Khaki gets a new colour in Covid times

Last week at a Delhi hospital a Covid-19 patient jumped from the third floor, creating a huge thud sound, followed by chaos. People around saw a person jump from the balcony and landing on a tin shed on the ground floor. The first person they called was the policeman on duty. The man in khaki ran, didn’t care for his safety, took the semi-conscious patient in his arms and ran towards the emergency room. Out of depression, the patient wanted to end his life. The policeperson, in khaki, saved him with timely help.

No one would know the name of the brave cop nor will he get an award. This, however, is not an exceptional story. Hundreds and thousands of such tiny droplets of godly help are spread all over and people have started talking about them.

That’s the change coloring the fabric of a different khaki. This khaki is seen through the prism of love and respect tinged with gratefulness.

Imagine thousands of migrant laborers gathered on Delhi’s Uttar Pradesh and Haryana borders. They were coming in waves. The only people whom the administration could rely on were the police personnel, who also faced the same danger of getting infected. They also have their families waiting for them and cautioning them not to risk their lives. The police, however, proved that in all critical times they do what no one else could. It is not only true for the lower rung police personnel but top brass as well, who have put in their best in this crisis.

Never have I felt like this for the Indian police, which we love to describe as a colonial burden, brute and often an unfriendly force. The Covid-19 has changed many things in our life but the most striking change that I see is the way common people have begun looking at them.

We see them enforcing law and order, we see them striking ‘danda’ (lathicharge) on the arrogant brat and those empty heads who gather at religious places, violating the orders and thereby endangering the lives of thousands with their foolish act. Instead, we also saw them giving water, food, helping hand and care with such humility that people had to look at them twice and pinch themselves to believe what they were seeing.

In both roles, the ‘men in khaki’ became the adorable ‘Bhai’ (brother) to the millions.

We saw the men in khaki swinging into action and handling the difficult situation deftly with a very firm hand. The video clips of many such small gestures went viral, with millions showering praise on them.

In the past there were some popular police leaders like Prakash Singh, KPS Sidhu, Julio Francis Ribeiro, Vijay Kumar who earned a great amount of people’s goodwill due to their exemplary chivalry, courage, toughness and an impeccable record. They were adored because they showed the courage to put their loyalty above the political pressures and stood firmly before the political powers. This time it was different. Everywhere (almost) the police were fully supported by the political leaders like Yogi Adityanath, BS Yediyurappa, Captain Amarinder Singh and Shivraj Singh Chauhan and we witnessed the difference in the outcome.

We saw them distributing essentials to the needy and the poor, singing a song on corona to make people understand the seriousness of the crisis in a harmonious way. They went from one shanty to the other in slums and villages, supplied atta, rice, salt, tea packets and other essential commodities. They received unruly welcome too, like in Madhya Pradesh, where stones were hurled at them. The culprits. however, were caught and the war against Covid-19 moved on.

Indian Police had been at the receiving end and hardly anyone was interested to look at their hard living conditions and harsh duty hours. High-handed behavior, corrupt to the hilt and slaves to the political masters: Their image remained sealed from colonial memories to the post-Independence era, something which is fossilized and reinforced by the movies.

There is hardly any chapter in textbooks on the history of the Indian police, which is quite different from what it was during the British regime. The first one-sided attack by China on India was braved by the Indian policemen as the Nehruvian policy had the police force guarding our borders in Aksai Chin. The 21st October Police Day observed nationwide is in memory of those ten policemen who were killed by the Chinese in 1959. They all belonged to the Central Reserve Police Force.

After that, there have been numerous examples when police acted as the protector of the Indian Constitution, faced assaults by the anti-national terrorist forces including Khalistanis, Islamist Jihadis, Church-supported NSCN (IM) and (K), and the Naxals-Maoists in thirteen Left-wing terrorism affected states. In many situations like in Kashmir, Punjab, Chhattisgarh and the Northeast, they have been put to the most challenging assignments which made them act as soldiers of the armed forces.

The apathy for policemen was so grave that a police memorial at Chanakyapuri (Delhi) faced several years of vehement opposition before it was finally erected.

I don’t know if there is any police memorial in Kashmir for the immortalized police jawans or not, but the impression is that the sacrifices of J&K Police remain still unsung and unknown. According to the J&K Police website, the number of policemen martyred in the line of action against Jihadi terrorists stands at 1,669 (2018) including ranks upward of the constables, special police officers to the DIG-level officers. Two incidents where J&K police personnel were brutally assaulted by the Islamists are still fresh in my mind. First, the mob lynching of Muhammad Ayub Pandith in Nowhatta and secondly, the killing of 45-year-old police sub-inspector Mohammad Ashraf Dar who had come home to celebrate Eid-ul-Adha with his family. He was killed by Jihadis in his kitchen, in front of his one-year-old daughter.

Covid-19 battle has showcased the role of the police personnel in the eyes of all, more subtly and in an appreciative colour. The khaki is not seen as a dreaded colour but as an ATH (Any Time Help). It is the right time for the leaders and the police top brass to script a new beginning for the image makeover by introducing reforms as were suggested by the Supreme Court and stalwarts like Prakash Singh. Indian police must be trained as a friendly civic force in uniform, unburdening it of all that the colonial legacy British gave it. The bright dreamy-eyed youth joining the khaki want to be trained as a brother force- as we see in Singapore and Japan. The post-Independence police person wants to feel proud of his uniform and the great amount of appreciation he has earned proves it. Bhai to the citizen, brutal to the wicked.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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