Many aspire to join Karnataka’s police force. However, despite their intellectual prowess, they are rejected because they cannot meet the strict endurance and physical requirements. However, once in the police force, there is no mechanism, time or incentive to remain fit and this in turn affects their policing ability. Naqshab Bhat (Twitter: @hijabihudugi) has more.
After a long day at work, Rajan*, a pot-bellied sub-inspector in his 50s, satisfies his sweet tooth by filling his container with deep fried and drippy Gulab Jamun from the canteen at the police commissioner’s office in Bengaluru.
Rajan started as a constable, but he made the switch to the desk eight years ago. “Being a policeman is not easy. It takes a lot of energy,” he says. He chose the desk job as “it has less of moving around”.
Sitting in his cabin, with his nose buried in a newspaper, he recalls his days doing bandobust duty. These duties happen often and involve security arrangements made during protests, VIP visits, festivals and other important events. “Cops are posted in various areas around the state. They have to labour the entire day. When home-cooked food is not available, they tend to skip meals or eat during odd hours. This is what gives us all the health problems,” says Rajan.
With such level of stress and overwork, where will cops find the time to exercise, he asks. “Running around during work is our way of workout,” he says with a grin.
Do you hang your sneakers once you become a cop?
It’s not a cakewalk to join the Karnataka police as a constable. Among other requirements, male candidates should be able to complete a 2km run in 10 minutes, whereas female candidates have to run 400 metres within 10 minutes. But, how they maintain their fitness level once they are recruited is entirely up to them – There is no compulsion.
This reporter also spoke to some female constables in the commissioner's office, who say they are turning towards a healthier diet regime as they find it difficult to make time for a workout routine. One of them informs that a weekly parade happens every Friday. “But attending it is optional. We have switched to a healthier diet, which is enough to keep us going. We also perform Yoga at our own time."
A police constable, who didn’t want to be named, says, “It is during the initial training period of nine months that we focus on our weight. But once we start working, how we go about our health is completely left to us. (Being concerned about) weight is not something we are keen about after a point.”
A study, that began in 2014, sponsored by the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D), found that incidences of operational stresses were high among both traffic and civil police in Bengaluru.
In the first phase, 950 respondents aged 25 to 55 years were studied. Further, 605 cops between 30 to 45 years participated in it. BG Sudershan, associate professor and medical officer at RV College of Engineering, who prepared the study, says 75% of police personnel experience alarming levels of stress and expose themselves to various health issues between the age of 35 to 45. The reasons were found to be irregular food habits, low wages, low number of leaves, work burden and pressure from superiors.
“I had presented this report to then BPRD DG Meeran C Borwankar in August 2017, and recommended steps to reduce stress in the department,” says Sudershan. “I have been encouraged to continue researching this subject.”
He mentions that health check-ups, psychiatric intervention, regular shifts, interaction with superiors and having yoga units will together play an important role in reducing frustration among cops and stabilise their health.
‘21% vacancies in Karnataka Police Cadre’
Kumar* spends 8-11 hours every day controlling the traffic. He says they end up working extra during special duties. “I think our job, compared to other forces, is very strenuous. Where is the time for any sort of workout routine or stress relieving activity?”
He credits his hypertension to the stress he faces while managing traffic. “In the City Market, we are a total of 18 traffic policemen controlling the situation at different times of the day. For the number of vehicles there, there is a shortage of cops. The ratio puts pressure on us,” Kumar says.
According to data put out by BPRD last year, the Karnataka police force is short of 23,910 personnel against a sanctioned strength of 1,14,912: a vacancy gap of 20.8%.
NB Mellegatti, assistant commandant KSRP (riot police), says, "I address the grievances of KSRP’s police constables. We have witnessed an increase in sick leaves due to health issues, personal problems and mainly stress over the period. This is all due to vacant seats and low wages paid to our force."
‘Govt should allocate funds for police fitness’
Retired DCP (Crime) N D Mulla says it’s unfortunate that the perception is built that many policemen are not fit physically. “While it is true to a certain extent, the lack of checks in the police departments have resulted in this situation. Earlier, there used be a parade and physical exercise session twice a week. But, no one follows this routine today. The government, which is spending money on non-productive subjects, should allocate some funds for police fitness and incentivise officers who are fit,” he said.
Consulting dietitian and nutritionist Lalitha Priya has until now conducted two sessions on nutrition for the Karnataka Police. She acknowledges that it is not easy for cops to keep track of their diet and keep it balanced because of the nature of the job. “They tend to depend on junk and whatever food is available. That should not be the case.”
As for the Rajans, Priya has some words of advice, “Protein, carbohydrates and vegetables is essential for their diet along with a regular exercise routine. If they want to indulge in savouries that could be done on a cheat day. Thalis are highly recommended to keep them full so that they avoid junk and cheap meals.”
* Name changed to protect identity
(Naqshab Bhat is a Bangalore - based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)