A recent report of the Ministry of Home Affairs ranked Karnataka second in police suicides in South India and fifth in the country. The report stated that while personal and domestic problems, mental illness and depression were some of the major reasons for the suicides, more than a few casKHAKI v/s KHADI turbulence
A recent report of the Ministry of Home Affairs ranked Karnataka second in police suicides in South India and fifth in the country. The report stated that while personal and domestic problems, mental illness and depression were some of the major reasons for the suicides, more than a few cases hinted at political and departmental harassment.
A report of this serious nature may have disappeared without much noise or notice, but the issue of police suicide was thrown back onto the debating table after two DySPs ended their lives in Karnataka, highlighting the difficult circumstances under which the ‘Men in Khaki’ work, especially when they refuse to bow down to the dictats of the ‘Men in Khadi’.
The friction between the Khaki and the Khadi was out in open when KudligiDySPAnupamaShenoy resigned from the post after a spat with the then Minister and incumbent MLA P T ParameshwarNaik.
Soon after this, July, 2016 witnessed the suicides of two DySPs - KallappaHandibhag and M K Ganapathi and one attempted suicide by a woman Police Sub Inspector Roopa- for diverse reasons.
ChikkamagaluruDySPKallappaHandibag was found dead on July 4 in Belagavi after he was named as an accused in a kidnap and extortion case. Speculation is rife that Handibag was fixed by people he had antagonised.
After two days, that is on July 7, the state was shaken by another case of suicide. A DySP of Mangaluru, M K Ganapathi had ended his life, but in this case, hours before his death, he recorded a statement for a Kannada TV channel, accusing former minister K J George, his son Rana, and two police officers of harassing him. The government tried to shield the persons named by Ganapathi.
While action has now been initiated against the three mentioned by Ganapathi in his interview, after a local court ordered the police to file an FIR against them based on private complaint by members of his family, the senior police officer’s death has left behind a bad taste, and a question, for which an answer is yet to be found. Are the people who protect society from its own ills, succumbing to them themselves? Do the protectors have no protection? Are they able to lead a dignified life? Unfortunately, the evident answer is a big ‘no’.
What do the statistics tell us?
As many as 122 police officers committed suicide in Karnataka over the last 10 years, ie from 2003 to 2013, out of which 39 policemen committed suicide during 2005 and 2009 itself. Sources suggest that if the suicides between 2014 and 2016 are added to these statistics, the numbers will shoot up. Apart from this there have been several cases of police suicides that may not have made it to the official list.
Some years have been worse. In 2007, for instance, 27 policemen committed suicide. That is the highest in the decade.
Meanwhile, even as the political slugfest over M K Ganapathi’s suicide began, with the opposition parties trying to take advantage of the same to score political points over the ruling Congress party in the state, the statistics show that in 2012, the state saw 17 officers committing suicide, the second highest in 10 years and surprisingly the BJP was in power at the state. The NCRB data reveals policemen between 35 and 45 years are the most vulnerable, with 42 of them committing suicide in 10 years.
In most of the police suicide cases the reason was said to be domestic problems and mental sickness, however, the family members of the policemen who ended their own lives spoke of political pressure, poor working and living conditions.
Forced to work for long working hours, deprived of rest and leave and undergoing humiliation and harassment at the hands of higher officers and politicians (and even henchmen of politicians), the policemen at almost all the levels get mentally frustrated. Poor pay and inability to meet growing aspirations on the home front add to the crisis. These factors make a deadly concoction, either for an extreme step or to tread path of corruption.
Ratio and vacancy
Startling but true, according to Central Home Ministry data, there are three cops per one VIP but only one cop for 800 civilians. As per UN norms there should be 145 cops for every lac population. But in India there are about 105 cops per one lac population. In Karnataka there are about 90 cops per lac population. This is one of the lowest police to population ratios in the world.
Delhi, Chandigarh and Goa are the only states which have around 200 to 300 policemen per lac population. A romping 34 per cent of IPS cadres are vacant in Karnataka alone and even after the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) sanctioned 205 posts for Karnataka about 70 posts are still vacant.
Suicidal tendencies/ homosexuality
“An internal report submitted to Central Home Ministry during Manmohan Singh government, states that almost 70 percent of the police officers who have served for more than 10 years in police department have developed suicidal tendencies due to work pressure. This number is very high in the Central and State Reserve police as they are stationed for months together in remote places especially in disturbed pockets”.”The report even states that homosexuality is growing rapidly among reserve police, “which is unnatural and unacceptable according to the rule of the law.”However, despite knowing the problems, the government seems to have decided to turn a blind eye on purpose.
Most of the policemen who face these problems everyday say that while political highhandedness cannot be tackled easily, the government can bring solace to the policemen in a very big way by filling the vacant posts and improving the pay and working conditions.
Mithun Shilpi, an Inspector in the Garden City agrees that pressure bogs them down always and sometimes it pulls them down to the extent that they do not want to see the next dawn.“While donning this uniform for the first time, each one of us think we are going to be catalysts of change. But, in the cacophony of the system we end up being mere punching bags. We need to act as negotiators or mediators sometimes due to political pressure. If we do not obey their oral orders we have to pack our bags and start marching. Time has only become a word which has no definition for us. Ask me, I have worked for over 72 hours without rest, but who cares,” questions Shilpi.
Meanwhile, another Border Security Force personnel on condition of anonymity speaks of the ordeals he faces when posted at the country’s borders devoid of any facilities. "I have stayed away from home for months together. No proper food, water, shelter. My colleagues and I have lived in a make-shift hut and have bathed in numbing cold river water", says the cop who is now almost nearing retirement.
This man of strong built speaks of fluctuating insulin levels and blood pressure and attributes all of this and more to his work schedule.There is dejection on his face when he recalls how a close friend of his ended his own life and how the entire issue was billed off as marital dispute even when the fact was that he was being targeted by a higher officer for speaking out against some corrupt-practices within the department.
At the lower levels of the constabulary, the pangs of constables were out in the open recently when the entire state constabulary decided to go on mass leave protest demanding for better working and living conditions. After the protest, a sad aspect of a constables’ lives came to fore when several constables taken as orderlies by senior police officers for their personal work returned to the pavilion!
““We have done it all. Carried vegetables, washed clothes, made dishes, cleaned floors and tables and even walked around with eyes welling when abuses were hurled at us by not just the higher-ups but even their wives and children,” says a constable who worked as a domestic help in a senior IPS officer’s house.”
While none have an answer to how the department can be brought out of the clutches of the ‘Netas’, they feel that some small reforms in the working structure can make a difference.
Look, we are equals here!
According to many women who don the Khaki, this is one department which treats its men and women equally!"Unparliamentary, abusive and filthy language is used generously on us by politicians, their ‘chelas’ and our own higher ups,” says a woman cop who does not wish to be named.While she says women in the department too work till late hours, she brings the focus on another major cause of concern for women.“Are there separate toilets for women cops in police stations? Only few have it,” she says adding that women work devoid of basic facilities.
Reforms that made a difference - the Annamalai model
Meanwhile, in the coastal district of Udupi, Superintendent of Police Annamalai, who is also christened as ‘UdupiSingham’ by locals out of reverence and respect, has brought in a systematic leave pattern for the policemen to follow. Here, the cops are asked to avail their leave without fail. According toAnnamalai, this one move has worked wonders.A constable can avail 30 days leave for his marriage, 15 days leave for his close relative’s marriage and also go on 10 days of leave on completing six months of service.Further, during emergency, he can just send an SMS and come back and regularize the same. He receives an SMS once his leave has been sanctioned.
The job our police do is not an easy one. Seeing terror, chaos, killings and brutality, can shake any human being, but these strong men return to work every day without letting it take toll on themselves – externally. However, silently it does take a toll and when coupled with other factors, either professional or personal, it can only explode, compelling the cop to sometimes resort to taking extreme steps.
NandiniMatsa, Psychiatrist says that regular counselling by professionals can be of great help to the cops. She points out that though the counselling and refreshment programmes were in place some years ago, the two have vanished off late for reasons best known to the government and the department concerned.
Need for Reforms
The police suicides in the state has stirred the conscience of all Kannadigas and the incidents mirror the plight of governance and the backward ignorant mindset of our ruling clique and there is a need for some immediate reforms, if we are to protect our protectors.
Symbiosis Law School Dean and legal luminary Dr ShashikalaGurupur says that three measures are required –
• An overhaul and renaming of the Prevention of Sexual Harassment in Workplace Act (POSHA) as Prevention of Workplace Harassment Act (POWHA),
• Public consultation and scrutiny by a committee to check such targeting in last 5 or 10 years of such public servants and rectifying the error or undoing the violation
• And the introduction of a Code of Conduct for elected representatives while dealing with public servants.
Elaborating on these points, Dr Shashikala says that though an Act pertaining to Sexual Harassment is in place, the time is now ripe to adopt a holistic law on Workplace harassment, which has received attention over the last ten years in Scandinavian countries based on the psychiatric research reports (surprisingly, in the recent case, psychiatric background was misconstrued as contrary evidence).
She points as to how the report was developed on the basis of case studies of persons reporting various health disorders after being exposed to humiliation, exclusion, discrimination, bias,mobbing and sometimes verbal abuse. Invariably, whether in the public or in private sector, the best performer with less social skills or least sycophantic approach becomes the target. The target gets transferred for disagreeing ideologically or for refusing to favor or for holding independent views. If the public interest is not superior in case of a public servant what else is?
Such targets are reluctant to confront and are neither trained nor educated to tackle it through appropriate and adequate communication. The problem becomes compounded in the most secretive, hierarchy-ridden system like that of police or the army where professionalism is synonymous with secrecy or with silent suffering. Complaining or questioning is considered as antithetical to discipline and solidarity or loyalty. In addition to these, in India, targets may also get picked for their caste or region or appearance or descent or dissent
The nature of harassment in workplace is similar to ragging and the law should not only punish the harassing employee but also the employer who colludes by silence. In case of public employment, when people in power, especially the elected representatives’ do not have an explicit code of conduct, it is assumed that they exhibit highest standard of public duty and responsibility, but it does not mean they are not accountable. As the master of such workforce, the state is responsible for such violations. The consequencesuch as this, must be treated as cruelty under Indian penal code and other existing tort law principles resulting not only in punishment of the offenders but also in compensation for dereliction of duty as an employer in being negligent or non-responsive or in wilfultargeting.
The Khaki vsKhadi debate will go on, but if the government can pick up on the positives emanating from this debate, and implement them speedily, all of us including our protectors will feel a lot safer.
es hinted at political and departmental harassment.