Tamil Nadu: In Focus

A British legacy lives on in Chennai 

As the sun rises on the horizon across the Bay of Bengal, morning joggers and strollers on the Marina, the world’s second longest beach, hear the galloping of horses, with men and women in khaki and wearing pith hats mounted on them and maintaining vigil. The scene repeats in the evening with the contingent majestically marching on horses from Pudupet, off Anna Salai, to the beach front.

The Mounted Police Branch has remained an inseparable part of the Chennai police since 1926 when the contingent was formed under a sergeant with horses for patrolling all over the city. With the arrival of patrol vehicles, the strength of the horses diminished. The Mounted Branch still functions out of an 18 th century building at Pudupet. It was originally an all-male contingent, but now has five women and 27 men.

The horses are thoroughbreds donated by either breeders or members of the Madras Race Club or procured by the police.

The Mounted Branch still functions from an 18th Century building at
Pudupet. 

The Mounted Branch still functions from an 18th Century building at Pudupet.  | Photo Credit: B. JOTHI RAMALINGAM

“We feel one mounted horse is equivalent to 50 personnel,” says R. Gopalsamy, a sub-inspector of the Mounted Branch. “When a policeman is mounted on a horse with a height of five feet, it presents a majestic look and instills fear in a crowd. Troublemakers can be sighted quickly and controlled. One can easily handle any crowd without causing much injury. It is more advantageous for crowd-control on the beach,” he explains.

Greater Chennai Police Commissioner Shankar Jiwal recalls that the Mounted Branch, a British legacy, started functioning as a separate unit with 56 horses. “The State government has sanctioned 34 horses to this unit. It is now functioning with 25 horses. Apart from beach patrol, the unit is engaged in dispersing unruly mobs during a law and order situation,” he says.

During VVIP visits and on occasions such as Independence Day, Republic Day and Martyrs’ Day, the horses participate in the parades.

Syces, who take care of horses, are assigned to feed the horses on time and cleaning and maintaining the stables. The horses are fed four times a day with crushed oats, wheat bran, horse gram and Bengal gram. The cost of feeding a horse is ₹849 a day, ₹25,478 a month.

When it is time for a nap, about three kilograms of bedding straw are provided to keep them comfortable. Air-conditioned stables have also been constructed.

The horses are subjected to a medical examination once every three months by veterinarians of the Madras Veterinary College. These horses are also treated every Wednesday. Icy Grey, Golden Explorer, Amber Heights, Prince Valiant, Royal Sensation, Grand Celebration and Reynolds are the names of some horses attached to the Mounted Police Branch. 

In 2018, the Tamil Nadu police equestrian team was carved out from the Mounted Branch personnel and horses and trained to take part in national championships. At the 40th All India Police Equestrian Championship and Mounted Police Duty Meet held in Haryana recently, the team, led by Deputy Commissioner of Police Sanjay Shekhar Deshmukh, came fourth.

“We got a gold medal and a silver at the same meet in 2020 when we participated for the first time. In 2022, there were teams playing these games for several years. However, we stood fourth in the overall medal tally,” Mr. Deshmukh says.

“From a utility point of view, in places such as a market or beach if you keep one policeman mounted on horse, everybody will be looking at the horse and the policeman. Physically there will be the benefit of height. Criminals will have fear and members of the public will have the confidence that the police are there. It will give visibility, the biggest advantage,” he says.

The Mounted Branch personnel also won prizes in the equestrian competition conducted by Chennai Equitation Centre at Sholinganallur and competitions held by Red Earth Riding School in Puducherry recently.

Mr. Jiwal, says, “We propose to motivate the members of the equestrian team by getting new gears for them and horses. The horse strength may be increased to 35. The proposal to build 25 new stables was announced in the last Budget.”

The origins

As per the police records, the origin of the Mounted Branch, in another avatar, could be traced as far back as 1670 when a horse contingent was established by Provincial Governor Sir William Langdon. In 1780, sergeants were recruited as the Governor’s guards. In 1800, the term, Mounted Police Branch, came into force during the tenure of Walter Grant, Superintendent of Police. Back then, only horses were used by the police for commuting, unlike the present day’s sophisticated SUVs. They had five police stations in Chennai and each had five horses; there were 10 more with an Armed Reserve unit.


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Printable version | Aug 13, 2022 3:34:35 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/a-british-legacy-lives-on-in-chennai/article65611091.ece