Nashik City Police Commissioner Ravinder Kumar Singal’s association with the city stretches back two decades. In an interview to The Indian Express, the 1996-batch IPS officer talks about two decades of managing the largest religious gathering on the planet and his collection of pictures of the Kumbh Mela, which is being exhibited at the Jehangir Art Gallery.
When were these pictures shot?
They are between 2003 and 2015. I have covered the 2002 and 2015 Nashik Kumbh Melas, the Ujjain Kumbh (2004) and the 2013 Allahabad Kumbh. Some of these pictures were shot at night and early morning because I was there all the time. I have tried to show the different moods, rituals, religious symbols, how the akhadas move, who takes the first snan (bath) and used different light and angles.
What are the advantages of photographing the Kumbh as a policeman?
I have been to the Kumbh Mela in all four cities as part of my official duties and always carried a camera around. As a policeman, I get to go to areas and see things that other visitors do not. So, I would say access is a big advantage. If I’m on duty then duty is priority. Otherwise, if I feel a shot needs to be taken only then do I take it. The sadhus know me personally so the advantage is, they trust me. I have never bothered or disturbed them. Most of the pictures were shot when I wasn’t in uniform.
Tell us about the pictures that gave you the most satisfaction?
There is a photo of Nath sadhus going back to their akhadas after the shahi snan. They were satisfied at having performed all the rituals over two months and that the Kumbh was over. Another picture shows two women embracing in the river. I was in a boat when I shot them because it was something different. It was only much later that I came to know one of them was Uma Bhartiji and the other one was Asaram Bapu’s daughter.
What was managing your first Kumbh Mela like?
I was Superintendent of Police, Nashik Rural, in 2003 during the Kumbh. That was my first posting as an SP and I was a raw, young officer then. Even during my probation period, when you have to take charge of a police station, I was posted to Trimbakeshwar police station, so my association with Nashik is quite old. The experience during the first Kumbh was very encouraging. Managing such a huge crowd was a challenge, but as the sadhus were mostly from North India, I could communicate with them very well. We got information from old records and spoke to officers who had worked on Kumbh 1991. I also sent my staff to other host cities to understand how they were managing things and to learn who was saying what in the akhadas. We made a checklist of things to be done. As we had manpower from outside, I made sure they were amalgamated properly with the local force. It was an education for me.
What changes did you observe during the 2015 Nashik Kumbh?
Communication systems have developed over 12 years. The last time, we could not count the number of people who had come. In 2015, the then police commissioner got a local IT company to provide carpets, which could count footfall. But that was also very difficult because people would come from all sides. Secondly, information was being communicated very fast and there was WhatsApp. In such kind of big events, the major challenge is the security aspect. You cannot rule out the possibility of sabotage. We also had video screens showing the rituals to those waiting in queues outside. Unless we showed people waiting to take a dip that the sadhus had taken their bath, they would become agitated and restless.
What lessons do you hope to learn from the ongoing Prayagraj Ardh Kumbh?
I have a keen interest there as I have done my PhD in crowd management. I was called as a speaker during preparations for the 2021 Haridwar Kumbh Mela. I could understand what their approach is. I will also be monitoring the Prayagraj Kumbh. As a student, I would like to know what new things they are doing.
How is the Smart City project impacting policing in Nashik?
The Smart City project has several aspects. Relating to the police, we are more concerned with the CCTV system, parking system, roads, connectivity and signalling system. I’m one of the directors in the Smart City project and we are holding meetings regularly. At the moment, I feel parking is a big issue. It’s quite haphazard, but with new roads coming up, I think it will solve the problem. After the CCTV system comes, it will help us from the security point of view.
How are you tackling the rising instances of cyber crime?
We have taken up cyber crime as a major issue and reached out to more than two lakh children. We have trained college students in communication skills and appointed them as cyber ambassadors. They have been giving presentations and taking courses in industries, colleges, schools and societies. That is showing results and the trend is, cyber crime is on the decline and awareness is increasing.
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