Legendary top cop Julio Ribeiro, 92, penned an interesting column recently, in which he bracketed two very different women—a top cop (Meeran Chadha Borwankar) and the much-discussed TMC MP Mahua Moitra. Frankly, I cannot think of two women who are more dissimilar, but I loved Ribeiro’s very modern take on both.
I had briefly seen Moitra at the Jaipur Lit Fest earlier this year, where she had swept past the gawkers, swishing back her hair, and adjusting her fine sari, surrounded by hefty bouncers and a flock of drooling admirers. She looked and behaved like the diva she indeed is.
At the Tata Lit Fest in Mumbai this week, I was on a trailblazers’ panel with a bona fide star—the indomitable Borwankar, whose latest book, Madam Commissioner—The Extraordinary Life of an Indian Police Chief, has been creating waves and ruffling several political feathers since its launch. Borwankar walked into the author’s lounge, without bodyguards or bouncers, and no fawning entourage. Dressed in a smart blazer with an embroidered IPS badge on the pocket, the feisty woman did not need ‘showcasing’. Soft spoken, with a no-nonsense approach, here was a woman who had handled many highly sensitive, hugely high-profile cases during her tenure, and did it with utmost fearlessness.
I had read the book and rejoiced in Borwankar’s triumphs over entrenched bureaucratic systems that are difficult to challenge. The fact that Borwankar has named names in her book, and rattled the likes of Maharashtra Deputy CM Ajit Pawar, makes her an unusual former IPS officer—unafraid of possible repercussions from those in power today. But, then, what are threats to the woman who rode a motorcycle on night patrols in Mumbai’s notorious dock areas and tackled the prostitution racket head on. Being a crack shot and expert horse rider certainly helps. Today, at 68, Borwankar (teetotaller and strict vegetarian), maintains her athletic frame and exudes teenage energy as she briskly walks up on stage and our session starts with Borwankar telling a rapt audience about her daredevil encounters with some of the most dreaded criminals in Maharashtra (I include politicians in this category).
She receives enthusiastic applause when she responds candidly to questions from the audience. As the mother of two boys, she has had to deal with parenting challenges when the kids were younger, and she had to take tough calls, sometimes from riot torn areas where her personal safety was at stake.
Later, post our enlivening session, we met over a dinner at a trendy restaurant close by. Borwankar was joined by her bright and fun son Ankur, a lawyer, who oversees her publishing contracts and helps her out with speaking engagements and other books-related marketing decisions. They are a good team—communicative and comfortable with one another. As Maharashtra’s first female district police chief as well as its first police commissioner, Borwankar’s place in history is ensured. But that she did not hesitate to critique the country’s criminal justice system and fight the good fight, taking it to the highest level, speaks a lot about her commitment and integrity, and loyalty to her uniform. Today, there are several outstanding women police officers at every level. But Borwankar was the first to break the mould. Did she face resistance and resentment from male colleagues? Oh yes! Especially during the arduous training period when she was the only woman in a dining hall filled with men, with a batchmate taunting her by playing cheap film songs and berating her for speaking Punjabi English.
Her book is a candid account of what the police uniform means to a determined cop, who successfully handled the early jeers and jibes to emerge on top of her game—undaunted by unprincipled netas transferring her for not playing ball. Borwankar was the first female police officer to boldly take on the system. Let us hope she isn’t the last.