Why did cops in Karnataka embrace death?

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Karnataka lead picture Aug 2
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The month of July was one of the worst for the police of Karnataka as four of their men and women took their lives unable to bear with the stress and strain of duty. What ails this profession?

By Imran Qureshi in Bengaluru

His head is all fried up. He has done night duty and has not yet gone home. And it is already 2.30 pm,” said a woman writer about a police inspector at a police station. “Fried up?’’ asked a man accompanying a friend who was the complainant. The friend had had an angry exchange with a house owner over parking. In the meantime, the inspector has to look into an illegal demolition of an apartment. That’s when the chairman of an educational institution walks in with the complaint about parking. Just then the inspector gets a call from a local MLA which makes him say: “Yes, sir, yes sir. I have just finished night and will sort out the building issue and attend the meeting at 5 pm.’’

Is it any wonder then that this Station House Officer (SHO) is stressed out as he tries to keep his wits about him with these diverse demands on his time and patience? By the time he has finished his duty, it will be 24 hours since he left home. This happens twice a week when he is on night rounds. Regular day duty isn’t any better. If he gets a 12-hour day, he’s lucky. Weekly-offs, family outings and leave are generally frowned upon. “It is a fact that the middle level in the police department—from sub-inspector to assistant commissioner or even deputy superintendent of police—are high-pressure jobs,” said a senior police official on condition of anonymity. And accountability from these levels is much more than from their superiors, barring the commissioner of police.

TOO MUCH STRESS

Gopal B Hosur, retired IG (Intelligence), told India Legal: “The volume of work to meet prescribed procedures is also very high. A small slip can land such police personnel in trouble with not only the bosses but the law as well. Aren’t these good enough reasons for stress-related problems to crop up? It is God’s grace that an overwhelming majority manage the stress and strain.”

However, there have been a growing number of police officers who can’t hold up and commit suicide. The resignation of a deputy superintendent of police (DySP) after a fracas with the political class had hardly died down when her colleagues in the same rank attempted suicide within a span of three days.

Policing is a high-stress job involving long hours. Many in the force are caving under the constant pressure to perform. Photo: UNI
Policing is a high-stress job involving long hours. Many in the force are caving under the constant pressure to perform. Photo: UNI

The first suicide on July 4 was that of a young DySP, a direct recruit of 2011, who was surprisingly caught receiving a ransom amount to resolve a kidnapping issue. Kalappa Handibag, many officers privately admit, seemed to have got inadvertently tricked into the deal because he was following instructions of his superior without realizing the harm it would do to him and the department.

SHOCK WAVES

But Handibag’s case did not shake up the police department as much as the suicide of MK Ganapathy, the second DySP, on July 6. His television interview sent shock waves across the police and political establishment. Ganapathy told television channels that he was a victim of harassment at the hands of then home minister KJ George as well as ADGP (Intelligence) AM Prasad and IGP-Lokayukta Pronab Mohanty.

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George had to reluctantly quit the ministry when a judicial magistrate ordered registration of an FIR for abetment of suicide. Ganapathy’s family had argued that the television interview be treated as a dying declaration because soon after, he had gone to his hotel in Madikeri town and committed suicide.

This was followed by a woman sub-inspector who attempted suicide on July 20 after a fracas with her immediate boss, a SHO, who had just returned from suspension. Two days later, a Karnataka Administrative Service officer attempted suicide because her promotion had been delayed and there were hurdles in her posting as well.

SPOTLIGHT ON POLICE

Dr Meeran Borwankar, Director General, Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD), told India Legal: “The police personnel are indeed stressed; first because of the very nature of their work and also for the average of 12 hours they put in all over the country.” A BPRD-sponsored study has strongly recommended eight hours duty and another study also found that police staff is responding to stress through emotional strategies instead of problem-solving ones, highlighting the need for professional counselling. The way out is to go in for a shift of eight hours, timely grant of leave and counselling to help us cultivate a problem solving approach when faced with stress. The current scenario is harmful both for citizens as well as police personnel. It is time to act now.

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The sudden spurt of suicides and attempted suicides have raised several questions and brought the spotlight on the police, the face of state power. These incidents have come in the wake of questions being raised in social media about critical issues relating to the police constabulary. Though efforts by a few dismissed constables to organize a strike last month were quelled, the constabulary’s problems came to be addressed partially. Two years ago, the state had seen the spectacle of an ADGP-level (additional DGP) officer creating a ruckus and instigating subordinates after he was caught taking pictures of a young woman in a coffee shop.

ST Ramesh, former DGP, Karnataka, said: “There are really no leaders that younger officers can look up to or just go and discuss issues and seek advice. Morale is at its lowest ebb. It has reached the tipping point. It is all a result of years of political interference. There is no counseling of any kind. There is no doubt that the police work under a much higher pressure than several other professions.’’

Said a senior officer on condition of anonymity: “The pressure of annual transfers has become like the annual maintenance contract for an equipment. By the time they settle down in the new posting, it takes about two to three months. By the time they start effectively functioning, it is time to get tensed up about where they will again be transferred. Political interference is at a peak during this period.”

Other officers admit that reports of various committees and directions of the Supreme Court have been effectively side-stepped or sabotaged by states to ensure that the power to give postings remains with the political class.

NO RESPECT

Said Hosur: “There is no respect for rank. There could be fear, but not respect. So officials are always in a dilemma whether to do or not to do a particular job. Either of the paths are fraught with problems and it all depends on how strong the individual is. This is where survival instinct and adaptability get tested. Many adapt, some don’t.’’

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The to-do-or-not-to-do syndrome is not confined to the police alone. It applies to general administration as well. “There is no sense of accountability. A couple of years ago, a senior officer was upbraided by the government for no fault of his for a procedural lapse. For the next two years of his service, he simply refused to take any decision,’’ said a senior official.

Then of course, there is the shortage of personnel. The problems faced by the inspector on a single day in the Bengaluru police station referred to earlier reflect the stresses and strains of this service. “Each police station requires three SHO-level officers or senior inspectors who can work in shifts,’’ said a circle inspector.

So, does being pulled up by a senior officer lead a person to committing suicide? Not necessarily, say psychiatrists. Dr Prabha Chandra, professor and Head of Department, Psychiatry, National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS), was highly critical of the way the media reported these suicides. “We need to be extremely careful about reporting suicides. There are many social implications of suicides but the most important is to encourage people to look for solutions rather than ask why a person committed suicide,’’ said Chandra, who insists the media should follow guidelines on reportage of suicides.

Obviously, there is a deep rot within the system.

Lead Illustration : Rajender Kumar

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