Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rank-and-file romance beats all odds

Rank-and-file romance beats all odds

Rank-and-file romance beats all odds

130308 13
Badges of honour: colonel Chan Sokha and his wife, lieutenant colonel Tear Darasath. Photograph: Alexander Crook/Phnom Penh Post

Chan Sokha, 57, and Tear Darasath, 58, are a Cambodian power couple of a different kind. She is a lieutenant colonel and he a colonel in the auditing department of the Ministry of Interior. They've learned to work together at home and also on the job - with Darasath likely to make the same rank as her husband soon.  Julius Thiemann heard the story of two perspectives on a forced marriage turned good.

Chan Sokha

The Khmer Rouge chief in our village in Battambang arranged our marriage. Men and women had to stand in two separate lines. Then names were called out loud, and men and women were paired together randomly and had to get married. My wife and I were lucky to like each other. Of all couples that were forced to marry that day [in our village] and didn’t get killed under the Khmer Rouge, we are the only ones who are still together. The others all divorced after the regime fell.

During the Khmer Rouge, women and men were treated equally. Everybody had to carry 10 kilos of stones and got the same amount of rice to eat. This is only a bad joke, but one has to acknowledge that there are differences between the sexes: women cannot carry as many stones as men, and this is OK.

In 1982, there were only two per cent women in the police force, but that started to change in 1984. For the fifth anniversary of the victory over the Khmer Rouge, the government wanted to celebrate with a police parade that had women in it too because international TV stations were there.

After more women joined the police force in 1984, I was very happy for them to come in. The women started doing all the paperwork, and we men could do the more exciting things. Women are much better at paperwork and keeping things in order than men. We would probably just mess up all the papers.

I won’t mind when my wife will be promoted into the same rank as me. On the contrary, I am happy because then we will make more money – another bad joke!

My wife is a very strong woman at work and at home. We see each other all day every day, and we have a wonderful family. When we first married under the Khmer Rouge, I had no idea what a great woman she was. 

Tear Darasath

From a very young age, I wanted to be a policewoman. When I was young, I once saw one of the few policewomen passing by in a police car wearing a uniform. I ran and followed her as long as I could.

There are nine women in our unit of 63 – police and civilians – and I am the only woman in our rank. Men at work respect me – it’s not because of my husband. They respect my rank and my work. That’s what matters. There are no problems between men and women at work. We help each other and are professional.

Sometimes the men joke about us women and say we couldn’t go out on trips to the provinces because unlike them we couldn’t sleep in the field on hard ground. In reality, we all go together and we don’t camp in the field. I go to the province for audits all the time. I think women are strong now and can do whatever they want. We laugh about the jokes men tell about us ourselves, and after all, we women joke about the men too.

After I got married in 1979, I stayed home and had children. It wasn’t until 1991 that I joined the police and I learned that women could do anything. But day by day, I grew more confident in myself.

My husband helped me a lot with our children and in the household, and when they grew older, the children helped themselves. This is how I could have this career. Our family does everything together, and we organise it well. We never had a cleaner.

In Cambodia, the man usually is the lieutenant colonel, but in my family I am the bank and accountant. Everybody has to ask me when he or she wants to spend money, even my husband. I am like the deputy director of a company that manages everything and is in charge while the director doesn’t have much to say.

I am very likely to be promoted into the same rank as my husband soon, but I don’t think this will cause any hierarchy problems at home. We separate work and private life.

I hope and believe that there will be more women in the police force. It is not 30 per cent yet, but that will change.


  • Joy as Koh Ker Temple registered by UNESCO

    Cambodia's Koh Ker Temple archaeological site has been officially added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List, during the 45th session of the World Heritage Committee held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on September 17. The ancient temple, also known as Lingapura or Chok Gargyar, is located in

  • Famed US collector family return artefacts to Cambodia

    In the latest repatriation of ancient artefacts from the US, a total of 33 pieces of Khmer cultural heritage will soon return home, according to the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts. In a September 12 press statement, it said the US Attorney’s Office for the

  • Cambodia set to celebrate Koh Ker UNESCO listing

    To celebrate the inscription of the Koh Ker archaeological site on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, the Ministry of Cults and Religion has appealed to pagodas and places of worship to celebrate the achievement by ringing bells, shaking rattles and banging gongs on September 20. Venerable

  • Kampot curfew imposed to curb ‘gang’ violence

    Kampot provincial police have announced measures to contain a recent spike in antisocial behaviour by “unruly’ youth. Officials say the province has been plagued by recent violence among so-called “gang members”, who often fight with weapons such as knives and machetes. Several social observers have

  • PM outlines plans to discuss trade, policy during US visit

    Prime Minister Hun Manet is set to meet with senior US officials and business leaders during his upcoming visit to the US for the UN General Assembly (UNGA), scheduled for September 20. While addressing nearly 20,000 workers in Kampong Speu province, Manet said he aims to affirm

  • Manet touches down in Beijing for high-level meetings

    Prime Minister Hun Manet arrived in Beijing on September 14 for his first official visit to China, where he is slated to attend the 20th China-ASEAN Expo and meet other leaders including Chinese President Xi Jinping. Upon his arrival, Manet laid a wreath at the Monument