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Zen in Uniform

Bhubaneswar's women police are trained at an air hostess training centre. And that's not about cosmetics, says the city's top cop Bijay Sharma

Published: Mar 31, 2012 06:26:43 AM IST
Updated: Feb 28, 2014 01:15:49 PM IST
Zen in Uniform
Image: Rajnarayan Choudhury for Forbes India

Bijay Sharma
Commissioner of Police for Bhubaneswar-Cuttack
He Says:

  • We can have no work breakdown between men and women. They do a tough job without complaint and they make the street smart, efficient and courteous. I did what I had to do.
  • Be in the mud. Make do with what you have. Don’t seek favours from the system.

On one side was Bijay Sharma, Indian Police Service (IPS) officer and superintendent of police (SP). On the other side was the district magistrate and collector, who was from the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). Both officers were in their twenties and hot blooded. They had gotten into a serious disagreement that, looking back, was over something trivial. The issue got somewhat out of control. The government took notice of the matter and sent the two on “punishment postings”. That is how Sharma landed up in the Phulbani district of Odisha which was considered the place for the condemned.  

Packing for his new assignment, Sharma told himself three things: I will enjoy every day of my new job. I will never approach anyone for a transfer from hell. I will never ask for good officers to be brought in from outside the district. Phulbani was for the rogues and the misfit. When Sharma landed there and toured his new district, he was welcomed in some places by cynical, dysfunctional troops and in others, they were simply not there as his jeep pulled up for inspection. In one such place, as he sought to chastise a previously absconding inspector twice his age, the man defiantly said, “What worse can you do to me? Can there be a jail inside the jail?”

“After every inspection, one is expected to return to the district headquarter and dictate the inspection report. But my stenographer was absconding. So, I sat there for the next couple of hours in the police station and in my own handwriting, wrote a 30-page report in the flickering light of the lone lantern, handed it over to the man and got back into my jeep,” says Sharma.

Two days after the incident, Sharma had a visitor. It was the same defiant inspector. He stood in front of Sharma’s door with the 30-page report in his hand. Never in his life, he said, had an SP visited his outpost; no one ever had given him a handwritten report; good or bad. Sir, he said, this will be treasured by me till I die. Three years later, when Sharma was transferred, the entire town showed up to bid goodbye.

Bijay Sharma is no longer a rookie officer. He is 50. After Phulbani, a brilliant, well-decorated career has emerged. He has been awarded two President’s Medals, an award from the Governor of the State and numerous civic felicitations. Challenging and prestigious assignments have followed. But the one that will make him a legend in the eyes of the people of Odisha is the most current: Commissioner of Police for Bhubaneswar-Cuttack, where he leads a force of 2,500 men and women. As he stepped into this role, Sharma went about his work, thinking like an entrepreneur. He created his own mission, vision and values and published them to his stakeholders. He built imposing physical infrastructure that notified his strategic intent. He created the systems and processes that shifted the idea of policing from simply dealing with crime and punishment to life and living. “Only 30 percent of all the calls we get on our Police Control Room hotline has something to do with the police,” Sharma says. “Seventy percent is related to civic services, including an out-of-town student asking for directions to an examination venue. But when I took over, we were not emotionally ready to brace a new approach.”

Zen in Uniform
Image: Rajnarayan Choudhury for Forbes India

Years ago, I was being taken around the ruins at the Chennakesava temple in Belur, Karnataka. My guide stopped me and drew my attention to the sculpted figures of women equestrians of the time. “Yatra naryastu pujyante, ramante tatra devata,” he said to me. Gods revel in the land that respects its women. A thousand years back, there was not just equality for women; they excelled in every field and the figurines show how progressive that society was.

To humanise his workforce, Sharma brought in Odiya women as traffic cops. But he had to deal with scepticism. A lot of it had to do with the issues of self-esteem in Odiya women. Sharma turned for help to the folks at the Frankfinn Institute of Air Hostess Training. Despite the unusual charter, they not only stepped up, they saw it as their contribution to law and order. Without a charge, they took up the training of women constables in grooming and etiquette. Bhubaneswar changed forever.

Today, when tourists arrive in Bhubaneswar, they want to be photographed with Bhubaneswar’s women police. The media loves them and the people of Odisha treat them like a badge of honour. I want to know how the commissioner of police could get permission from the top to send his staff to an air-hostess training academy after their graduation from the police academy.

“I didn’t ask for permission. Training them at Frankfinn was not about cosmetics. Anywhere in the world, you form an impression about a city by the experience you have on its streets. My force does a tough job but with efficiency and civility. Soon, a third of my workforce would consist of women. I cannot afford to treat them as ‘extras’; they are not museum pieces. We can have no work breakdown between men and women. They do a tough job without complaint and they make the street smart, efficient and courteous. I did what I had to do.”

After the women hit the road, Sharma claims that the men in uniform became a lot more conscious and aware and polite with the citizenry. But it did not stop there. Odiya people, who culturally do not mess with women, found it awkward to violate traffic rules if a woman was in charge!

On the walls of his impressive office, Sharma is surrounded by the accolades his force has brought him. They overshadow the Hubert Humphrey Fellowship at the John Hopkins University and the many commendations he has earned for himself for outstanding contributions to drug handling and wild life protection.

It is time for me to catch the flight to Bangalore. Before heading out, I have one question to him on managing change. What can businesses learn from the khaki?

Without blinking the man says, “Be in the mud. Make do with what you have. Don’t seek favours from the system. Respect the guy confronting you; see yourself in him. And then, play the game.”

Subroto Bagchi is co-founder & gardener, MindTree and a best-selling author.
His brief:  Every fortnight, exchange tales of the road with successful entrepreneurs

(This story appears in the 13 April, 2012 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from Magzter.com. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • B C Patnaik

    Mr.Sharma understands citizens and understands his role.He can do no wrong, though others can do wrong to him;we pray it does not happen.May his tribe,which is max 10%,grow everyday.Mr.Bagchi has been a legend.Thanks to you for your continued mission for extraordinary achievements impacting society and the country.

    on Apr 9, 2012
  • Satyajit Mishra

    Fixing a target and achieving the same at the quickest possible times are the key notes to your success. To me Sir, you are a busy faculty member of a University, who is in habit of setting examples in the society, through persistent research and result oriented work, which makes your critics and other colleague envy at you. On all such opportunities, when I meet you on official work, you have been guiding me as a leader and suggested me to frame such a working style as to make more critics in the society, to make myself more perfect to avoid criticism. I am proud to have work under one of the best sons of the God.

    on Apr 8, 2012
  • Professor P. N. Jagadev, Ouat, Bhubaneswar

    Mr. B. K. Sharma, a Fullbright Fellow of John-Hopkins University, USA , is a people's friendly police commissioner and transformed the BBSR traffic in order bringing the erratic auto-drivers on line. I respect and love Mr. Sharma for his sincerity and simplicity. If u telephone on his mobile also, he acts promptly for a common man as I experienced. He deserves all credit for the medals. I wish all the best for his future.

    on Apr 4, 2012
  • Soumyajit Pattnaik

    BK Sharma deserves the accolades. Apart from ushering in gender parity in the force, he has made the cops accountable for their actions. Mr Sharma does not dither to take tough disciplinary action against the deviants in khaki who bend rules to sully the reputation of the commissionerate police.

    on Apr 2, 2012
  • S. Srinivasan

    I loved the photograph. It shows his connection with cadres. Very human. Kudos Rajnarayan Choudhury!

    on Apr 2, 2012
  • Debabrata Mohapatra

    Bhubaneswar's pride is neighbour's envy!!!!!Women traffic cops indeed added glamour quotient to the city policing with their pleasant personality and nice traffic regulation skills. The twin city police commissionerate caught the fancy of many neighbouring states with the latter visiting Bhubaneswar to learn the police system in the past.

    on Apr 1, 2012
  • Umang Lal

    Biju....it is the mettle which has always shown up in your career and life. I ,being your one of the oldest associates has the privilege to comment that you are realizing all that which we dreamt of in our college days without compromising on or sacrificing your original self. But the world should know that behind all these efficient handling of Odissa's hardwares there is a high quality software operating which, I am sure, has grown very silently within you over the time. Your mettle will show up in other areas too in the coming days.

    on Apr 1, 2012
  • B K Mishra

    Twin City Police headed by top cop B K Sharma has initiated a Human Face in Khaki by setting up Red Cross Branch. At least for blood, one need not bother anymore, a call to City Police is enough for any amount of Blood. Thanx for such a humanitarian approach.

    on Apr 1, 2012
  • Capt Pratap Mehta

    Bijoy... we are proud of you. you are a role model for other cops... hope our CP Arup Patnaik in Mumbai is listening. If you want to change the society, the change has to come from within.. first..! Thank you Bagchi... for this wonderful insight... thanks.

    on Apr 1, 2012
  • Vivek Pattanayak

    Mr Bijoy Sharma has done a splendid job.Many foreign visitors have told me that the traffic police in Bhubaneswar are perhaps the smartest they have seen in India.There is absolutely no doubt that the traffic regulation has remarkably improved.You can feel the presence of police on the road.Public cooperation is equally important.Police alone cannot improve.Young men riding bikes and driving cars should have road courtesy.Pillion riders must wear helmets.Loitering of young people must stop.

    on Apr 1, 2012
  • Nihar Ranjan Das

    The topic speaks regarding the past and present about career which is encouraging and enchanting . No doubt you have the vision ,courage ,enthusiasm ,vigour and leadership qualities to take odisha police way ahead of our thinking and imagination. With much expectation sir .... regards nihar

    on Apr 1, 2012
  • Itikanta Mohapatra

    I am proud to be a part of this police commissionerate and privileged to work under Sri BK Sharma, the present Commissioner, who has left no stone unturned in shaping the Commissionerate into a concrete solid institution. The women traffic police are a prize possession of the Commissionerate, who are not only performing their duties with sincerity, but also acting as a facelift for the entire force.

    on Apr 1, 2012
  • Chiranjeev Prasad

    after working with maharashtra police for fifteen years, i am working in jagdalpur in anti naxal policing. This place isvery close to Orissa. Efficiency of administration is low because of many factors in this part of the country. I commend mr sharma, CP of Bhubaneswar. It is something like creating gold out of thin air, like creating an orchard in desert. Hats off, sir.

    on Mar 31, 2012
  • Lubna

    Quite an eye opener. But, this sentence stood out: Odiya people, who culturally do not mess with women, found it awkward to violate traffic rules if a woman was in charge! I guess, the culture of this place also had a lot to do with the success of this project.

    on Mar 31, 2012
  • Sujit Kumar Panda

    The edifice on which this com. stands is your brain child sir and undoubtdely it will go stronger and stronger. This commissionerate will remember you for long. We expect this efforts(to take the commissionerate to new height)to replicate in other (xxx)organisation also, to make us proud. sujit

    on Mar 31, 2012
  • Devasis Sarangi

    This is a really commendable effort. I think this model should be replicated in other parts of the country. Best Regards.....devasis, BBSR

    on Mar 31, 2012
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