Kanchan Chaudhary Bhattacharya, India’s first woman Director General of Police, the second Indian Police Service officer after Kiran Bedi and a true trailblazer, passed away last night in Mumbai after a prolonged illness. She was 72. A 1973-batch IPS officer, she was appointed DGP of Uttarakhand in 2004, before retiring from service on 31 October 2007.
We mourn the demise of one of our icons, the first lady DGP and second lady IPS officer of India, Kanchan Chaudhary Bhattacharya. An officer with sterling qualities of head and heart, she had an illustrious career, adorned with many firsts and awards. #RIPKanchanChaudharyMaam pic.twitter.com/uslR2Lj6dT
— IPS Association (@IPS_Association) August 27, 2019
She lived a life of service. Born in Himachal Pradesh, she grew up under very difficult circumstances. Kanchan’s parents were thrown out of their grandfather’s house over a domestic dispute when she was just seven years old. Her parents, however, dusted themselves and worked hard to cultivate a fallow piece of farmland, which was their ancestral property. But, it wasn’t easy and her parents struggled to make ends meet.
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Once the land had begun to yield an income, her grandfather’s family sold it to notorious local smugglers. “These thugs came armed to the land and threw dad and his helpers out. My father almost lost his life to these thugs. Dad went to court against it. From then on, I remember my father going to different courts to follow up on his increasing number of legal cases. I too started going from office to office, trying to get the police to register a case against my father’s aggressors. I appealed to senior police officers, the governor of the state and also the then PM – Mrs. Indira Gandhi,” she tells Life Beyond Numbers.
Following this experience, she had a burning desire to join the Indian Police Service to serve justice. She did her schooling from Amritsar and college from Delhi. Nonetheless, working in a heavily male-dominated profession had its real share of challenges.
She was the only woman amongst 90 men during her training, and her instructors thought she would quit the service. However, she was made of sterner stuff and made it through. In fact, she believed that being a woman and possessing the qualities of patience and empathy helped her police better because people trusted her more.
Her first posting came in 1975, when she took over as Additional Superintendent of Police at Malihabad in Lucknow district, an area famous for its Dasheri mangoes and dacoits. Within a year, 13 of them were nabbed by the police, including a certain Makhan Singh who had evaded the police for over a decade.
“Yes, one has to respond to situations in a professional manner but they are not important when you see what you can do for people. We are in the service sector and I try really hard to cater to the policing needs of the people. The police and the people have to see each other as people and respond accordingly,” she once told The Tribune.
One of the major cases that she handled included the brutal murder of seven-time national badminton champion Syed Modi, who was gunned down by unknown assailants in 1987 in Lucknow. As the Superintendent of Police at the Crime Branch, CBI, she investigated the case. Kanchan would go onto investigate other high-profile cases like the Reliance-Bombay Dyeing case, besides other white-collar crimes. For her efforts, she was awarded the Police Medal for Meritorious Services in 1989.
However, what really gave her satisfaction was helping other women in distress, particularly those suffering from domestic violence and sexual assault. Speaking to The Tribune, she talks about one particular case in Meerut when she was posted as DIG.
One day, a badly beaten up Muslim woman came to me. She told me that her husband had been assaulting her. I looked into the matter and followed it up for several weeks. A few months later, I saw a good-looking woman breeze into my office with a smile on her lips. She was the same woman. It gave me so much of joy. It gives me goosebumps whenever I think about it. So, there have been a number of such cases and my joy has been that I have been able to contribute towards improving other people’s lives, she says.
Subsequently, as the first woman DGP of a state i.e Uttarakhand, she battled the bias against women in service. She took the initiative of giving women home guards the responsibility of manning traffic points in cities. Kanchan’s parents supported their daughter throughout and also helped her in raising her two daughters. She recalls the one time when she was appointed as DIG on a field posting.
“My father said to me, ‘Don’t worry about these two, we will look after them, but there are many children waiting for you out there. Go look after them’,” she recalls.
In 1989, her sister Kavita made a very popular television series called ‘Udaan’ which was loosely based on Kavita’s life. The show aired for a few years on Doordarshan. For an entire generation of women, she became an icon for thriving in a male-dominated profession.
Post retirement, she briefly dabbled in politics, contesting the 2014 Lok Sabha election on an Aam Aadmi Party ticket, which she lost. But yet again, her motive here was to serve.
In losing Kanchan, the country has lost an icon of the Indian Police Service. In the words of the IPS Association, she was an officer with “sterling qualities of head and heart” who never felt the need to impose physical violence upon suspects to get answers. One can say this for very few police officers in this country.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)