Saturday, 15 August 2009

NST : I REMEMBER WHEN... I was one of the Magnificent 7

Zaharah Routin Ibrahim (third from left) with the other six magnificent women,
posing proudly in their uniform

When did the country have its own policewomen? Well, in the beginning, it was just a band of seven female cops in 1955, says Zaharah Routin Ibrahim. Those were exciting times to be in uniform, she tells KOH LAY CHIN

IT was 1955 and I was a teacher in Alor Star. I was just 22 years old, taught students English and was pretty satisfied with my job at the time.

Then one day, I saw the recruitment advertisement in the newspapers for policewomen and I was filled with curiosity.

I mean, women cops, it was unheard of at the time. I applied for the position and the next thing you know, they had called us for interviews.

I was among the lucky seven selected.

I did not know anything about the profession really, but they asked us all sorts of questions, such as why we wanted to become policewomen.

I just told them that it would be a good thing to try. Well, these days I guess the requirements are much higher, of course.

But those days, we were just kampung girls. We were just excited about everything.

I remember travelling to Kuala Lumpur from Kedah by myself. All the way down, alone, for the first time. What a rush it was.

Later on, when we were on duty, I would also drive to Penang by car. People would really stare. Women just really didn't do those things at the time.

You see, the seven of us were a big attraction of sorts in our smart uniforms. We would go to places together and there would be photographers following us everywhere.

We would be at the courts, for example, and most of the time people would pay more attention to us than the actual cases.

You could say we were like celebrities at the time. People were very nice to us, and we were quite relaxed and confident as a result. Plus, we were a team, so that made it easier.

Our training lasted eight months. We were trained by male police officers as well as Miss Barbara Wentworth, a British policewoman.

We were taught the law, including the Penal Code and the ordinance on the protection of women and children. We were also trained to shoot.

We also were trained in midwifery. They took us to hospitals to watch how babies were delivered.

Miss Wentworth had been sent specially from England to train us and she was a serious lady. There was no fooling around with her.

They housed us in a bungalow and the seven of us became like sisters.

I liked the marching very much. We did this every day. I also liked learning judo. Imagine learning self-defence at a time when it was so rare for women to indulge in this sort of activities.

Most of the time, we handled cases which dealt with women and children. For instance, I remember handling many vice cases and took part in many raids on hotels.

I was also involved in the investigation into a murder case in Penang when I was in the crime branch there. But I never had to shoot anyone. Thank God for that.

Everyone was quite gentlemanly and nice to us in those days, and I did not have to handle any roughness or anything like that.

I got married in 1959 and I would have liked to continue in the force but it was hard for me.

I travelled with my husband but there were so few places with posts for policewomen.

So, in the end, I quit the force and became a housewife, later dabbling in a bit of business.

It was exciting serving the country as one of the first seven policewomen.

I miss the job very much and now look fondly back at my experiences.

The New Straits Times Online: bI REMEMBER WHEN.../b I was one of the Magnificent 7

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