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Why are Punjab cops killing themselves?

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 10 February 2018, 16:30 IST

The recent suicide by a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) of Punjab police shooting himself while handling a student protest and a previous incident of another cop ending his life during the Republic Day parade function in the state has once again highlighted the very high levels of stress among police personnel. These instances are also a grim pointer to remedies that have been announced time and again but have never been implemented which keeps bringing the situation back to square one. Punjab or for that matter any police force in the country cannot afford such high levels of stress among its personnel as it can have a cascading impact on its performance.

DSP Baljinder Singh Sandhu, 50 had shot himself with his licensed weapon during a students' protest at a college of Punjabi University in Jaitu near Faridkot last week. A constable, Lal Singh, who was critically injured as the bullet hit him after piercing through the DSP’s head also succumbed to his injuries a day later. The DSP had gone to the college to resolve an issue between students and the local police. The students were protesting against 'moral policing' by Jaitu Station House Officer (SHO) Gurmeet Singh who had allegedly detained and tortured three college students, including a girl. What was horrifying was the video of the DSP shooting himself going viral after he had threatened the students to do so.

Earlier Manjit Ram, a constable deputed as the gunman of Jagraon City police station SHO, had reportedly shot himself dead during the Republic Day celebrations in Jagraon. He had shot himself in the chest with his official AK-47 rifle when the Republic Day parade was underway at Government Senior Secondary School. Reports said that he was depressed because of some personal issues.

What needs to be understood first is that why the cops become prone to suicidal tendencies. There have been instances in the past also. In 2014 a Superintendent of Police Baljinder Singh Dhillon had allegedly shot himself in Patiala and way back in 1997 the state was shocked when another senior officer Ajit Singh Sandhu, a winner of President's award for gallantry had jumped before a train in 1997 as he faced cases and indictments pertaining to extra-judicial killings during the era of militancy.

Observers point out that the police personnel through the ranks are working for long hours without any break under tremendous pressure. Their nature of job already entails lots of negativity where they are expected to intervene in hostile situations right from marital disputes to rioting and arson. The feudal mindset adds to the chaos.

“Things become worse for them these days as both the parties that are fighting bring in politicians to exert pressures on their behalf. With three parties, the two feuding ones and the third being the police itself, things become very difficult. Then they have hardly have any time left for their own families. This is the reason that children of the police personnel often go astray. The adage of 'Jab saiyan bhaye kotwal toh dar kahe ka' (when a family member is a police officer what is there to fear) holds true for such children,” points out former Director General of Police (DGP) Shashi Kant.

He says that senior officers demanding quick results, adds to their misery. “When these officials take stand on issues it is also a manifestation of their frustration at the way things are moving and how they are treated. The politicians to whom they are attached often humiliate them. All this becomes a recipe for disaster,” he added. Shashi Kant has been one of the officials who has taken on the politicians on various issues, particularly on the drug menace and has faced a lot of harassment. The plight of those down the rung can easily be imagined.

Police personnel often narrate how those working at the low rung are treated 'like dogs and very often worse than them'. They narrate how they are often asked to perform jobs like changing nappies of the toddlers, taking the children of their political and departmental bosses to school and bringing them back ot taking their dogs out. They get abused by the wives and other family members of their bosses and are often humiliated in front others.

“I was once told by a minister that he keeps police officers at the toes of his shoes and can kick them around whenever and wherever he wants. It was only when I took off my own shoe and chased him that he scampered off” narrated a former top official of Punjab police to this reporter.

The plight of police officials during the Halqa (constituency) in-charge system put in place by the previous Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) – Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) regime has been reported quite often where the local level politicians ruled through their loyal police officers while ignoring the departmental hierarchy, often putting the senior officers to shame. The present regime claims to have done away with the Halqa in-charge system but there has been little change in the plight of the police personnel who continue to face humiliation at one level or the other from big wigs backed by politicians.

Former DGP SS Virk has a different take on the issue when he says that it is the very nature of a police officer's job that demands him to act as a shock absorber of the society and spend a lifetime in crisis management. “The job demands functioning at various levels -- from handling the immediate fallout of a law and order situation to prevention of later events that are anticipated. You have to immune yourself and shape your personality. There are some people who are better in handling crisis. While there is no inbuilt programme in the system, it comes through development and evolution,” he said.

Narrating his own experiencing, he said that one of the exercises taken by him was to get the junior officers to speak out on issues that trouble them. “You have to create an atmosphere where they look forward to monthly meetings so that they can narrate their problems. Small term capsule courses in stress management along with yoga and meditation can help as counter therapies,” he said.

Over the last one year of the Congress government under Captain Amarinder Singh coming to power in Punjab, there have been talks of the police personnel getting a weekly off and those carrying out investigations not being put on duties like arrangement for political events or other programmes. But all this is still to translate into reality. “These things are announced just for public consumption and remain on paper. We can just dream of such luxuries,” pointed a lower rung official of the Punjab police.

First published: 10 February 2018, 16:30 IST