Every hour, hundreds of messages criss-cross over the Mumbai police’s secure wireless network, each one coded to reach specific personnel. The Mumbai police commissioner is King, a senior inspector is Peter and Charlie is a beat constable.
Four months ago, the department decided to give its women beat constables a more suitable name – or call sign in police parlance – and Charlie became Damini.
But senior police officers are averse to using it. “We don’t know who changed the call sign or why. This nomenclature is too filmy for the work profile of women constables given serious assignments,” said a top Mumbai police functionary, not wishing to be named.
“We don’t think this will last. If tomorrow, the call sign of the police commissioner is changed from ‘King’ to ‘Shehenshah’, who will accept it?”
The change in name was meant to add value to the profile of women cops, according to Balkrishna Yadav, deputy commissioner of police (DCP), wireless. “‘Damini’ stands for women’s empowerment, ‘Charlie’ lacked that punch,” he said.
Yadav told HT the change was effected in March this year. “Top bosses in the offices of the Director General of Police (DGP) and the Commissioner of Police (Mumbai) decided to change the call sign to ‘Damini’. The message was then conveyed to police stations across the state to make the necessary changes. We have made it a uniform practice now.”
So, ‘Damini’ is now officially the call sign for the battalion of women commandos – first raised by former additional commissioner of police, central region, Qaisar Khalid in 2012 to tackle chain-snatching and street violence against women. Khalid drew women constables from police stations, made them undergo rigorous, unarmed combat training at a police ground in Chembur and finally picked the best to form a battalion of 47 commandos. They were to look after women’s safety. The scheme became successful and significantly brought down instances of street crimes.
Soon, other police regions in the city began following Khalid’s model, and the number of trained women commandos grew to 207. In 2014, the police commissioner Rakesh Maria and former home minister RR Patil decided to allot at least two of these trained commandos to each of the city’s 93 police stations. They were given motorcycles and they patrolled areas with schools and colleges and isolated spots to keep a watch on women and children. Their duties also included preventing chain-snatching and responding to emergency calls on the dedicated helpline for women, senior citizens and children.
At the time, the women beat marshals were given the same wireless call sign as their male counterparts, Charlie.
All was well till February this year, when cities such as Pune, Kolhapur, Aurangabad, Nagpur, Bhandara and even Phaltan started emulating the Mumbai model and raised their own squads.
“Suddenly, names like Nirbhaya mobile police team, Damini squad and Ranragini squad were heard over the state police wireless network. This added to the confusion,” said a senior official from the DG’s office.
“The call signs lacked uniformity and this chaos still continues,” he said.
HT too found that the confusion still reigns: some officers are averse to using the new call sign, some others are simply unaware, but at all police stations, using the name is common practice.
Mumbai police commissioner Dattatreya Parsalgikar sought to brush aside a direct question about the confusion. “I’ll have to check. Anyway, their work remains the same, irrespective of the name,” he said.
A woman beat constable from a central suburb police station called the change in call sign unnecessary and said it had no effect on her work.
“Why should we have a call sign in Hindi? It sticks out over the channel ( wireless) when spoken along with the other English names,” she said. It’s not a just about assigning a name to a profile, but respecting that profile too, she added.
A former Mumbai police commissioner, reacting to the change from ‘Charlie’ to ‘Damini’, said: “Now the night round inspector should be called ‘Batman’ or ‘Spiderman’”. The former top cop requested anonymity to avoid criticism.
CODE IT LIKE A COP: THE CALL SIGNS THE MUMBAI POLICE USE
Police: Director General of Police (DGP)
King: Mumbai police commissioner.
Damini: Woman beat marshal
Peter: Senior inspector of a police station
Able sir: Assistant commissioners of police (ACPs) in divisions
Zonal sir: Zonal deputy commissioners of police (DCPs)
Region sir: Additional commissioners of police (AdCPs) in the region
L&O sir: Joint commissioner of police (Law and Order)
Admin sir: Joint commissioner of police (Administration)
Traffic sir: Joint commissioner of police (Traffic)
Crime sir: Joint commissioner of police (Crime)
Detection sir: Deputy commissioner of police (Detection)
Zonal night round: An inspector on the night patrolling duty
Region night round: An ACP on the night patrolling duty
(The wireless call signs of all officials, including those put on visiting VVIPs security duty, are subject to change, except for the police commissioner)
WHAT IS A CALL SIGN?
Security forces around the world have developed their own phonetic codes for clear and seamless communication over the wireless