Reaction & Response

Initially when the politicians saw policemen holding meetings in streets & squares, they raised their eyebrows.  But when the middle rank politicians realized that the common man was taking interest and supporting this scheme, they too joined the meetings. There is no partiality in Mohalla committee.  All parties have equal status.  When they realized that no political leader presided over the Mohalla meeting, even the first and second rung political leaders gave up their resistance.  On the contrary they praised the scheme.

Media received the scheme very well and was full of praise.  Of course, there are always some exceptions in the media.  Small newspapers & reporters lacking enlightenment initially criticized the scheme.  Their opposition gradually waned.  This was a special feature worth note.

Police & the people started frequently meeting each other in the Mohalla committees.  The common man got direct access to senior officers.  This naturally hurt the middlemen & tout, who lost their business.  Petty cases and civil disputes got resolved in Mohalla Committee.  Few fresh civil cases were filed in the courts.  This caused apprehension among the lawyers.  “If Mr. Khopade lasts here for a few years, our business is going to dry up,” remarked some lawyers.

Their remarks were slightly exaggerated of course, but the number of civil suits and criminal cases in the courts did in fact started declining.  I had the same experience in the other districts where I introduced the scheme subsequently.

Political leaders with communal leanings publicly criticized the scheme.  Their vested interests in communal riots were badly hurt.  Who would accept their communal leadership if there were no communal riots?  If there was no apprehension of communal riots how were they to garner votes & capture power?

I used to take combined meetings of 2-3 Mohalla committees.  Huge tents were erected on open ground in the Mohalla and loud speakers were arranged.  Some enthusiastic worker would make repeated announcements that I was going to personally address the meeting.  The committees vied with each other for more impressive meetings.  First half an hour would pass in garlanding my colleagues and me.  They did so on their own.  The florists were stocking more flowers in advance.  The members would arrange a community feast at the end of the meeting.  Parts of Bhivandi are so filthy, that one would lose all appetite by just walking around some of those lanes.  However the members would exhort me so much that I could not decline their invitation.  Gradually I got used to the dirty environment and had no qualms about squatting down with them for the meal.

Low attendance for the meetings

Initially there was very good attendance at the Mohalla committee meetings. Anybody could attend the meeting along with the members.  Hence, there was heavy attendance. The Commisioner of Police, Thane was invited for Mohalla committee meeting at Nadi naka.  More than 10,000 attended that meeting.  However the attendance started waning.  The heavy initial attendance followed by gradual decline was experienced in other district also. 

My colleagues implored, “Sir, let us cancel Mohalla committee meetings.   At least lets reduce the frequency. Instead of every fortnight, let us make it bimonthly, or only on the eve of important festivals”.  I have also had the experience of thinner attendance.  I arranged a meeting at the same Nadi naka where 10,000 persons had turned up six months ago.  The meeting was arranged at 6 P.M.  I got a ring from the Inspector at 6 P.M.  “Sir, Please come at 7 p.m. instead of six.”  He rang up for the third time.  “Sir please came at 8 P.M. instead of 7.  I got fed up waiting in the office and proceeded to the meeting place.  I had guessed the reason for repeated request for delay.  The attendance must be short of the Inspector’s expectation.  I reached the meeting place.  Guess how many were present?  Just two of them! One of them was a mullah who was about to leave for Namaj.  The second was an urchin in shorts!  A tea kettle was lying in the corner.

I met the same experiences wherever I started the scheme.  Colleagues used to request for cancellation of meetings due to low attendance.  Nevertheless I urged them to hold the meetings.  I used to cite the example of the legislative assembly.  Everybody is keen to become an MLA.  Who wouldn’t want to grace a position of such respect and power?  They spend lavishly and work extremely hard to get elected as an MLA.  But do all of them willingly attend the assembly when it is in session or when important discussions are being discussed?  Not at all!  A whip is appointed to ensure their presence for voting on important bills.

Sometimes the Superintendent of Police is contacted by phone and asked to summon the MLA’s in his area.  This means that not even the MLA elected after hard toil & immense expenditure is in a position to attend all the meetings.  So then how could we expect an honorary non-official to attend every meeting of the Mohalla Committee?  I used this example for removing doubts in the minds of my colleagues.  They would have to go to the residence of the absentee member and get his signature on the register.  I used to insist on the signature of every single member.  This ensured a constant rapport between the policemen and the members.  It ensured exchange of ideas & information. Local intelligence about the happenings in the area was secured.  The fact that policemen come to his house for his signature built up his self-esteem.  Such a man, though he may not attend the meeting, became a friend of the police forever.  He became their sympathiser & informant.  He attended meeting whenever there was communal tension in the town or on the eve of important communal festival.

Going to the residence of the member for taking his signature does not lower the prestige of the constable.  On the country the member respected them.  It developed an affinity in them.

An officer of the Intelligence Bureau working there opined that such intimacy would nullify the awe and terror of the police and prove to be detrimental to the police.  Our experience was just the opposite from that of this narrow-minded officer who functioned like a horse with blinders.  The days of establishing peace by terrorising the common man were over.  But who would explain this to the orthodox officer from the Intelligence Bureau?  Public contact facilitated policing.