What would you do if you were among the lowest paid professionals in society, have no stipulated hours of work nor even a weekly off, were subject to physical and psychological abuse by your senior officers, who also made you ‘orderlies’ at their homes, having to polish their shoes, mop their floors and water their gardens? What’s more, it is illegal for you to speak out against this exploitation! Some 50,000 police constables across the state have devised a novel way to protest, without calling it that: they have all applied for leave on the same day – June 4. Isn’t it time the government initiated reforms to ensure humane working conditions for them?
They clean , mop and do everything else some days but the job they were recruited for. But now the state's constabulary has decided enough is enough. And come June 4, it will disappear from the city's streets and police stations as over 50,000 constables plan to go on mass leave that day to draw the government's attention to their low salaries, absence of weekly offs, irregular working hours, and alleged physical and mental abuse by their seniors, who demand they do everything from polishing their shoes to even mopping and clean their houses besides their regular duties. For men who joined the force with a dream of wearing a uniform and serving the country, the reality comes nowhere close.
It is very disturbing to see constables going on mass leave. This should not happen and while I do not support this strike as the police is a disciplined force, it is disturbing that it has come to this
— Senior police officer
While there is no support for the striking policemen, senior police officers, both retired and serving, blame a complete collapse of communication and lack of recruitment for the drastic action being planned by thousands of these low rung officers, doing a thankless job in the department.
Says a senior police officer, “It is very disturbing to see constables going on mass leave. This should not happen and while I do not support this strike as the police is a disciplined force, what is disturbing is that things have been allowed to come to this. As the police force provides an essential service to maintain harmony and peace in society, it too must be provided all facilities to make sure that its morale remains high at all times. This is in public interest. Regular filling of vacancies and interaction between the lower rung and higher officers is a must. These are doable things.”
The officer also believes there must be pay parity among services to keep the police happy and motivated. Others in the department point out that the last time a five year recruitment plan of police constables was sanctioned was when Dr. Ajai Kumar Singh was the state’s director general and inspector general of police.
Despite the lack of support for their planned protest, the constables believe they have no choice but to go ahead with it as they have been waiting to be heard for a very long time. “It is the constable who is on duty round- the- clock. If the city reels under a violent protest, it is the constable who is at the forefront, tackling the situation while his seniors remain seated in their air conditioned offices,” notes a police constable with disdain, strongly signalling that the time has come for change.
‘We are cops, but officers have robbed us of our dignity’
It has been over 15 years since Raja Ram (name changed) began serving in the police force. A post graduate in English literature and a double degree holder, little did he know in his initial excitement of joining the force, that wearing a constable's uniform would bring him not just poor pay, but also harassment.
As orderlies we are made to stand for hours with heavy guns and many of us are forced to clean toilets, walk our seniors’ dogs and clean their poop and even wash clothes of their children which ironically, we would not do in our own homes
— Raja Ram constable
“We are paid lesser than the police in our neighbouring state. With no off days, we work for over 15 hours every day. And although we are entitled to 15 days casual leave we are not allowed to take more than five or six in a year,” he complains.
“The British may have left long ago but to us it is as if we are still ruled by the raj. As orderlies we are made to stand for hours with heavy guns and many of us are forced to clean toilets, walk our seniors’ dogs and clean their poop and even wash clothes of their children which ironically, we would not do in our own homes,” he says, adding, “We are treated worse than animals and robbed of our right to live with dignity.”
The last straw for him was when he managed to catch two men, who were trying to escape after committing a murder and was humiliated by his senior and allegedly told to let them go. “After chasing them for over a kilometre, I cornered the two but they attacked me with a machete , breaking my nose which began to bleed profusely. But I still managed to apprehend them. When I reported to my officer he abused me and asked me to let them go. My heart and courage broke,” he recounts painfully.
The Karnataka State Reserve Police, which is being used as a contingency force in case the constables go on mass leave, is also being used intelligently to prevent camaraderie with the revolting fellow cops. "The KSRP battalions from North Karnataka have been deployed in South Karnataka and the battalion from South of the State have been deployed in other districts," said an officer.
If our sangha is illegal, how did it get backing of 50k cops: Venugopal
Reacting to the government’s decision to invoke ESMA, Venugopal Sheshadri of the Akhila Karnataka Police Maha Sangha who is spearheading the protest said, “The government is scared as it is on shaky ground. So far, they claimed our Sangha was unrecognised. But I would like to ask them - if the association is unrecognised, how did it get the backing of 50,000 policemen?”
Will the Sangha go ahead with its protest even if whether the Sangha will go ahead with its protest despite ESMA being invoked, he said, “I will have to consult my people as I cannot decide on their behalf. I need to speak to other policemen in other districts and analyse the pros and cons. We have learnt that the government is also contemplating calling in paramilitary forces on June 4. However, there will be a press conference on Thursday in Cubbon Park at 11 am, where things will be cleared up,” he said.
Inhuman working conditions
- Harassment by seniors - It is the constable of the police force who stays on duty round-the-clock. If the city reels under a violent protest, the constable is at the forefront of the situation, while the seniors sit safely in their air-conditioned offices.
- Salary - The constabulary is paid minimal wage, which ranges between Rs 15,000- Rs 20,000. In neighbouring states, the constabulary is paid around Rs 35,000- Rs 40,000
- No leave - Foot soldiers are entitled to 15 days of casual leave, but are seldom allowed to use more than six each year.
- Forced to work in inhuman conditions – the orderlies are made to clean toilets, walk the dogs and clean their faeces and wash the undergarments of their superior’s children which they don’t do in their own homes!
- No respect – The foot soldier can hardly complain against the attitude of the public when they receive no respect from their superiors.
The poetic counter
To counter the proposed strike of policemen, the social media team of Bengaluru police took to their official page on Face- book and published a poem on the legacy and discipline of state/ city police force.
"Like for every temple there is an idol, disciple (sic) is the lifeline for the uniform
The police is the other name for
Don't break the unity and spoil the
reputation as discipline is your life.
If you disrespect discipline,
you will lose public sympathy and love.
Dear police brothers,
state government has considered your strike call seriously
First follow discipline
Next all your demands will be met
Dear police brothers,
Those who wear uniform know its value
No respect if we remove it
Do not kill the discipline under
Police is another name for discipline
Don't bring bad name through indiscipline
Discipline is your breath.
Officers don’t care, don’t communicate with constables: Dr. D V Guru Prasad, retired DGP
The problems of the constabulary are not new. But the difference today is in the attitude. There has been a complete breakdown of communication between the lower rungs of the force and the seniors in the department. The constables feel no one listens to them and they cannot approach anyone with their genuine problems. The police being a disciplined force cannot go on strike and I do not support this. But the problem here is that there is no camaraderie between the lower rung officers and their seniors.
Many of the issues that the policemen have today existed in our time too. But then we could talk to the constabulary and convince them to look at the bigger picture. Nowadays, no inspector or SHO has the time to sit and listen to his subordinates. There is an urgent need for a change in attitude on the part of all supervisory officers in the police department as these are genuine problems which need to be addressed. Threats will not work. We need to cajole them.
Recruitment is another major issue. It is upto the police top brass to ensure that annual recruitments are done to fill the backlog.
They should sit with the government to negotiate regular recruitment and training of policemen. In my time, we spoke to the then home secretary, Vatsala Vatsa and cleared a five- year proposal for recruitment. Also, one must remember that constables don’t get leave for weddings or personal emergencies. Any strike by the police force needs strong condemnation and must be put down firmly and effectively. But the major problem is breakdown in communication and an overburdened constabulary....