Saturday, September 10, 2011

August 15 1947 when Briton AE Caffin, IP, handed over the ceremonial key of the city to his batchmate in the Police Training School, JS Bharucha, IP,

The other independence

By: Fiona Fernandez  
Even as Mumbai readies to celebrate India's 65th Independence Day on August 15, a lesser-known but significant fact marking the same day in 1947 was that the metropolis got its first Indian police chief. Sunday Mid Day hit the rewind button to relive the honourable handover, peppered with several vignettes from those sepia-toned days of horseback patrols and white uniforms
BY the mid-1940s, the city was in euphoria. After all, the British were to leave the country. The freedom struggle was at its pinnacle. On October 1, 1945 Greater Bombay was born when Bombay City (Colaba to Mahim and VT to Sion) was amalgamated with the Bombay Suburban District (Bandra, Santacruz, Andheri, Kurla and Ghatkopar). Hope was filled in the air..."

Police constable, Bombay City: 1900

Sixty two year-old city historian and author of Mumbai Police (2007) Deepak Rao has created a fairly engaging visual of the time, as he leafs through archival material, at a morning meeting in his Marine Lines apartment.
On August 15, when Briton AE Caffin, IP, handed over the ceremonial key of the city to his batchmate in the Police Training School, JS Bharucha, IP, it wasn't just another transfer, says Rao.

"It was a big event for Bombay. The grace with which Caffin left was extremely honourable, such that it was recorded by an Indian, VG Kanetkar, IP, then DCP Headquarters, Bombay."

Winds of change
Mumbai's cops can take heart. Back in the 1660s, their predecessors, the Bhandaris (palm tree tappers by profession) constituted a sizeable chunk of the city's (then seven islands) first police force. These early upholders of the law kept a close watch on petty crimes, ran night vigils and had to contend with gangs in the woods that covered the islands.

Mumbai had just emerged as a dot on the world map, in the form of dowry given to King Charles II, a sort of politico-marital alliance, with Catherine of Braganza.

Since those medieval times, the police force has remained integral and intertwined with the city's psyche, and at the heart of its very existence.

Of Caffin's handover, VG Kanetkar writes in his records (reproduced in Rao's book): "Like almost all British officers then serving in India, he had opted for the compensation offered by the Government and decided to quit the country in the middle of his career. He was in his office throughout the day, disposed every pending file, did all other necessary work, and then gracefully handed over charge in the evening (August 14, 1947) to Mr JS Bharucha, IP, the first Indian Police Commissioner of Greater Bombay."

As a mark of respect, he did not return to his palatial residence, Corsley Bungalow on 23 Ridge Hall (BG Kher Marg), now Sahyadri Guesthouse, says Rao. Instead, he stayed on a ship off the harbour, until his departure for London.

In fact, before handing over power, Caffin had already sanctioned the appointment of the first lady Sub-Inspector of Police, Shanti Parwani, on August 1, 1947. Well before Bharucha could take over; Indian officers were already stepping into the higher ranks of the force. Kanetkar, NM Kamte, JD Nagarvala were some of the bigwigs in the force. Kamte's seniority lost him the chance to become Bombay's police chief. Instead, he was promoted to IG, Bombay Province and stationed in Pune. Bharucha, who was brought to Bombay served as Deputy Commissioner of Police (Crime Branch) for 14 days (1.8.1947-14.8.1947) before he took over.

Interestingly, Kamte, Caffin and Bharucha were batchmates and had appeared for their police exams together, in 1923. Bharucha was an Oxonian and both came to India from England, shares Rao.

Man in the hot seat
Bharucha belonged to a wealthy family from Surat. His previous postings included Godhra, Bijapur and Sindh. On Independence Day, when he took over, he had fellow Parsi, JD (Jimmy) Nagarvala as his right hand (IP, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Special Branch). Bharucha had to contend with the dark days that followed the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, more so because the plot was hatched in the city (see box). He was also grappling with the refugee problem that emerged as a consequence of the Partition.

Rao, who had the privilege of meeting Bharucha in 1975 in Pune, reminisces, "He was a bachelor, loved dogs and was a boxing champion of his time. At work, he was hampered by the 'one state-one force' policy that was gathering momentum during his tenure. By 1949, a bill was introduced to combine both forces, i.e. the Bombay State Police and the Bombay City Police. As soon as he learnt about the ruling, that the CP would now be subordinate to the IG of Police, he stepped down honourably and eased out of the Bombay police force. He couldn't accept the overlordship of Kamte."

Bharucha moved on to join as DIG, Northern Range, Ahmedabad from where he retired, eventually.

While the unpopular Bombay Police Act was implemented in 1951, it remains in force till today. Rao, who has been a keen observer of the changes across the force for decades, feels an uneasy calm continues and it is obvious in the working relationship between the two entities today, too.

"Look at the Kolkata (then Calcutta) force. The city Police Chief is independent of the DG of Police of West Bengal. Besides, officers of the city force were unhappy about transfers -- they were sent to far-off districts while their counterparts were posted in the city. Even their uniforms were different. It wasn't a pleasant scenario," says Rao.

Changing times
Sixty four years is a long time. More so for Mumbai's police force and its commissioners. And we weren't ready for the no-holds barred admission from Rao: "The police has been pandering to new social legislation in the system, through the cyber crime cell and the CAS team. On the one hand, there is this fa ade of being pro-people, and on the other, hard decisions have to be taken at senior levels. Political interference and corruption remain a concern. It's now a politicised force."