[VoxSpace Exclusive] The Last Salute : The Inside Story Of Policemen Suicides Across The Country

Chapter One – April 2009, 2017 – The Breakout Feature

The nine-year-old kid watches his mother trying to untie the rope. His father is heavy. The boy can see his mother struggle in turning him, from his facedown position. He fell down right on his face. The mother ushers the kid to go call ‘uncle’ at the next door. The boy stands there, not moving an inch, stunned to see a tinge of blueness on his father’s face. The rope looped around his neck, only seems tighter, as his mother, struggles to untie it. In the middle of her frantic attempt, she looks at the boy and tightly slaps him. The boy then realizes his task and runs out of the room, and the house.

He knocks on the neighbours’ door, where Ramesh Uncle stays. The door opens, and the Kid grabs onto his hand and pleads him to come to his home. His father is not waking up, he says. In a moment, Ramesh Uncle understands the grave scenario, and hurriedly accompanies the boy. As he reaches, Ramesh Uncle sees a scene which his mind had fearfully visualized just moments ago. A scene that of a man, a hefty well-built man, lying on the ground, lifeless, and a woman, wailing helplessly beside him. He knelt down the man, and gripped the rope, trying to untie it with sheer force. It was as if he could force it to untie itself if he could show an amount of relentless strength. But, the man was long gone. The woman knew it. The neighbour knew it. And the nine-year-old kid would know it when he would be asked to light his father’s funeral pyre.

Miles away, at the District Collectors office, the phone rang an hour later. Sub Inspector of Police Hanumantha Rao had killed himself. As a moral obligation, the Collector was asked a simple favour. To drop all charges and to pull back the enquiry commission which was to take SI Hanumantha Rao into custody today. The Collector, of course, was in a fix at that point in time. The press had gone into a frenzy. It demanded blood. It demanded a culprit out of a human. It needed to show the world that it was a force which could decide the fate of lives. The power dynamics needed to be satiated at some point.

12th April – Two Days Before The Death

“….see, how ridiculous and shameless this police officer is. As you can see, the SI, mind you, THE SI, who is supposed to be upholding the law, and ensuring the smooth flow of affairs, in these times of turmoil, is shamelessly taking a bribe of 10lakh rupees from the local MLA we now identify as Gopala Hari of Kapra. We can see how the whole Police department is corrupt, and how the election results can easily be bought. We urge the local authorities to immediately take some sincere action on this SI, otherwise more will come. These leeches of money will ruin our system. We urge the Election Commission Of India to look into the matter, and stop such blatant misuse of power…….”

A major national news channel, KlipTV, ran the footage they had “acquired” again and again. You see it was a golden time for news channels. Andhra Pradesh Elections were underway, and the campaigning of both ruling party and the opposition parties was in full swing. Agendas were drafted, promises were being lied, dreams were sold and futures being woven. The Political parties in question had only one agenda in mind- to win the elections, by hook or by crook. Sadly, the hook was the press and media, across Print, Television and Web, and the crooks were any soft targets they could find. Invariably it was the Police.

As soon as the news that SI Hanumantha Rao had accepted a bribe from a local leader, the whole Police headquarters came to an alert. They summoned SI Hanumantha Rao, who had been “stung” by the press. Ironically, until the SI in question, had reached Hyderabad City Police Commissionerate, in Basheerbagh, roughly 75 Kilometers away, he hadn’t seen, heard or otherwise knew about his guilt. He walked into the Commissionerate tiredly, after a day spent jiving away local mobs, liquor distributors, and more importantly ‘Cash for Vote’ brokers. However, it did not take much time for him, to realize what had happened, as the then DIG called him to his office. The prying eyes, the disappointed looks, the hate in the air, and judgement on the tongues, SI knew he was in deep trouble. One thing that could really save him, was the fact that, he wasn’t the only one. It never was a lone policeman. A chain of command was always involved in these sort of circumstances. People in higher designations were always present, albeit in the shadows.

Death Comes Too Often And Too Early

By the end of the day, his last hope of collective protection was taken away. Press and Media needed a scapegoat. Political parties would make merry of this sort of misery (at least those who could stand to benefit this aberration). The torn serviceman, got home to see hate and contempt in his wife’s eyes. The fact that would make his life hell for the day following was the establishment of the Enquiry Commission. He was wrong. That he knew. He would be shamed all along. That he understood. But could he live beyond that shame? A policeman is always associated with maleficence sadly. And thus Death became his reckoning.

On 14th April, SI Hanumantha Rao hung himself in his bedroom, as his wife had gone out to buy the groceries, and his son, Tinku played outside. His death wasn’t the only one to happen that week, or that month, or that year. According to the Human Rights Watch report, every election year consumes at least three hundred policemen. Some choose death over budging on ethical values, some undergo an immense amount of threat calls, and those who are brave remain unheard by the higher authorities. Perhaps disappointment in this thankless job of protecting the society is truly a professional hazard.

A Collection Of Interviews To Break Down The Phenomenon Of Deaths Of Our Brave Cops

The Dichotomy Of Violence By Hitesh Agrawal

A 29-year-old journalist, Hitesh Agrawal, of a local news portal, since 2012, has been closely following the pattern of suicides in the bravest souls of our community. It is an ironical conundrum that the powerful and the most respected, at least by the normal populace and in the normal parlance, are the victims of unprecedented chaos and disorder in their personal lives. Hitesh, as he tells us, initially had approached the concerned senior officials about these deaths. For obvious reasons, most of the higher authorities remained truly tight-lipped when it came to talking about one of their own.

By 2010, it was clear that the Police department would never give out any information, most logically, because they didn’t want to reinitiate a controversy. How well does the internal enquiry and response machinery work within the Police Department is a discussion for the more intelligent and well-versed minds?

Our focus here is to bring out testimonies of our Guardians, in their voice, and perhaps see where it is all going wrong. Unfortunately, the law would work within a framework of ‘let things be’ most times. The suicide rate has appallingly shot up over the past decade or so.

The Numbers Speak For Themselves

In 2003, the Policemen suicide rate was a little above 100 per annum, which although is a serious number, still could’ve been seen as a result of occupational risks and trials.  But, by 2010, the death toll of policemen had reached an average of 270 per annum. A little too much to let things be. The government wouldn’t get into the mess by employing any benches or commissions towards the enquiry. It is worth to note that a certain DIG Balwinder Singh Rawat, of Haryana, considered the Psychiatric analysis of Policemen, as an utter waste of time, and squashed the whole thing by saying “Policemen are not Mental”. As a matter of fact, the internal reporting’s of SK Patnaik Commission of 2011, which claimed salary to be one of the major factors for depression and anxiety in our Police force, was conveniently claimed to be inappropriate and unworthy of implementation.

Undoubtedly they are the strongest set of people within our community, but a simple question still persists – Do The Strong Never Fall?

The findings of Hitesh Agrawal on policemen suicide directly interludes and presents cases to us how perhaps the suicides are not just a case of depression and mental violence. It is much deeper than that.

What Drives Our Men In The Uniform To The Last Salute

June 2017, Adilabad, Telangana

SP Prabhakar gets off the call and looks incredibly tense. There is a system for everything, that much he had realized well over the last decade or so of being in the force. Some things had to be looked at, and some things had to be let go off. The selective blindness towards some issues ensured longevity to all the parties involved. By arresting the head of Liquor syndicate in Siddipet, headed by Hamidullah, SP Prabhakar had broken that one golden rule. Next morning, he received a mail which showed him in a compromising position with a prostitute.

It wasn’t false though. He did employ the services of a prostitute from the nearby town of Nirmal. They were cheap and would keep it a secret. Why did Prabhakar get into bed with a prostitute, is rather debatable? Ethically, of course, he was perhaps wrong, as far as his marital vows are concerned. But he did what he did, as soon as he found out that he was weak, and perhaps his morally upholding nature was worth just dust. Sex with a silent prostitute in such times seems easy. And thus SP Prabhakar, with this naked woman before him, felt worthy of something and liberated. He didn’t realize that every move of his was being watched and that there is always a leverage to someone in power. A leverage which could come back to bite him.

SP Prabhakar after getting off the call locks himself inside a room. And there is a slow gentle thud that his wife hears after a few moments. After ten minutes, the door is broke open, and the promising policeman lies on the ground, within a pool of blood, with his skull bore through by the trace of a bullet. A Ruger Service six to be precise. Honors are given to the deceased and a meagre pension to the loved ones left behind.

The Psyche Of The Policemen – A Deeper Look

The unpublished report “The Last Salute: The Dying Of Uniformed Guardians” by Hitesh Agrawal speaks about the duress resulting in death. The excerpt of the report follows below:

“…..in a non-specific manner, and with the risk of seeming biased towards the lower rung of hierarchy, in most cases of our study, around 55% of death under duress take place as a result of pressure from Higher Officials. It is a well-known understanding that about 90% of SP’s and SI’s utilize the lower cadre of policemen, such as Head Constables and Constables for working for them personally. The irregular timings and placements, do not help either. In a recent study (cited 2015) taken up by Ujjwala NGO, which works to prevent Suicide by all means possible, and provides counselling to the depressed, it was confirmed that about 74% felt that they were overworked. Our resolution of the matter, should, therefore, base on the word ‘Overworked”.

When we look at the work clocking mechanism implemented across the nation, we come to face a reality, there just isn’t any. Timings are a myth. An average policeman does not have any shift and timings. The mere thought of implementing a shift system seems futile within an over-populous democracy like ours, where the public to policeman ratio is touted at around 670:1. Meaning there is only one policeman, for every 670 people. How does that weigh in within the chain of supply and demand? And with crime rates increasing to 735 (measured out of 100,000 people), sadly even the criminals outweigh the cops.

Due to these circumstances, an average policeman is made to work on a stretch of 14 to 18 hours every single day of his career. What does so much work mean, when capsulated under ethics, morals and criminal psyches? The Policemen (including the women in the force) are drastically pressured into committing acts of guilt, pleasure or immoral being. The lines between crime, criminal and moral obligations, all get heavily blurred…”

How Do We Handle The Crime And The Criminals? The Constancy Of Fear

Inexplicable fear. That is the term that could perhaps be used to describe the intent and gravity of Fear within our country. An arrest is not an ultimatum, the judiciary is sold, the executioners are bribed, the system is flawed, and the country pays.

In 2016, Sri Gopal, ASI of Tanuku Town Police Station, made an arrest which would take his life and beyond that, define an unsaid rule within the ranks of policemen. Sri Gopal, one night received a late night call, from Gannavaram Police Station, that a convoy of trucks, carrying a freight of illegal Sandalwood, from Karnataka to Kolkata. It was a routine freight check and a simple arrest. One of the many others he had taken up over the past. By half-past one, Sri Gopal and two other constables, Chandramohan and Kranthi, had drawn over a temporary check post at the outskirts of Tanuku junction. By three in the morning, they had already checked on ten trucks and made zero arrests. Selective blindness, after all, is a life skill.

But things turned truly awry when they came upon a truck carrying not Sandalwood, but a containment much more horrible. The containment was of women. Brought in Peddapuram and to be sold in Vishakhapatnam. Girls, women, transgenders, everyone seemed to be drugged within the confines of steely walls of the trucks. Sri Gopal out of instinct arrested the driver and seized the truck. Calls rang across the state, people got woken up, favours were asked, and men were pulled and pushed. By seven in the morning, the seized truck was on the roads again, and the arrest was nullified as drunk and driving case. Why a case? Well to account for the delay in consignment and an explanation for getting the women out of a truck and having them admitted to local hospitals. By the time they regained their consciousness, they were again drugged at Sai Krupa Clinic within the town.

For the next four days, ASI Sri Gopal did not report at the station. Some claimed that they’d seen him drunk and distorted at the outskirt highway bar, while some said he was aboard a train leaving for Vijayawada. One week later, his body was found in a gutter in the neighbouring village. Forensics report pointed that he had been killed two days earlier, possibly by a rusty long iron rod.

What If Something Goes Wrong? The Fear Is Maddening

This inadvertent fear that something might go wrong, beyond their control, drives some policemen to commit suicide as well. The report “The Final Salute” touches upon this subject as well.

“…. We have a fair weather bureaucracy system, which is wonderful until the time everything is going according to the plan and schematic. Now, when things turn bad, there is no escape to the police who in most cases are the ones directly involved. Who do they complain to? Well, there are state-sponsored grievance cells, but the fact of the day remains that, no self-respecting policeman would want to point out a flaw which involves his own colleagues and drags into mud his own department. That being said the braver lot, are often curbed down by the political gangs, syndicates and such. Be it the Railway Colony massacre in Patna, Flyover Murder in Bhuvaneswar, Trichy triple murders, anything for that matter. Policemen pay the dearest price to uphold law and order.

In this regard, a simple case of drunk and drive, the infamous Mayuri Junction incident in Trivunanthapuram, comes to mind. As it so happened on a Saturday night the traffic policeman, Constable Kumar, and three other people were stationed at the Mayuri Junction. Precisely, such location because of the occurrence of a list of bars and restaurants, over the 2-kilometre radius. Drunk and Drive cases were usually aplenty, and it made sense to have three to four constables at that location. Now, half past midnight, Constable Kumar starts standing at the centre of the road, to stop the vehicles speeding by. Most of the vehicles see the Constable and meekly come to a stop. But some of them try to act smart, and turn back, only to find another constable waiting to nab them. In such a scenario, a speeding car, a Maruti Suzuki Swift to be precise, hurries onto his spot. The driver seems to be totally inebriated, as the car shows no sign of stopping. Rather, it speeds up further. And before, Constable Kumar can actually react to it, and jump out of the way, the Car drives over his legs and crushes them both. The Constable is rushed to the nearest hospital, but the blood loss pushes him to lose his consciousness. The car was being driven by a ruling party member, and therefore no charges were pressed by any parties. The lack of justice to him, drove Constable Kumar to attempt a murder on the drive of the car after he got discharged. Nothing changes as usual. And the Constable is quietly suspended for irrational behaviour. A year down the line, Constable Kumar just flees with his family, overnight, and no one knows of his fate later on”

Preventive Measures Employed – And The Future Of Policing

The Holistic Approach of Well Being

“….As per the now ‘redundant’ Patnaik commission, we need to look at the whole issue of psychological depression as we would in any other profession or occupation. And perhaps with a more serious tone. The suggestive measures talked about by the commission, stated at three important things – Establishment of an Independent Grievance Cell which will be controlled and addressed to the Governor of the State, Establishment of Autonomous Counselling Institutions under every zonal and sector, and a WhistleBlower police where the lower cadre of policemen can raise and deliver their complaints to the higher authorities, without going through the hassle of command chain

Ironically of all these suggestive measures, the State Level Police department has given a nod ahead to the formulation of a whistleblower policy on multiple condition basis. The conditions here range from the designations, ‘seriousness of the issue’ per se, and case-related issues. Some would argue that this approach would do more harm than good. Thus, ruining the whole purpose of running a proper policy.

Institute of Behavioral and Management Studies, Chennai in one of the scholarly paper released in 2014, referred to the lack of opening up in Policemen within the term, “Stoicism Laded Stigma”.  It further elaborated on this idea by stating that there is an unspoken understanding that once an officer has admitted a need, they are subsequently placed on leave and possibly in danger of losing their position. This approach has caused an unknown number of officers to make the decision to keep their struggles to themselves. The fear of losing their jobs makes the policemen stoic and relentless.

Regarding this, the position recommended by the studies is that health sabbaticals be implemented with compulsory leave agendas. Yes, the duties of Policemen cannot be equated with that of any other, however, that being said the recruitment of people into the department has seen a drop by 9.2% over the last decade. Hence, a sustainable change has to be brought in, within the Police Recruitment Board as per the studies. More we employ, less the burden should be the mantra.

With recent establishment of grievance redress cells within the police department and in public as well by formulation of Centralized Public Grievance Redress and Monitoring System, evaluation tests being implemented right from the recruitment stage, and such other systems, the future of policing does seem to be taking a step forward towards a better existence, with our guardians finding their bearing towards a fruitful career.

As The Slogan Goes – Duty, Honour, Compassion – Always.

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