E-book, 14 pages
Publisher: Bodley Head (January 2016)
Selected by Kai Friese
“A provincial martinet policing love: tart and telling parables of small-town India in the ferment of modernity. Poonam has a reporter’s knack for detail and a cool voice that acknowledges the humour and horrors of everyday life with remarkable empathy.” —Kai Friese
We’d almost crossed the stadium before she saw them. A boy and a girl. All you could see from across the boundary wall were two heads pressed against each other; easily missed if they weren’t plonked on the last row of the stadium steps. But there was no fooling Lady Singham. She could smell out love like it was a rotting corpse. It was time for action.
We had been patrolling the streets for signs of forbidden love, our two vehicles tearing through the post-lunchtime calm of a small town in southern Jharkhand. In the leading vehicle, a police jeep, sat six uniformed policemen strapped with rifles. Trailing it was the Maruti 800 I’d borrowed from my parents for the trip. In its back seat, Lady Singham and I sat next to each other, the family driver steering it like a racing car from the moment it was commandeered for the mission.
Three hours ago, I’d arrived outside the women’s police station in Simdega to find Lady Singham waiting for me at the gate with a bouquet of yellow daisies. She looked younger than 43; her smooth, olive skin glinted in the sun and a fitted uniform complemented her sturdy build. Her beret, decorated with a cap badge, was tilted at just the right angle, and her brown leather boots were polished to perfection. When she jumped across a large puddle to greet me, she didn’t disturb a single drop of muddy rainwater. The flowers were followed by a warm hug and a kiss on the cheek. It’s a well-known fact that the farther a Delhi journalist travels from the capital, the more respectfully he or she is treated. Even so, I was still thrown off balance by Lady Singham’s free-flowing action.
Raje Kujur had achieved local fame for launching a violent mission against love. In a news report from three weeks earlier that had gotten people talking, she was described as a policewoman who could “deliver a mean karate chop and a deadly kick”. She’d earned the nickname, the report said, because she could punch and kick as hard as the most daredevil police officer in Bollywood of recent times, a character called Singham (meaning lion). Uprooting love from public spaces – streets, colleges, parks, lakes – was her personal passion and professional specialisation. Before she spotted the snuggling heads on the stadium steps, Kujur had pointed at the litter-strewn streets of Simdega and said, “See how clean the place looks now? Before I came to this town, young couples roamed the streets hand in hand. The parks were overrun with them. Even vegetable markets weren’t spared.”
Raiding on romance is a venerable Indian phenomenon. The thinking behind the idea remains the same, although its execution keeps changing. The only way to keep current with the constant upgrades is to follow the regional newspapers and television channels where reports of these raids make up the daily news. You learn, for example, that the web of tip-offs has widely expanded.
At the top of this network are newspapers and television channels; the quicker a reporter can alert the police about an immoral activity, the stronger the chances that his organisation will run an exclusive, or live, report. It was on a tip-off from a television reporter in 2013 that the police in Raipur busted a private “Friendship Day party” and intercepted what was reported in local news, improbably, as a “naked dance”. In 2005, the Meerut police collaborated with a local channel on a hunt – “Operation Majnu1”, named audaciously for one of Indo-Persian literature’s most famous lovers – through the public parks to expose hundreds of young couples for the viewing pleasure of a live television audience.
 In December 2005 police raided a park in Meerut and attacked couples found there. The raid was termed “Operation Majnu” and its purpose, according to the police, was to check on incidents of “sexual harassment”.