By Maneka Gandhi* Union Minister for Women & Child Development.
Shaktimaan, the police horse, will probably be the deciding factor in the Uttarakhand elections.
Is Shaktimaan the first animal to be killed by Indian protestors? No. It has become fashionable for rabble-rousers to use animals to get media attention. Donkeys, cows, bullocks, poultry are driven by mobs and often die because of the ill treatment of the mob.
But, at the end of the day, wanton cruelty sickens us, and both Nirbhayaa and Shaktimaan have become symbols of innocent victimhood.
Nirbhayaa led to an important Juvenile Justice Act. Millions of people and the entire media have been asking for Shaktimaan’s death to lead to higher penalties for cruelty. Now it ranges from Rs.10 – Rs.50.
So, let me appeal to the Home Minister. Why are we using horses at all in the Indian police service? What purpose do they serve ?
The man who looked after Shaktimaan can give a dozen interviews saying he was his friend and co-soldier. But three years down the line he would have shot him himself – as they do retired horses; Or Shaktimaan would have been abandoned on the road to die of neglect; Or sold in his old age to people who use white horses for weddings. And for the few years left to him he would have had to walk thirty miles a day, wear decorations on his face, had his teeth smashed in by reins being held too tightly, had his eardrums punctured by the deafening sound of baraat music, been pushed by merrymakers, had to sleep standing in the rain and cold on the road, been hit by passing cars.
So, let us dismiss the false tears of Shaktimaan’s handler. Dozens of 17 year old horses are abandoned by the police every year and horrible things happen to them – if they are not shot. The reason that the police give is that they are very expensive to keep and there are no facilities to keep retired horses.
Let us look at a more permanent solution. Why don’t the police stop using horses?
Why do we have them? Because the British use horses in England and they brought the custom to India and all the countries they occupied. They used them for crowd control.
This was at a time when there were few roads, no cars and regular resistance during the freedom movement. We now have roads, vehicles, water-cannons, tear gas, arms and no riots of that kind.
Why do the British still have horses?
They look good. Tourists like them. Mounted police escort the Royal Household Cavalry every morning from their barracks in Hyde Park to Horse Guards Parade. And they come in handy when the football fans riot every year. They are perhaps only used seriously to break up football crowds, because even the most drunk football enthusiast will not mess with a baton wielding policeman on a huge big horse. There is the extra benefit of being able to survey the entire area and to direct ground officers to a section of a crowd to stop a fight before it even starts. The Police Horse essentially acts as a mobile platform, allowing the police to survey the crowd and move around easily to get a closer look at what is going on whilst still being able to talk to people in the crowds. The police say that 99% of the time their presence calms people down. Most people like horses, and many want to pat the horse on the nose. The same people who would happily smash a beer bottle over a cop’s head would never do the same to a horse.
Canada also has mounted police, though they are gradually disbanding them. They are entirely ceremonial and, again, a leftover of the British Raj, as the last riot in Canada was in the early 1920s.
The French Maréchaussée—the first national police force in a modern sense—were a corps of completely mounted constabulary in the early 18th century. Poor roads and extensive rural areas made horse-mounted police a necessity in the European states until the early 20th century. The establishment of organized law-enforcement bodies throughout Africa, Asia and the Americas, during the colonial eras, made the concept of horse-police accepted in 49 countries in the 1800s. (In Cape Town, the reasons given now for the horse police stems from the problem of police officers sleeping in their cars on duty.) Now, most countries have stopped.
America in the 1800s was rural and crimes, like stolen livestock, were a big part of police work. Many cities in the United States had mounted units. But by 2010 most of these mounted units have either been downsized or disbanded. Units in Boston and San Diego, Newark, Philadelphia, Hartford, Connecticut, Portland, Charleston, Tulsa, Camden, Houston, have all gone. It is too expensive to keep them and they serve very little purpose. Hours are spent getting the horses ready, travelling with them to the post and then getting them bedded down. Rarely do they spend more than a few hours on patrol. The expenses for training, feeding, stabling, and outfitting for a single police horse are huge. And horse units, usually deployed at large public events, perform poorly on accountability metrics like arrest rates. They have been replaced with other good, solid policing techniques. According to US police chiefs “The mounted patrol is largely ornamental. The primary justification for the unit is crowd control. But marauding crowds have not been a major source of crime for quite some time. It is a lot less expensive for us to operate cars, motorcycles and electric vehicles than it is to maintain the housing, feed and care for the animals”. New York had 130 officers and 125 horses. Now it is left with 79 officers and 60 horses. And there are signs Mayor Bill de Blasio’s high-profile campaign against the city’s “inhumane” horse-drawn carriages could extend to the NYPD’s mounted unit.
The horse police of Delhi was ordered to be disbanded by Police Commissioner Y S Dadwal. It didn’t happen. His successor in the late 90s, bought 40 stallions. The horses are brought out at ceremonial functions such as Independence Day and Delhi Police Raising Day. They camp outside hotels when heads of states come, patrol India Gate on weekends and outside Feroze Shah Kotla grounds when cricket matches take place. For the past decade no new horse has been inducted into the unit, which has 44 horses left against a sanctioned strength of 95. 41 are kept in the stable yard in North Delhi’s Civil Lines area, while three are at the Kalkaji police station in South Delhi. These horses cannot be used in any place with heavy traffic so they are mainly walked about on pavements. Police officers say that their use, even in crowd control, is limited because of heavy brick-batting and use of bombs by unruly protestors. And how often do we have riots? The cost of each horse comes to over a lakh a month. For each horse, there is a handler who belongs to the constable or head constable rank. The present strength of the police unit is 75 constables, 22 head constables and two sub-inspectors. In 2005, horses on law and order duties were used for a total of 10,173 hours. By 2012, the year for which figures are last available, horses were used for 1,672 hours.
Police forces in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Kolkata, Kerala, Karnataka, Uttarakhand have mounted police units. Gujarat has the largest number with 606 animals in 2013. The Karnataka police has 90 horses, and 50 officers and handlers, used mainly during the Dasara festival.
The horses used abroad have specially made horseshoes, or rubber soles, in place of standard steel horseshoes which can slip on pavements. Horses working in riot control wear facial armour, made of perspex. The riders are equipped with especially long wooden or polycarbonate batons for use on horseback, as standard patrol batons would have insufficient length to strike individuals at ground level. We have none of this.
Romantics have a nostalgic attachment to police horses. But they are a costly bit of sentimentality .The police can use that money to modernize, or to make the lives of their human units better.
The horses would be much better off if the police gave them to the forest department and made them patrol wildlife parks which are being raped by poachers of trees and animals. Most parks just have a single vehicle to patrol and even this is difficult due to the lack of roads.
*About the author: Maneka Sanjay Gandhi is a Member of Parliament and leader of animal welfare movement in India. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org