AT midnight on April 6, 2000, Guwahati’s oil refinery presented a strange sight. Over 200 people, both young and old, formed a half-circle around the refinery and kept a nightlong vigil. Even more surprisingly, the police kept a discreet distance, the people just seemed to have taken over. And these vigilantes were ordinary people-bank clerks, small-time businessmen, government servants, even students, and members of the Noonmati Nagarik Committee (NC). What made them stand guard in the night was a common cause: the refinery, under threat from ULFA militants, had to be protected at all costs.
This action of the area’s nagarik committee was no isolated instance. For, all across Guwahati city, citizens are increasingly becoming active participants in helping the police maintain law and order, prevent petty crimes and even in managing the increasing traffic on the city’s choked roads. And, while these public guardians are enjoying the limelight, they’ve also made quite an impact. For, ever since the Guwahati Police launched a scheme to form locality-based nagarik (citizens’) committees in August ‘99, the city’s crime rate has gone down. Says city SP Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta, “Once people started taking the responsibility to try and keep their locality crime-free, our job has eased a lot and it’s easier to detect or prevent crime.” The facts bear him out: