Did you know that the first documented evidence of policing in India was recorded in one of Sanskrit’s most prodigious literary works? Sudraka’s Mrichchakatika, written in the fifth century or Kalidasa’s Abhijnana Shakuntalam believed to be written between the first and fourth centuries were the first pieces of literature to speak about a police system in ancient India.
While our greatest epics the Ramayana and Mahabharata provide very little information about the policing measures of the era when they were written, Chankaya’s seminal work Arthashastra describes at length the police system prevailing at the time. Communal peace, espionage, retributive justice, watch and ward were the most important duties of the police, and commissioners were called Nagara Pala or Kota Pala, meaning guardian of the city.
Noopur Kumar, author of the newly released book Journey of the Hyderabad City Police, discovers many fascinating nuggets of information about the policing system prevalent in India in ancient times, apart from chronicling the journey of the police force in the 400-year-old city of Hyderabad.
The scope of the book
Journey of the Hyderabad City Police is a treasure trove of information about all things related to the city police and gives details about the Kotwals of the Qutb Shahi Era (started in 1518) to the city police under the Nizams (from 1713) and gives us a peek into the legendary figures of Hyderabad Police like Raja Venkatrama Reddy, who served as Kotwal for 14 years starting from 1920, to Nawab Deen Yar Jung Bahadur who is credited for revamping the police department in 1944.
The author confesses that she was skeptical about writing a book on an unfamiliar subject and started exhaustive research, which included combing the State archives, private collections and the library at the National Police Academy for details. Speaking about her discoveries, she said, “The ancient texts speak a lot about the police structure, but the Mughals really used the concept of the Kotwal (commissioner) to the best use for maintaining law and order. Speaking specifically about Hyderabad, though sadly there isn’t much information about the reign of the Qutb Shahi kings, the Nizams and especially Sir Salarjung I, the Prime Minister of the sixth Nizam who adopted the British arrangement of policing created a structured police force unknown to Hyderabad.”
Anjani Kumar, the co-author of the book and Additional Commissioner of Police, Law and Order, Hyderabad City, says that a lot of changes have taken place after the Telangana state was formed and the book captures that transformation. He adds, “Hyderabad is a unique state which encompasses both traditional and modern elements. The old city is different from the newer parts where IT Parks have sprung up, and policing is changing with the times.” Kumar, a former student of history from Delhi University, calls writing the rekindling of an old passion, and the book has a mix of both his personal and professional interests.
The Hyderabad City Police is one of the oldest in the country, when it was formally ordained in 1847, though there is evidence of its existence earlier. Only Chennai predates it, going back to 1659, while it took shape in Kolkata only in 1856.
A look into the past
The Nizams, who ruled the city from 1713 till India achieved Independence, had a structured police force consisting of irregular troops comripising Rohillas, Sikhs, Sowars, Nizamats and village servants to perform the duties. The structure was revamped in 1865-66, and since then the Kotwal was appointed to maintain order.
A privileged position, the Kotwal had direct access to the Nizam and was given immense importance in the durbar. In 1901 a police training school was established, and in 1906 a number of buildings were constructed to house the chowki (police station) and outposts.
Noopur Kumar says that the Kotwal had an important duty to play during the reign of the Nizams. "He was chosen from the nobility and was a trusted aide of the Nizam. Because the place was communally sensitive, the Kotwal had a defined role and far-reaching powers.”
Modern day innovations
What makes the book relevant is the clear information given about the inner workings of the modern day duties of the police – whether it is traffic management, their use of technology, automation, training personnel in soft skills and monitoring crime, including analysing CCTV camera footage.
While most of the core workings of the police are similar to what Chankaya outlined in Arthashastra, the penetration of the Internet has expanded its scope, which include tackling crimes ranging from cyber bullying and fraud to being an instrument of policing online.
Kumar has interviewed 12 ex-commissioners of the city for the book. She explains that technology has changed the way the police functions, “I think the police today have incorporated technology into their daily routine. From body-worn cameras to updating traffic jams on Facebook, they are very tech-savvy. The video wall in the commissioner’s office is connected to the entire city. The facilities are state of art.”
Through her research, the author dug out interesting information, such as the fact that the city today has 1,00,000 cameras or that up until the late 70s, Hyderabad only has 3 traffic lights – at Abids, MJ Market and Secunderabad!
Anjani Kumar says that every aspect of the modern day living has an imprint of police. “The reach and penetration of the police today is very wide. Hawk Eye, the app launched by the police, empowers every citizen and we have an exclusive app, HYDCOP, for internal use. The police department has been at the forefront of modernisation.”
As a story told through pictures
What makes the book appealing is the usage of images, both archival and new, to take the story forward. From images of policemen from over a century ago (from the archives of Chowmahalla and Falaknuma Palaces) to the many candid shots which capture the police personnel in their everyday environment, the pictures bring the story to life.
The man behind the pictures, D Ravinder Reddy who is one of the city’s most popular photographers, reveals that he has submitted over 20,000 pictures for the book, out of which a little over 200 were used. Reddy says that his concern was to ensure that the pictures were interesting, considering that the subject was serious. “My only challenge was to make the book visually appealing. We took a lot of candid shots and captured the police at work. Apart from using just shots of people, we captured events in Hyderabad like the Bonalu and Bathukamma festivals where the police form an important part in maintaining order. Both the police and the city they protect have been showcased in the book,” he says.
Presenting a different dimension
Policing in India is mostly a thankless job with the common perception of abuse of power and intimidation. The book presents a more humane side to the people in uniform. Kumar says that Hyderabad, a communally sensitive city, wouldn’t have been what it is without its police. She says, “There is no time for a crime and these people work 24 x 7. It’s a hard life and the notion that all police officers are corrupt isn’t true. Which system doesn’t have its flaws? There is a lot which goes into making a city safe, and these people are integral to it.”
Anjani Kumar disagrees that it’s a thankless job. “People always had trust in the institution. There is a cop in every citizen too, and we want this inner cop to come to the fore so that it is mutually beneficial to society.”
The difference between regular policing seen through the centuries and now is the importance given to the handling of cyber crimes. With the city of Hyderabad currently building a state-of-the-art multi-agency operation center on the lines of the best command centers in the world, the Hyderabad Police aims to tackle cyber crimes deftly.
Updated Date: Feb 07, 2018 11:26 AM