Mumbai: Female patrol squad can't ride bikes

The 3-month training the 'Charlies' (as they are called) received is not enough for them to handle the old and heavy bikes, which has led to two accidents since the squad was formed last month; safety concerns and long duty hours have also posed hurdles to the team

When Mumbai had got its first squad of woman beat marshals aka Charlies on August 20, mid-day had reported how an accident just after they were flagged off had ensured a rocky start for the women. It turns out that, just over a fortnight into the squad’s existence, the ride has only gotten bumpier.

Also read: Induction over, woman beat marshal from Mumbai rams bike into divider

Long duty hours, postings away from their respective police stations and concerns about the women’s safety have cropped up as hurdles, but the biggest bump of all is that most of the 205-strong squad can’t even ride the bikes they are supposed to patrol on.

The marshals were flagged off by actor Rani Mukherji and Home Minister R R Patil on August 20. Pics/Sameer Markande
The marshals were flagged off by actor Rani Mukherji and Home Minister R R Patil on August 20. Pics/Sameer Markande

“The women, who couldn’t even ride bicycles, were trained to ride motorcycles in three months. The situation is such that most of us are not even confident enough to handle our bikes in Mumbai’s traffic, making chasing a thief or a chain snatcher in crowded areas almost impossible,” said a member of the squad.

mid-day report on August 21
mid-day report on August 21

Officials from the Mumbai police admitted that the bikes given to the Charlies are too heavy for them. The bikes are also old and have been retouched. These problems, and the lack of training, resulted in a marshal, who led the team on the parade ground during their August 20 induction, running the bike over a divider near Marine Lines immediately after the function.

While the woman was unhurt in this case, another such accident took place in the jurisdiction of Pant Nagar police station less than a week later, in which both the rider and pillion rider were injured. “They say they have given training in riding a bike, karate, use of small arms, public relations and law to the women in three months. How can anyone learn all that in such a short span?” a police official had remarked to mid-day during the time of their induction.

Problems abound
Another Charlie said, “We have to work in 12-hour shifts. Most of us are married, and juggling housework and police duty is difficult enough without such long hours. Also, most of us are upset with the postings we have got. When we were picked to be trained for the squad from various police stations, it was a proud moment for us. But, after the training, we were posted in places completely different from our original police stations.”

The women’s security is also a concern, which is allegedly preventing the Mumbai Police from posting them on night duty. “Their security is a concern for the department and, thus, we had to exempt them night patrolling. If the squad’s security is going to be a concern, there is no point in having such units,” said a senior police official.

Failed experiment
Around the beginning of the decade, former Mumbai police Commissioner Ranjit Singh Sharma had started a system of beat marshaling wherein a male and a female officer in blue uniforms roamed the city to control street crime.

“However that system was criticised and questions were raised about how a male and female constable could roam together on a bike. Many of the officers had started behaving like couples and the system was stopped in six months,” added an officer.

Police speak
When contacted, DCP and police spokesperson Dhananjay Kulkarni said, “There is talk going on at the higher levels to start night patrolling by these woman beat marshals. As and when the recruitment increases, we will be starting that as well.”

On the training issue, a senior police official had earlier told mid-day, “The three-month training given to these beat marshals was in addition to the six months of training that constables have to go through. They have been given the best-possible training.”

August 20
The day RR Patil inducted 205 female beat marshals into the force (pic below). The same day, one of the marshals, Poonam Mohite, lost control of her bike near Meghdoot flyover close to Marine Lines and rammed it into a divider

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