KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 9 — Growing up in pre-independence Malaya, Emily Koshy had hoped to study medicine because she did quite well in her studies. But a newspaper advertisement in 1955 looking for probationary female inspectors caught her eye and that is how she became one of the country’s first female police inspectors.
Koshy, whose maiden name is Mathew, also has the distinction of being the sole Indian among the multiracial pioneer batch.
“In fact, I wanted to go for further studies, university and all. But my father was retiring that year, I didn’t want to trouble him… he’s a teacher, so never mind,” said Koshy who turns 82 on October 14.
The original advertisement in The Straits Times stated that candidates had to be aged between 18 and 35 with “Cambridge School Certificate” which is the equivalent of today’s SPM. They also had to have “normal eyesight without glasses” and be at least 147 centimetres tall.
One in seven
Koshy, who travelled from Malacca by bus to Kuala Lumpur for the oral interview at the Federal Police Depot at the then Jalan Gurney (now Jalan Semarak), said she was “shocked” at the high number of interested candidates.
In those days, occupation choices for women were limited to jobs such as teachers, clerks, nurses and it was difficult even for men to be admitted into the police force, she said.
“So many you know, 600 or 700 for the interview... I thought nobody will go; and then within a week their reply came, I was one of the seven selected,” she said.
She added that her “flair for languages” may have contributed to her being selected, noting that she then already spoke English, Malay, her mother tongue Malayalam, Tamil, Hindi, Punjabi, Hokkien and Cantonese.
“I had the advantage of having HSC, the other one is language, games, Girl Guides, I was in the debate team in school, I was head girl in Sultan Abu Bakar Girls’ school in Muar,” she said, referring to the Higher School Certificate qualification — the equivalent of today’s STPM -- that she was preparing for prior to the interview.
Despite the danger of joining the police force during the Malayan Emergency, Koshy said her India-born parents “were not worried” when she was selected but were only thinking of service for the nation.
“They were very, very proud that someone in the family had gone to serve the country, especially in the police uniformed branch and then when your court cases come out, your name comes out in the papers,” said Koshy, a second-generation settler born in Johor.
Training as equals
Officially joining the police force on October 8, 1955 along with three Malay and three Chinese women, Koshy said they were treated equally and received the same level of training as their male counterparts.
She remembers they were given free room and board plus a monthly allowance of 200 dollars; new recruits would be up by 7am daily for an hour of physical exercise or marching, followed by classes from 9am to 1pm on topics such as criminal law, procedures for court cases and police investigation.
Afternoons would see the recruits exercising and training in weapon handling and shooting with the primary weapon being the pistol, she added.
Before the standard six-month training together with the other trainees, Koshy’s batch of seven had an additional three months of special training on investigating and prosecuting cases involving women and children.
“When we came in, there was a European lady from London, she was a specialist — Miss Wentworth, Barbara Wentworth, she was an ASP… came here to specially train us... once she trained us all up, they sent her back. So our training was all English standards,” she said.
Independence and police duty
Koshy also had the honour of leading the platoon of female police officers in the first-ever Merdeka parade in 1957 on August 31.
Having joined the police force at the tail-end of the Malayan Emergency which lasted from 1948 to 1960, Koshy said she and her fellow women recruits were not sent to deal with the communists.
“We didn’t go for border jaga and all that, they got their Home Guards and special security; we were more on crime policing, police investigation, crime — for women mostly on outraging modesty, rape, beating… we specialised in women and children,” she said, noting that she was later transferred from the KL depot to Muar where her husband worked as a teacher.
Having experience in criminal investigation, Koshy said she spent most of her career in the lower courts prosecuting criminal cases, recalling how those accused of crimes often shuddered in fear at her no-nonsense attitude in court.
She said most of the cases involving domestic violence against women and children that she handled were straightforward and successfully prosecuted.
Drug cases were not prevalent then even up to the 1970s, with crimes mostly revolving around offences such as robbery, theft, assault, murder, molest, cruelty to wife and children, rape and outraging of modesty, she said.
The country experienced turbulence once again on May 13, 1969 and this time, Koshy was stationed in Malacca.
Koshy recalls being on duty and in charge of co-ordination from within the police station, as authorities imposed a strict curfew on Malacca but gradually relaxed curfew hours as the situation in Kuala Lumpur improved over the following days.
While Malacca did not experience trouble, police were on standby there and in other states throughout the country to avert anything that may spark off chaos, Koshy said.
“Malacca didn’t have much (trouble), mostly KL, but we were ready lah, because sometimes it spreads fast,” she said.
The unrest in Kuala Lumpur quickly died down, she said, adding that she served in Malacca for a number of years where she was promoted to the rank of Assistant Superintendent of Police and was then shifted back to the police-training centre in KL.
Life after the police force
After retiring with the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police, Koshy joined the Film Censorship Board for seven years.
Koshy, who turns 82 this month, keeps herself active with qi gong every morning at 7am and continues to serve in the choir — that she has been part of since 1992 — at St Mary’s Cathedral in Kuala Lumpur.
No one else from her family has joined the police force, with all three of her children and her grandchildren venturing into banking and medical-related professions respectively.