Words by Aninda Sardar
As a motoring journalist, I have travelled around the country quite a bit and like many of you who are reading this blog, I have often been appalled at the lack of awareness about safety that I’ve seen the men in uniform exhibit. I’ve seen cops routinely ignore the seat belt and, of course, I have seen a majority of motorcycle cops ignore the helmet. If I could put on paper all the times I have heard people discuss such things I will probably be writing till my retirement. And yet, as a child growing up in Calcutta (now Kolkata), I was totally unfamiliar with such rants regarding traffic cops and helmets.
You see, the crash helmet has been an integral part of the uniform of the Traffic Guard of the Calcutta Police (now Kolkata Police) since time immemorial. And while they don’t have high-vis jackets yet, the regal white uniform topped by that white crash helmet does make them stand out. Admittedly, high visibility and safety may not have been part of the agenda of our former British masters who had designed the uniform probably more for aesthetic reasons. But be that as it may, it doesn’t take away from the fact that the uniform does make the traffic sergeant on Kolkata’s busy cross roads stand out in a way that no Khaki-clad cop in any other part of the country can replicate.
Back to that crash helmet. You’ll never see them take it off either; for unlike their brethren elsewhere, Kolkata’s traffic sergeants wear the helmet as proudly as the blue peaked cap that other members of the Kolkata Police wear. The fact that they themselves wear a helmet also makes it harder for a violator of Kolkata’s helmet law to argue or plead his case. Kolkata has had a helmet law that mandates both the rider and pillion to wear helmets, irrespective of their respective genders, for over two and a half decades. And, this law is implemented by the city’s helmet clad sergeants mercilessly.
People used to say long ago that what Bengal thinks today, the country thinks tomorrow. That, of course, has not been the truth for some time now. But perhaps, in this one case, my city still stands head and shoulders above the rest. Perhaps, it is time the traffic police in the rest of the country adopted the helmet-as-part-of-the-uniform approach and made the men in uniform not only capable, but also safer as they enforce the law on our crazy streets. Next up on the agenda should be high visibility jackets. Kolkata Police, are you listening?