Meera Borwankar: Actions speak louder
Learning to live
Scent of a scandal
Mumbai city’s first woman chief of the Crime Branch, Meera Borwankar, 46, is a photographer’s delight. However, while the shutterbugs revel in the image of the attractive police officer, scribes have been hard put to get a word out of the businesslike and circumspect cop. To be a woman police officer in a force that has barely one or two per cent women is unique in itself; but to head an investigative force of 300 police officers is definitely a first.
Mumbai’s Crime Branch is known as the premier department of the city’s police force handling the investigation of organised and white-collar crime, and law enforcement in the megapolis. While it didn’t exactly cover itself with glory during the Mumbai riots in the early 1990s, it has had to deal with the operations of rival underworld gangs remote-controlled by Dawood Ibrahim, Chhota Rajan and even the don-turned-turned-politician Arun Gawli. It has had to grapple with criminal cases against big film financiers like Bharat Shah, the ignominious Prevention of Terrorist Act (POTA) case against Mohammad Afroz and myriad encounters against gangsters by trigger-happy cops who call themselves encounter specialists’.
Borwankar has maintained an extremely low profile since taking over in July 2004. "Strictly no interviews," her personal assistant says, as ‘Madam’ wants to get to grips with her work before she talks to the Press.
Years ago, when she was District Superintendent of Police, Satara (Maharashtra), Borwankar was much more amenable, even naive, with the media. This writer, who met Borwankar in Satara, recalls a surprisingly candid discussion with her on honesty and corruption in the police force.
She said people around her often questioned why she wasn’t part of the regular hafta (weekly bribe) system. As Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime), Borwankar is no stranger to action, chalking up an impressive array of experiences in different departments of the police force. But she took charge at a juncture in Mumbai’ police history when several senior officers of the force had been discredited for their involvement in the Telgi Fake stamps scandal. At least 53 senior police officers (including the ex-police commissioner and a deputy commissioner of police) have been transferred or chargesheeted.
Her immediate concerns are the
extradition of gangsters like Abu Salem and his partner Monica Bedi from
Portugal, Iqbal Mirchi and Tariq Parvin from Dubai and Sharmila Shanbhag
from Germany. Many feel she is on the right track: she is keeping a low
profile unlike her predecessors (she doesn’t like to be invited as a
chief guest for any social function) and is completely apolitical. WFS
Meera Borwankar, the first woman Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime), Mumbai, asserts that women are much more patient, resourceful and capable than men. All they need to do is throw away the yoke of selfdoubt and their own insecurities, she says in an exclusive interview with Vimla Patil
Can a policeman known for her ruthlessness have the infectious smile of a child? Can her eyes shine with energy and happiness? "Yes," says Meera Borwankar. "If you have a clean heart enjoy your work with passion and are transparently honest in your work, your smile automatically becomes eye-catching," she laughs. Though many men may continue to look at Meera’s authoritative position with a tinge of amusement in their eyes, when she chose the Indian Police Service as her career, not many eyebrows were raised. "Before me, Kiran Bedi had already made a name as a brilliant police officer and won the Magsaysay Award for her work among prisoners. So I had only to follow in her illustrious footsteps! I was born and brought up in a small town of the Punjab and educated in Fazilka and Jalandhar. My father was in the Punjab Police and I was used to a police family’s lifestyle. I joined the Indian Police Service after my marriage to a Maharashtrian and then began the journey towards my present position as the Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) for Mumbai.
"I belong to the 1980 batch of IPS officers and was then the only woman in that group. Of course there is opposition to women in the service. There is a typical ‘Jat-style’ male reaction which says: " Go back home" to every woman who pushes her way into the service. But I had guts because in my family, women have always been equal to men. My mother is a postgraduate and my sister is an income tax commissioner. So my foray into the police force was nothing to write home about.
"I have two children and they presently live in Pune with my husband, who is looking after them with family help. Like most women, my marriage too, has had its ups and downs. But mostly, my husband’s worry concerns dangerous mission I have to undertake in the course of my duty. My first posting was in Nasik in 1985. Here I had to raid prostitution addas and bars late at night and return home very late. My husband felt worried about my safety and opposed this job. I convinced him that this was inevitable and I could not choose my postings. Ever since, he has been very supportive."
"Women have regrets which cloud their vision and stop them from making a new start. We have to throw away the baggage of the past, our gender fears and overcome imagined or genuine handicaps. Women are always in leadership positions at home. They have to bring the same confidence to their outside-the-home-life. Women listen more willingly and consult everyone before making an important decision. My experience shows that, comparatively, men are more gossipy and can be crass in their approach to life. Their egos do not allow them to listen to good advice and they like to be autocratic. Yes, I am perceived as soft and gentle. That is a deliberate choice. I believe in situational leadership. In my work in the office, I am as hard as nails and can be ruthless in controllling law and order situations. With friends and family. I am the normal Indian woman — a wife, a mother and friend. There is no conflict between these two roles. I have to put up a facade of official work if I have to be effective!"
Women normally do not offer bribes or other ‘attractions to visiting politicians." Meera was then posted to the Mumbai Port Authority, her first Mumbai posting Later, she became Police Commissioner in the sensitive Dadar-Dharavi area — again a challenging assignment. She worked with the CBI during the Unit Trust of India financial scandal. "Arresting the Chairman of UTI was a memorable achievement for me," she says, "In an emergency, and whenever a law and order situation demands it, I would not hesitate to use my gun!"
"I find women in leadership positions everywhere oppose corruption. The lower level women in all jobs have no courage to confront their bosses. Indeed, in the police force, women ask for training in getting rid of corruption during their orientation courses. But the danger is that officers like me become the showcase of the police force. Whenever a ‘good image’ is needed, we are put before the public."
Learning to live
Colonel Ikram Ullah Khan has devoted his life to educating girls in Pakistani Punjab. Gurvinder Kaur talks to the founder of Avicenna, an NGO that has transformed many lives
While prosperity defines Punjab on the Indian side of the border the same may not hold true for our counterpart in Pakistan. Illiteracy bogs down Pakistani Punjab. The indomitable Punjabi spirit has sought to grapple with the problem by tackling it head-on. The focus of voluntary social work has turned towards eradicating economic backwardness by educating people.
Colonel Ikram Ullah Khan, an ex-serviceman, is a social worker, a journalist and an intellectual— all rolled into one. His vision has transformed the lives of scores of Pakistani children, especially girls.
His NGO, Avicenna Federation of Educational and Social Welfare Societies, has established 400 schools in five districts of Punjab and educated more than 20,000 students free of cost. It has, to its credit, 135 adult literacy and vocational training centres where girls and young women learn stitching. Interestingly, around 70 per cent of the students are female as is the staff.
A small effort has bloomed into a full-fledged army of dedicated workers whose mission in life is to bring Punjabi girls on a par with boys because gender inequality has long been a serious issue in the subcontinent, especially in Pakistan, due to social restrictions imposed on women. The government of Pakistan was motivated to pitch in because Avicenna does not look upto any foreign agency or organisation for aid.
It was due to Avicenna`s ability to sustain itself that the government decided to hand over the schools which were faring badly in district Lahore to it. With strict monitoring by Avicenna`s staff, absentee teachers and errant staff was brought to heel and the organisation met with unqualified success. Not only does Avicenna believe in providing material aid, it also aims to change mindsets. "A progressive outlook is essential to usher in any kind of change," believes Khan, who established the Pakistan National Forum(PNF). This army man served as the Press Secretary to a couple of Pak Prime Ministers after his retirement from the armed services and understands only too well the power of suggestion.
The forum, since 15 years of its inception, has evolved into a think-tank with the top minds of the country in every sphere donating their expertise to the cause of social uplift. PNF organises a monthly seminar on various issues where an effort is made to spread awareness and provide solutions to the problems afflicting the masses. Avicenna personifies the essence of a famous couplet Khan is fond of reciting: Andheri Shab Hai, Judaa Apne Kafile Se hain tu, Tere Liye Hai Mera Shola-e- Nawa Qindeel ( The night is dark and you are separated from the Caravan, for you shines brightly the lamp of my call).
Scent of a scandal
With the resignation of State Industry Minister P.K Kunjalikutty of the Muslim League from the Congress-led United Democratic Front coalition government in the wake of a sensational sex scandal, the curtain falls on the first scene of an on-going political drama. His exit, though long overdue, was as dramatic as its acceptance by Chief Minister Oomman Chandy was inevitable. In his resignation letter submitted to the president of his party, Panakkad Shihab Thangal, Kunjalikutty had understandably avoided all reference to the sex scandal involving him.
The scandal actually goes back to 1996, when a Kozhikode-based NGO headed by former Naxalite leader Ajitha exposed a sex racket run in the city behind the façade of an ice cream parlour. The parlour owner, a middle-aged lady, allegedly lured girls in search of lucre and limelight and offered them to people in position. The list of the clientele included leaders of all parties, primarily the CPM and the Muslim League. One name that figured prominently was that of Kunjalikutty, who was then a minister in the then ruling Congress-led United Democratic Front ministry.
By the time the case reached a crescendo, two things happened. First, the four girls involved in the scandal went back on their original statements implicating, among others, Kunjalikutty, and, second, the Marxist-led Left Democratic Front assumed power following the defeat of the UDF in the assembly polls. In the ensuing court battles, first in the state High Court and later in the Supreme Court, the charges against Kunjalikutty could not stand scrutiny, and, consequently, he was "exonerated."
The legal clearance was attributed to a secret "political understanding" between Kunjalikutty and the Marxist leadership and the resultant doctoring of the police investigation reports that left enough loopholes for the culprits to evidence" about his involvement in the sex scandal. In the division of the ministerial spoils after the Congress-led UDF came to office in the 2001, Kunjalikutty managed to get back the Industry Ministry. In October last, the temporary silence on the scandal was broken when one of the girls involved made a fresh "confession." In an interview that was telecast live, first by one of the channels known to be pro-Muslim League, and later by all, the girl who, incidentally, was a minor at the time of the crime, made two startling revelations; first, that she was "exploited" by Kunjalikutty on three occasions and, second, that she went back on her first statement in which the minister was implicated partly because of pressure from powerful people but largely because of promise of generous financial assistance. She said that her latest decision to come clean was because the promised payment had been stopped. A day later, the same girl once again rescinded the TV statement and accused Ajitha of having pressured her to come out against Kunjalikutty. Since then, she had been making contradictory confessions.
That put Kunjalikutty back in the eye of a revived scandal. His final act of denouement followed weeks of agitation by the CPM-led opposition that witnessed mindless violence seldom seen in the state. There are few takers for Kunjalikutty’s plea of innocence. Two questions keep popping up in political circles. One, of course, is the demonstrated helplessness of the Congress party in general and Chief Minister Oomman Chandy before the mounting demand, even from top party leaders, for Kunjalikutty’s removal. Two, the impact of the scandal on the equations within the ruling UDF and what they mean in terms of the state’s realpolitik.
Ironically, contrary to political calculations, Kunjalikutty has emerged even more powerful after his resignation, one proof of which was the selection of his candidate as his replacement in the cabinet in the teeth of opposition from seemingly powerful leaders like the Union. Minister of State for External Affairs, E. Ahmad. With this one act, Kunjalikutty has virtually thumbed his nose at all his detractors, both inside and outside his party. Indeed, his strength is his closeness to the party president, Panakkad, who also doubles as the spiritual leader of the Muslims.
Many years ago, in the swinging 1970s, a doe-eyed girl from Bangladesh had come and conquered India singing the famous Sufi song also sung by the earthy Reshma. She was Roona Laila and one recalls her singing of Laal Meri Patt Rakhiyo Bala Jhoole Laalan. This winter the Capital saw another dusky belle with big black eyes captivating audiences with the singing of Sufi songs. She is Anusheh Anadil from Dhaka who set up a fusion band called Bangla along with two other music soulmates Ornob and Bune. The band called Bangla has indeed made waves in the two Bengals but this was the first time they played to non-Bangla speaking audiences and came out winners.
While the whole team was appreciated yet Anusheh stood out for her soulful singing and fine timbre of voice. Interestingly, she is the very antithesis of Roona Laila in her clothes and manners. One remembers Roona all dolled up with her hair in a chignon and a glittery sari. On the other hand, Anusheh is as casual as they come in a jeans and jacket with nothing but kohl lining her eyes. She is 27 and a child of her age. Not only does she sing the songs of Lalon Fakir, an 18th century Sufi Baul of Kushtiar in Bangladesh, but she sings her own lyrics too. Her own lyrics too have the Sufi tones for she says: I know not my destination; Yet the pilgrimage I must make. Her journey into fusion was not a planned one. In fact, her parents who were music lovers trained her in Hindustani classical music and Rabindra Sangeet. However, Anusheh says, "As I grew up, I was attracted more to the folk songs of the Baul singers in their spirit and thought. And Western rhythms too appealed to me. So I started making my own music. Then I came across like-minded musicians and out band was born." She was brave enough to take her own decisions and dropped out of college, ": "I abandoned my course in architecture in the second year because I felt that I had no interest in it."
What is interesting is that the young people who hooked to Rock and Hard Metal are appreciating the music made by Bangla. Anusheh says, "Sometimes the purists raise their eyebrows but we are happy that we are taking the songs in our own language to the young. If our traditions have to survive as other than museum pieces they have to change with the times." The ebullient singer adds that Sufi music stands for love and multi-religious existence. Baul songs have a mixture of Vaishnavism, Sufism and Buddhism. "Our music is of universal love and togetherness. It also spread a message against communalism and religious fundamentalism.
For her bread and butter, this young and radical girl runs an ethnic craft shop in Dhaka called Jatra, which is a very popular hangout for the young and trendy. "Everything at Jatra is made by local craftsperson. Well, I love anything that is Bangla!" — ND