When 36-year-old Vishvnath Biwalkar calls it a day at his job as an HR manager in a private company, on two days of the week he gets ready for nights of patrolling. Biwalkar spends two nights a week patrolling his area, like at least 20 others from Dombivali, who all call themselves the Eagle brigade.
The Eagle brigade took off in 2011 when a group of young men met the Thane Commissioner of Police. “We wanted to help and decided that the nights are the most vulnerable. So we took permission to assist the local police,” Biwalkar said.
The Eagle brigade started with the agenda of night patrolling, but slowly and steadily expanded their role. “We provide the police help with managing big crowds on special days. We are their eyes and ears in places where they can’t reach,” Biwalkar explained. Recently, the group has been keeping an eye on the watchmen of the big societies, offices and ATMs. They also provide free pick-up and drop services for women travelling by late night locals at the Dombivali station.
“So many times, the auto-rickshaws refuse to take us since we live out of the city. At such times, I have been dropped home by some of the Eagle brigade men. At first, I was a little skeptical. But then, they asked the police to come to the station and they confirmed that these men worked with them,” said Rashmi Badhane, a resident of a village in Manpada area. “We ensure that whatever vehicle is available, the women are dropped safely to their homes,” Biwalkar explained.
The Eagle brigade, over time has had seen different times. “While we have never completely stopped working, we had had to reduce the number of days, due to paucity of volunteers. I don’t believe in overworking my team,” Biwalkar said.
The team, currently working with the Manpada, Tilak Nagar, Vishnu Nagar and Thakurli police stations works generally four to five days a week and started that just a couple of months back. “We generally take a break of one day, which is pre-decided with the police, when they have full attendance,” he said.
If one wishes to join the brigade, all they have to do is to show up. “We meet at the four police stations in Dombivali area every night at 12. When someone expresses their desire to join, we ask them which area they live in. We then ask them to come to their closest police station at 12:00 am,” Biwalkar said. The group continues to patrol the streets of Dombivli on their two-wheelers till at least 5:00 am, after which they go home.
The brigade consists of people between in the age group of 18-50. “We don’t look for any qualifications. Our only requirement is that you are not supposed to have a police complaint against you,” Biwalkar said. The team prepares a chart every week. “The days given to each team member is decided in order to not create any overlapping. In fact, we make sure that each team member is well rested before they go for their night rounds. On certain days, when the police say that they have a 100 per cent attendance, we declare off days,” explained Biwalkar who manages the duty roster of the brigade.
The team has worked through monsoon and unkind weather conditions. “When the rains become too much, we travel in our four-wheelers and have raincoats ready. Work doesn’t stop,” Biwalkar said. “Any patrolling reduces the risk of crime and makes it easier for us to identify miscreants. The numbers of night time offences have actually gone down,” said senior inspector Gajanan Kabdule, from Manpada, one of the four police stations that receive help from the brigade. According to senior officers, the night time crime rate has gone down by as much as 60 per cent.
“We keep innovating our work to make it interesting. Felicitations are held for long time team members and the police recognise our work. But the best is when your area, known to be notorious for eve teasing and sexual offences, actually becomes a safe place for women,” said one of the members of the brigade.