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“Good people sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf”- George Orwell.
George Orwell’s quote from the early years of the 20th Century couldn’t have visualized that those same rough men will break all stereotypes – violent, brutal, and cruel – and will lend a healing hand so that the good people sleep peacefully.
The over-emphasis on the disciplinary and punishing component of the police has veiled their humanitarian side thus letting it go unnoticed, unappreciated, and often overlooked. They, as an institution, are located at the center of the state-society gamut wherein they are a legal-enforcing arm of the state but their functional arena is society – a largely order and peace-loving space. The societal collective spectacle looks at them as ‘State’s Power Enforcer’ which automatically creates imageries and metaphors of aggression, violence, brutality, and hostility thus projecting them as being oblivious and insensate to the common man’s woes, miseries, and despaired existence. This is where an unfortunate binary is established. Their frequent interfaces with anti-social, disruptive, and criminal facets of the society persistently polish and tune-in those attributes and skills – rough language, confrontational attitude, hostile behavior, intimidating body language, etc.- which projects them as intractable and untrustworthy thus distancing them from otherwise peaceful social order which expects humility, care, and concern from them.
The copiousness of media reports, photos, and social media posts about the brutality and highhandedness of police eclipse not only their humane side but also the myriad of infrastructural, organizational and workplace dilemmas that they are facing. The understaffed departments, extended working hours, abysmal living conditions, lower salary grades, lack of attitudinal training, and multidimensionality of tasks are few of those issues which call for a serious and urgent solution. Nonetheless, such problems are not ‘police’ specific and hence should be addressed at the policymaking level. Reforms have been suggested at various levels, committees/commissions have been formed and are probably working for just, timely, and rational solutions. But the pace and urgency are analogous for all – administrative reforms, electoral reforms, judicial reforms, education reforms, etc. It will take time.
The copiousness of media reports, photos, and social media posts about the brutality and highhandedness of police eclipse not only their humane side but also the myriad of infrastructural, organizational and workplace dilemmas that they are facing.
Amidst all these long-standing issues what gets inconspicuously erased from the public memory is the benevolence of the humane tasks that this often brutal arm of the government performs. The author’s urge to bring to light the not so talked about, discussed and publicized facet of police was heightened by the kind of efforts that they had put in fighting the still ongoing war against the global pandemic – COVID 19. Their place in the group of ‘Corona Warriors’ is neither due to their assistance in making nationwide lockdowns successful nor because of controlling crime in the times of crises. They deserve that place because they performed and delivered those services for which they are formally not trained – neither organizationally nor attitudinally. Which police training manual has taught them to locate and check on old couples who are dependent on near relatives who are unable to travel during lockdown; or to identify doctors and nurses working in corona wards and sending them birthday cakes, or to timely distribute cooked food to those daily wagers who have lost employment in these trying times; or to sing musical parodies, wearing specially themed helmets to sensitize people about washing hands, wearing masks and following social distancing; or to requesting, with folded hands, and asking people to stay at home and abide by government advisories during lockdowns, or to assist the health workers in cremating the victims of the deadly virus? They were the ones who applauded the Sikh community at Bangla Sahib gurudwara for serving langar to thousands of people; they were the ones who assisted the government’s initiative in showering flower petals from the air on doctors and nurses involved in fighting corona; they were the ones who were seen assisting thousands of migrant workers fleeing the cities for the fear of infection and loss of job and this assistance was not only in the form of organizing their departure from the city and disciplining them but also giving them water and food supplies which was allotted for their own use. And amidst all this, a meager mask was their only protection against the gloves, head covers, protective kits, etc used by health workers.
Be it the efforts of the Punjab police who came up with creative videos of police personnel performing Bhangra with a message of dos and don’ts, or the Kerala police who performed a handwashing dance in order to promote best practices, or the Gujarat policewomen performing the traditional Garba to restate the message of social distancing or the Roing Police in Arunachal who distributed items procured through CSR to 21 schools adopted by them – the Police in India made all efforts to bring home the message that ‘we too have a heart’. There must have been hundreds of such initiatives and tasks undertaken by the police during these difficult times but they are just relegated to the space reserved for anecdotes in the newspaper/TV or social media. And the very next day this too is forgotten and erased from our ever-so-short memories. We, as highly sensitive citizens, do not waste a second to raise our voice for the human rights of prisoners or even terrorists who have been captured on camera in the act of killing innocent people but fail to shed a tear for hundred of policemen who have died of Coronavirus infection as they were posted at containment zones, isolation centers, hospitals, etc. How many wreaths have been sent to their families by civil society? How many of us have mourned their deaths? What about their families? The government does its part by offering monetary help or a job to the next of the kin. But their role and efforts need to be acknowledged applauded and publicized.
Be it the efforts of the Punjab police who came up with creative videos of police personnel performing Bhangra with a message of dos and don’ts, or the Kerala police who performed a handwashing dance in order to promote best practices,or the Gujarat policewomen performing the traditional Garba to restate the message of social distancing or the Roing Police in Arunachal who distributed items procured through CSR to 21 schools adopted by them – the Police in India made all efforts to bring home the message that ‘we too have a heart’.
It is true that their aggression, hostility, and unfriendliness cannot be ignored. But the untailored and careless attitude of the masses towards police’s sacrifices and their family’s plight, and the indifference towards the oft-hidden but purposeful ‘humane’ face of the force needs to be revised. The humane face of law enforcers needs humane recognition and acknowledgment.