Saturday, December 29, 2012

Policing the Urban Space

In a City, some Urban spaces are always safe, others are not. Sometimes, the urban space becomes a temporal marketplace and the city administrators have to judge whether it will be a safe place for the public or if things may go "out of control".  If they anticipate unsafe conditions, they ensure that the Police will be present there when they are needed. However, the police exercise control in different ways and the urban spaces extend from being 'spaces as containers' to being 'spaces of power' *. I look at one such urban space in Bangalore - the Bull temple road which is pedestrianised for two days for a cultural festival around the Bull temple at Basavanagudi.

The Groundnut Fair (Kadlekai Parishe) that took place this year on December 10th and 11th had all the familiar elements – the Groundnuts, the Vendors, the Public and the Police. We had interviewed a few Police officers on duty during the Parishe and I reproduce here excerpts from the interview:

How many people from the Police department are present here during the two-day Parishe?
Approximately 200-300 police officers. Some of the officers are here in uniform and others are in mufti (plain clothes).

What are the duties of the Police officers during the Kadlekai Parishe?
There is a lot of crowd during the fair which means many crimes can occur without anyone’s notice. Petty crimes like chain snatching can occur without the victim’s knowledge. Sometimes, vehicles get stolen. We need to keep a check on the crowds coming in and out of the temple and also make it easier for them to move about in the Fair. In case of fire emergencies, we need to make arrangements to have it extinguished, get the fire department to respond immediately and so on. In case someone gets hurt we need to make sure they are taken to the hospital quickly and safely.

What are the arrangements made by your department for the Kadalekai Parishe?
At some places, barricades need to be put so that there is no vehicle interference with the pedestrians. We depute more officers on those roads where there are likely to be more people entering the Bull temple road. Basically, we try to minimise crime problems and traffic congestion.

Which police stations in the city are involved?
The South division of the Police department has three sub-divisions. There is the Jayanagar sub-division, the Chamrajpet sub-divison and the Banashankari sub-division. Each of these sub-divisions has seven stations under it. There are officers from about 21 stations here for the two days.

How is the work distributed to the officers?
There are both the Traffic police and the Law and Order police. The Traffic police supervise the Bull temple road and ensure that it is a pedestrian zone for these two days, not permitting vehicular traffic to enter from any of the connecting roads or from either ends of Bull temple road. The Law and Order police look after the internal movement of people within the Fair and their safety, between these two ends.

How are the zones demarcated for supervision? 
You will notice the row of barricades near the restaurant Halli thindi and another near Ramakrishna ashram. There are such barricades provided all along the Bull Temple road to demarcate the zones for supervision. For instance, to mark Hanumanthnagar police limits, there is a line of barricades and then from the next barricade another police station takes over the responsibility.

There are several police in uniform (although there are plainclothes policemen too) to signal to the public that they can spend their time at the Fair within a safe environment and to simultaneously signal to the unsocial elements that any crime or wrong act will be caught immediately. In these 'spaces of power', on the one hand, the city empowers the public and the vendors who work within the law and on the other it controls the users of the space who may have the tendency to break the law to do only that which society finds acceptable.

* Koskela, Hille. "‘The gaze without eyes’: video-surveillance and the changing nature of urban space." Progress in Human Geography 24.2 (2000): 243-265.

(Interviewer: Rakshitha K.S.)

Related Posts:
Groundnut Fair in Bangalore city
Peanut festival in Bangalore
Groundnut Fair and the Temple Priest

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