The Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM) had a tough time in the 1970s as violent crimes were rampant throughout the nation.
In the midst of this state of lawlessness, a 'Woman of Steel' stood out as the first Indian policewoman feared and respected by many criminals.
A Chandramalar, or more commonly known as Chandra, was a former Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) who nabbed pimps, drug pushers, and gambling syndicates in Penang, and was famed for breaking down the doors of brothels with one swift kick, as reported by The Star.
Chandra was born in 1939 in Jaffna, Sri Lanka to a railway clerk father and housewife mother. She is the fourth child in a family of five girls and grew up in Kluang, Johor.
According to Varnam, Chandra first joined the police force as a probationary inspector in 1960 after a short term working as a primary school teacher.
Since she was an excellent sportswoman, she effortlessly mastered shooting, self-defense, judo, and direct combat with an armed person while on the force, proving that she is as good as any other policeman.After graduating the following year, Chandra was posted as an investigating officer to the police headquarters in Penang. She then worked as a prosecuting officer for two years at the magistrate's court.
In 1972, when the island was engulfed in narcotics, gambling, and prostitution, Chandra became the first woman to head the anti-vice branch in Penang
She and her squad of 13 police officers travelled on Honda motorcycles, raiding as many as 15 brothels or gambling dens each day, averaging roughly 200 raids per month.
Chandra had also gone undercover, disguised as a sex worker on several occasions to catch a pimp or blending in among the gamblers to secure a ringside seat, she once told The Star.
"Sometimes, the gamblers would climb out the windows screaming, 'Kelinga cha bor lai leow! (The Indian woman has come!)'"
Although she earned the moniker 'Woman of Steel', Chandra was a very compassionate person who helped many criminals rehabilitate, including young sex workers and drug addicts
On one such instance, Chandra had refuse to shoot a drug pusher the squad were chasing down on their motorcycles for 8km.
Instead, when they finally caught him at a junction, she hit him with her helmet to subdue him. Chandra was adamant that "one should not sacrifice one's life unnecessarily".
She also tried to save a young American woman who initially came to the country for her doctorate research. "We detained her in a raid," Chandra told The Star.
"And seeing the needle marks on her arm, I could see her drug habit was the reason she was prostituting herself."
Chandra persuaded the immigration authorities to allow the young woman to leave Malaysia even though she had overstayed her visa. However, the woman declined and later overdosed in a hotel.
But that did not break Chandra's spirit, she went on helping out whenever she could, like rescuing a 12-year-old sex worker from a hotel that charged each of her patrons RM100 but only paid her RM5.
"When I saw her again in a welfare home, she thanked me for setting her free and showed me how well she had learnt to sew," she was also quoted as saying.
Chandra had a 90% conviction record in her 30 years as a cop, an accomplishment that awarded her two letters of commendation and a Pingat Jasa Masyarakat (PJM) from the Governor of Penang
In 1974, Chandra was one of two Malaysian female police officers sent to Washington D.C. to attend a course in police management — with narcotics orientation — at the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA).
She was promoted to Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) in 1977, becoming the first woman to work as an executive staff at the Kuala Kubu Bharu Police College.
She also received an Ahli Mangku Negara (AMN) from the King in 1977, and a Kesatrian Mangku Negara (KMN) in 1994.
Then in 1981, she was posted to Shah Alam as a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), in charge of commercial crime for Selangor.
Chandra became the first woman Superintendent of Police, as deputy officer in charge of criminal investigation in courts for Kuala Lumpur in 1989.
She was in charge of managing 200 police personnel and 30 prosecuting officers in all courts. This position also involved her liaising with the judiciary, the Attorney-General's Chambers, the Bar, and the public.
Finally in 1994, Chandra retired as an Assistant Director of Research and Planning in the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of Bukit Aman
She had the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), making her the first non-Malay woman to be commemorated this way.
Now at 80-years-old, Chandra lives a quiet life in Klang with her family. She assisted her husband in tutoring neighbourhood children until he passed away recently.
Also, due to her impressive knowledge and experience in the Malaysian court system, Chandra is still often consulted on legal cases and also looked up to in the local Sri Lankan Tamil community today.
This article is part of our Hari Kebangsaan Heroes series. Check out more stories of remarkable Malaysians here: