Mounting guard on horseback

Gautam Kaul

A news report recently stated that the Maharashtra Police were recalling the use of the police horse for patrol duties in the city, after 87 years. That may have been news for the citizens of the commercial capital, but for us in North India, where horse trading is carried on night after night, it was no news for special cheer.

Periodically, efforts are made in the police departments to rid itself of this animal, which to begin with, was credited with the progress of mankind from shepherds to soldiers at arms. The ordinary policeman always looked forward to riding it on the road to quell riotous crowds. In India, it stood for the majesty of the law on the road.

Punjab never gave up the animal since it first got a glimpse of it some 4,500 years ago, when the animal strayed into the grassy plains from the west of Indus. In Punjab, it always had pride of place.

The animal first proved its worth on the battlefield of Hydaspes (Jhelum) in 326 BC when Porus, King of Taxila, faced a block of 5,000 horses. He was confident his elephants would ride over the equestrian display, but within eight hours, the bloodied local army was fleeing and Porus held a prisoner. The Mughals depended on this animal for their victories, and so did the Marathas and the British in India, who also brought the sport of horse racing for their entertainment.

I introduced the Mounted Police patrolling in Chandigarh in 1977. We had a master rider, S Mohinder Singh, a DSP, who reared the animal at home, and wanted to ride the same into town. I decided we could afford a full platoon strength of 30 animals and moved a proposal to get the Mounted Police for the UT. The approval came in record time. And so, we moved into the ‘zamindara’ land looking for three-year-old fillies and males. The Republic Day parade of 1978 saw the first section strength of the Mounts in the city, riding with their head held high. The unit was led by a re-employed under-officer from the President’s Guard.

But danger lurked elsewhere, when within five years, it was proposed in the National Police Academy, Hyderabad, to dismount IPS trainees from the Mounts altogether. I was then in the staff of the Board Secretariat, and found out who was the proposer. It happened to be the Director, Intelligence Bureau!

I wanted to know of his prejudice against the animal and found that he was afraid of the horse since his training days in Mount Abu. In the next meeting of the board, this secret was disclosed to other members, and the meeting broke into splits. The days of the Mount for officers’ training were saved for future.

With achche din ahead for the Mumbai Police, with its revived love for the animal, it will now rejoin the large contingents of Mounted Police that patrols the streets of New York, London, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, Kolkata and New Delhi; and, of course, City Beautiful!

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