of training and discipline inculcated in the women of the Special Task Force. Hailing from Middeniya (Matara) WPC Ayesha now, promoted as a Sergeant and having completed her degree serves at the Katukurunda Training Academy.
I met the Deputy Director of Training ASP Faizal Hadgie, a 32 year combat veteran at the school. He said, the women who enlist in the STF are given the same basic training that is taught to the male officers. All women have to be physically and mentally fit to endure and pass the basic training which lasts from 6 to 9 months. Today, we often talk about gender equality. The STF is one institution that sustains equality and promotes further career development for all.
I was introduced to the Officer-in-Charge of the Women’s Wing, Chief Inspector Kumari Amerasinghe. This dynamic, yet soft spoken lady joined the force in 1997, after her A/Ls from Presidents College, Rajagiriya. Her first posting was at Arugambay. Kumari is also a talented martial artist, excelling in Taekwondo. She currently holds a second Dan black belt and represented Sri Lanka in the 1999 SAF Games held in Nepal and won a Bronze medal. Armed with 20 years of service, Chief Inspector Amerasinghe specializes in Communications and has served in the VIP security division, and is the Personal Security Officer to the present First Lady. She told me that it takes time management skills to balance her role as an Officer, wife and mother of two daughters.
Throughout the history of the Special Task Force, women have served alongside their male comrades in all roles, including in the North and the East. They engage in daily routines that include administrative tasks in the office, manning the reception desk, crowd and access control, communications systems, VIP security, cordon and search, gathering intelligence and serving as medics. While I was in the office a pregnant woman walked in. Police constable A.L.G. Samanthi is expecting her second baby. This somewhat shy mother is a national sportswoman having won a gold medal for taekwondo in 2006. She told me that her husband is also an officer from the STF.
The women of the STF also have their own dance troupe, headed by Sub-Inspector Anusha. The ladies perform at many Police events during the year.
The youngest member at the school I met was 22 year old Nayani Nisansala, a past student of Sangamitta Balika Vidyalaya, Matale. Flashing a radiant smile she tells me she is attached to a VIP security detail. She expresses her thanks to all the other girls in her intake who worked as a team to complete their training, which included a long march in the heat of the day carrying 12 kilos of equipment. It was a new experience for these young girls to be away from the comfort of their homes and adopt to new routines. Nayani confidently says, she is now empowered to face the challenges life has to throw at her.
The women cadre of the Special Task Force are truly special. They multi task and excel as wives, daughters and mothers, while showing their prowess in the camouflage uniform and are a brilliant example of what an empowered woman should be in this day and age. The present Commandant of the STF is a prudent strategist and combat veteran, Senior DIG M.Latthif.
Pix: Gamini Pitagampala