One of the many different ways in which Rotary is changing the face of India can be seen from the rapid response of Rotarians from the Rotary Club of Bombay Hanging Garden (RCBHG), District 3141, to a most basic need from the women traffic cops of Mumbai. The need to have a safe and decent toilet and changing room.
Mumbai city has 34 traffic chowkies and in March 2016, DCP (Traffic) Anil Kumbhare told Rotarians from RC Bombay Hanging Garden that while everybody, including the Government, wants to increase the representation of women in the police force, the reality is that in many of the traffic chowkies there isn’t even the most basic facility, such as a toilet, for the women cops. He also said that in most places even a tiny room was not available for them to rest or change clothes.
“He asked us, can you do something about this,” recalls Rtn Dilip Shah, a member of the club, who also represents the NGO Premlata Vandravan Shah Charities (PVSC), which partnered the club in this project. Following this interaction, a survey was done on where these facilities were most needed, “as also where it was possible to do something”. About 10–15 per cent of traffic cops in Mumbai are women.
In Mumbai many of the traffic chowkies are located under flyovers, and about 17 places were identified where it was possible to provide these facilities.
Club President Sandeep Reshamwalla said that in the first phase of the project, “half of the traffic chowkies of Mumbai were provided with separate mobile toilets for women, with changing rooms where possible. Additional mobile toilets for traffic policemen were also provided at some chowkies.”
Where containers were available, they were refurbished with requisite insulation to convert them into cabins and rest rooms for the women cops. During installation, sewage lines, water connection, electricity etc were all attended to.
To give this story a human face, let us cut across to Senior Police Inspector Vijayalaxmi Hiremath. She had earlier come into contact with Dilip Shah when “I was posted at Bandra and they had come to distribute 100 fluorescent jackets on August 15.” Two months ago, when she was posted to the Dadar chowkie, she was horrified to find the conditions under which the nine women traffic cops in her 100-member team worked. “First of all, our duty is for 12 hours but during many special occasions such as VIP bandobust duty, we work for much longer hours. Among the nine women, two were pregnant and they had no toilet to go to. I suffered the same fate.”
She explains that Dadar is a very crowded place right in the heart of Mumbai — the Siddhi Vinayak Temple, Shivaji Park are all here. “I had no washroom, no place to even sit and eat; I was in tears,” says Vijayalaxmi.
When she asked the women cops how they managed, “they told me they go to some private offices to relieve themselves or change clothes. And often they have night duty. You can imagine the safety issue involved here. So they would take a male constable with them, which again is very uncomfortable for any woman.”
She made an SOS call to Dilip Shah, and he immediately came to the rescue. “I told him it is an emergency-like situation and he came the very next day.” She went on leave for two weeks, and when she returned, she was astonished to find that the old container they had was transformed into a neat and clean rest-cum-changing room. “The result was that with these new facilities, we were able to do with ease all the planning for Ganapati Pooja and visarjan sitting in the comfortable rest room the Rotarians had given us.”
I can sense her broad smile in the long-distance tete-a-tete we are having on the phone!
But as luck would have it, she was soon transferred out of Dadar, and that was “due to the representation I had made for a transfer, stating the terrible conditions at the Dadar chowkie,” she grins. She is now transferred to Byculla which has very good facilities, but is happy that she was able to give her colleagues a comfortable working environment thanks to the help from Rotarians. “I don’t have words to thank the Rotarians of Mumbai; considering what they have done for us, the women police, ‘thanks’ is a very small word. But to express my gratitude we are going to invite Dilipbhai to be the chief guest at a rally we are planning,” she adds.
Shah explains that many of Mumbai’s traffic chowkies are located under flyovers. “Earlier the Supreme Court had ordered the clearing of the space beneath the flyovers/bridges, but special cases are allowed.” And there are no two opinions that the traffic police require basic facilities to perform their duties effectively. He adds that some of the containers/cubicles available to them are only 4×4 ft, while others are 4×6 ft. “In the latter we are able to provide a toilet as well as some space for changing. But in Dadar, they had a container that was 8×20 ft, so we were able to refurbish it and do it up really well, and all the police officers, including the top bosses, were very happy with the facilities.”
D 3141 DG Gopal Rai Mandhania thanks “the dedicated team of Rotarians comprising Dilip Shah, Amrish Daftary and Digant Shah from RCBHG for working so hard on this project to ensure its completion in record time of 45 days to benefit the chowkies spread over the western and eastern suburbs of the city. In all, 18 mobile toilets and two refurbished cabins were installed, and our work was applauded by the Commissioner of Police Datta Padsalgikar, who inaugurated the project at the Azad Maidan traffic chowkie”.
The benefits and importance of this project can be gauged from the fact that the CP was joined by Joint CP (Traffic) Milind Barambhe, Additional CP (Traffic) Sunil Paraskar and Deputy CP (Traffic) Anil Kumbhare. The CP in his speech thanked the Club President Sandeep Reshamwalla and Dilip Shah.
DG Mandhania said the RCBHG has always worked for police benefit, and had earlier distributed fluorescent jackets and masks to combat pollution, and had “silently done great projects such as the Jaipur foot and cataract operations.”