Sukanya, Jasmine, and Sumathy are the only three female guards on duty on Marina beach, Chennai. They trot the shore on horses every day, keeping it safe and hassle-free for its many visitors.
Chennai is not just home to the second longest beach, Marina, in the world, but is also known for some unusual guards peppering its shores.
As the sun rises, Sukanya, Jasmine and Sumathy, all under 30 years, can be seen enjoying the cool sea breeze, as the waves wet the feet of the horses on which they perch.
Currently, they are the only three women part of a battalion of 67 in the Mounted Branch of Greater Chennai City Police. Proving that they can match their male counterparts, these women ride the horses with pride, all the time keeping an eye on the surging crowds at Marina to prevent crimes.
“As they are seated high on horses they can easily spot a mischief-maker in a crowd and have an edge over the others in the department,” said MT Ravichandran, Deputy Commissioner, Mounted Branch.
The trio’s primary duty is to watch over the visitors of the beach. “They have to prevent people from venturing too deep into the water, especially on the Marina as the Bay of Bengal currents are strong,” explains Ravichandran.
Anybody who gives their consent to join the branch is taken in. “We love animals and as it was our first posting we decided to join the branch,” says Sukanya, Jasmine and Sumathy.
Most of the horses in the stables are trained by qualified personnel. They have been taught to walk, trot, run, and canter and also trained to obey commands. “We too undergo rigorous training to handle the equines. Initially, we execute tasks such as walking, riding and massaging the animals. In a month, we are taught to saddle, mount and ride them with ease. Slowly, we got used to the animals and realised they were friendly and that they easily obeyed us,” they explain.
The horses are purchased from Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, and brought here to be trained by qualified personnel. Soon after their arrival they are saddled and once they get accustomed to the training and the surroundings, they are taught to walk, trot and run.
Their meals include crushed oats, wheat bran, horse gram and Bengal gram, linseed and shark liver oil. They sleep on three kilograms of bedding straw and are periodically checked on by veterinary doctors.
The trio struck up a rapport with their respective horses within a month and then was posted for crowd regulation on the Marina beach. “Young girls and women find it easy to approach us with their problems and we address several cases of eve-teasing, chain-snatching and other crimes,” says Sukanya.
The women on horses have helped locate several missing children and have assisted their male counterparts in handling crowds on the beach, during festivals such as Kaanum Pongal and during cricket matches, when the beach is packed.
But their job is not as easy as it seems. They not only have to maintain a friendly approach with their horses but also have to communicate with them constantly as the animals are often scared of crowds. If they become too frightened, they are likely to push off the woman on the saddle.
Sukanya recalls a particularly trying time for her horse, on New Year’s Eve in 2013. “By midnight, many young people started thronging the beach in large numbers. Amidst darkness and with crowd constantly jostling us my horse (Rajathi) suddenly reared high and began to run. I had to pull myself up and keep talking to it all the time as I realised it was scared. I was wearing my heart on my sleeve till it stopped after a full 10-minute run. I jumped down and took it back to the stables, massaging its neck all the while.”
But things did not turn out to be as smooth for Jasmine. When she was regulating the crowd on Diwali in 2015, the horse dragged her for a few metres when it began to gallop uncontrollably near the waters. She fractured her wrist and could not hold the reins for nearly six months.
“The job seems to have too many risks but still I want to take it up and perform well,” says Sumathy, who is the latest to join the band, in 2017.
So one wonders why a bunch of women would opt for such a risky job. The trio unanimously agrees that while the duty involves some uncertainties, what keeps them coming back is the affection the horses lavish on their riders once they are comfortable with them. Besides, along with the job comes a certain sense of empowerment, something these women are not willing to let go of anytime soon.