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Always for the Downtrodden

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Kanchan Chaudhary Bhattacharya (1947-2019): A Tribute

By ALOKE LAL

Kanchan Chaudhary Bhattacharya, the first woman officer to be head of a state police force, has breathed her last. After a few months of a prolonged and painful battle, she succumbed to a tumour in her brain on 26 August in Mumbai. She is survived by her husband, Dev Bhattacharya, and two daughters, Kanika and Kaveri. “Udaan”, a serial which is remembered as one of the finest presented by Doordarshan in the 1980s, is based on the life of Kanchan Chaudhary. Called Kalyani in the serial, the role was essayed memorably by Kavita, Kanchan Chaudhary’s sister. The serial is a sensitive treatment of the extraordinary resolve of a young Kanchan to overcome handicaps and acquire a formidable status in order to be in a position to address the many issues that her family was faced with. A review of the serial says: “Udaan was many things all at once. It was the real-life story of a woman who had broken the toughest glass ceilings and of a charming little girl in braids who fights gender discrimination both blatant and insidious and grows up to be a woman of true grit. It was about parents who sacrificed their creature comforts and happily embraced hardships to build a future for their daughter. And it was also about values that middle-class India was fiercely proud of but was struggling to hold on to in the 1980s. It was a story of familial bonds and corrupt systems, of personal triumph and resilience.” Having been exposed to the ills of the society and the corrupt governmental systems in her early life, she came into the Indian Police Service with a clear goal: to proactively make a contribution to bringing solace to those who were victims of a milieu that was unjust, unresponsive, and insensitive. In the different capacities she worked during her distinguished service career, she was always seen as one who would respond with alacrity in situations where the downtrodden were at the receiving end. Kanchan Chaudhary, who belonged to Amritsar, did her schooling at Sacred Heart Convent School in Amritsar. She did her masters in English Literature from IP College, Delhi University. She joined the IPS in 1973. She studied for MBA at the University of Woologong in Australia. Ms Bhattacharya was appointed as Director-General of Police, Uttarakhand, in 2004 at a time when the nascent police force was grappling with a crisis. There was much commotion following a shameful involvement of senior officers in a recruitment scandal. It was in this situation that the responsibility fell on her shoulders to lift the force to a desirable level of morale and commitment. She was able to establish the credentials of the high office in a relatively short time. She continued to serve till October 2007, thus establishing the landmark of the longest innings as Uttarakhand’s DGP. During this period, she went to Kankun, Mexico, to represent India in an Interpol conference. It was during her tenure that the 2nd All India Conference of Women in police was hosted by Uttarakhand Police. She will be remembered for her love for the arts. She was very fond of breaking into a dance. People of Mussoorie still recall how she lit up the stage when she danced at a festival entirely impromptu. She was a theatre person as well. In fact, the first time I saw her was before she had joined the IPS and I was a student at the University of Roorkee. On a visit to Roorkee she learned that St Anne’s Girl School, Roorkee, was in dire need of funds. She and a few students of the University of Roorkee got together and enacted the play, “The Mouse Trap” by Agatha Christie. She portrayed the elegant Mollie Ralston, proprietor of Monkswell Manor and wife of Giles Ralston, a role played by my childhood friend James Peters. A murder mystery, the play ran to a packed house for three continuous days at the BEG Theatre and all proceeds were given to St Anne’s Girl School. In the passing of Kanchan Chaudhary Bhattacharya, we have lost a police officer who had her unique style both as a cop and a human being.