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August 3, 2015

World-Class Body Armour Made in India. But Our Cops Do Without.


Last Monday, Baljit Singh, a brave Punjab police officer dared three terrorists who had entered the police station in Gurdaspur to come out and face him man to man.

Within minutes, Mr Singh was dead. He took a bullet to the head.

He was wearing neither a helmet nor an Indian Army innovation called the bulletproof patka, that gives Sikh men limited protection from gunfire.

Mr Singh's courage, or for that matter, the courage of the Punjab policemen around him cannot take away from the fact that guts alone cannot defeat highly trained terrorists armed to the gills.

Elsewhere, some policemen of the Punjab police wearing neither helmets not bullet proof vests engaged the terrorists with primitive Self-Loading Rifles (SLRs), which was no match for the firepower of the enemy's AK-47s. A short distance away, burly cops of the police force moved up and down a roof throwing grenades at the terrorists and then ran for their lives before the grenades exploded. When the Punjab Police's Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams arrived, they were seen rushing to take up positions wearing their knee pads. They had not worn either their helmets or their bullet proof jackets.

14 years after the 2001 attack on Parliament, little seems to have changed for the policemen on the ground. Back then, some policemen tried engaging the heavily armed terrorists who attacked Parliament with pistols. During the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks in 2008, some gutsy cops facing the likes of Kasab had nothing more than their lathis. Some had primitive Lee-Enfield .303 rifles. Very few had bullet proof jackets and almost no one had helmets other than cricket helmets which have somehow become standard issue for police forces across the country.

It doesn't take rocket science to understand that a helmet designed to stop a cricket ball can never stop a high velocity round from an AK-47, the infantry weapon of choice not just for terrorists but also Indian armed forces.

Why in 2015 are our policemen less protected than soldiers fighting the First World War a century ago? Believe it or not, there are solutions easily available right here in India.

Did you know that India is considered a world leader in body armor technology? Did you know that bullet proof jackets and helmets built to the highest specifications of personal protection are not just built in India but exported to more than 230 forces in over 100 countries?

Among the users - the British, German, Spanish and French Armies - and police forces stretching from Japan in the East to the US in the West.

At the Kanpur-based MKU, India's largest manufacturer of body armour, the biggest problem often lies with the mindset of the police forces that they have to deal with.

According to MKU Chairman Manoj Gupta, "Most of our police forces and reserve police as well in our states are mostly equipped for anti-riot protection, not for anti-terrorist operations. There has to be deep thinking over this by policy makers."

According to some estimates, there is a standing requirement of at least 50,000 bullet proof kits in India's police forces but there is never a clear indicator since individual states handle their own law and order decisions and rarely spell out a requirement until they finally come out with a tender.

But the problems begin when the acquisition process starts. Deadlines for acquisition are frequently extended. State forces refuse to reveal the methodology they use in assessing the capability of a particular system. Vendors looking to sell to police forces have serious questions with the evaluation process and often have to wait indefinitely for answers to queries they may have. All of this happens before time consuming price negotiations even begin with a shortlisted vendor.

Ironically, the manufacture of bullet proof kit in India comes at a time when the Centre is trying to push Make in India as one of its primary manufacturing strategies. In the case of companies like MKU, not only are they manufacturing in India, they are exporting their equipment to highly discerning foreign customers while looking to expand their footprint across the globe.

For the policeman or policewoman on the ground, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Bamboo shields, the trusty bamboo lathi, the .303 and Self-Loading Rifle are a constant. The only other constant is the courage that our police display on the ground. After all, that's all they have to take on a determined enemy who are better trained, better equipped and perhaps better motivated.

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