It was a manifestation of frustration in the lower rungs

A chilling silence has descended upon police stations in the city following Sunday’s sensational murder where a sub-inspector was shot dead by his constable after being denied leave. This newspaper’s reporters were met with a stoic silence as they travelled from one police station to another to get policemen and women to react to the incident. The few, who spoke, pleaded anonymity.

A day after the killing, senior police officials appeared torn between sympathising with the constable and flagging a serious breach of order. Joint Commissioner of Police Pronab Mohanty expressed outrage at the suggestion that the killing raises questions about the stress levels in the police force. “It’s the insubordination that needs to be addressed in this case,” he snapped.

Nevertheless, Home Minister R. Ashok responded to the killing by conceding that staff shortage and the resultant extra workload is causing unrest in the force. He has said that the government will work toward filling the 18,000 vacant posts in the constabulary.

Offering the disclaimer that nothing justifies the killing, Gopal Hosur, State Intelligence chief, said that the shooting was an extreme manifestation of the frustration being felt in the lower rungs of the police.

“Any amount of police reforms is unlikely to lift the morale of the force as long as the subculture of abuse of junior [personnel] doesn’t stop. A humane approach to one’s subordinates is what needs to be institutionalised,” he said.

Breaking point

Mere adherence to the Karnataka Police Manual, printed over a century ago, will go a long way in pacifying a constabulary that is at breaking point.

“The manual says that the senior-most officer inspecting the weekly parade should invite subordinates to submit their grievances at the end of the parade,” he said.

Mr. Hosur said the manual expects the commanding officer to visit the police lines (quarters) at the end of the weekly parade and interact with the family members of the men. “These are not just recommendations, they are standing orders. Where are they being followed?” he asked. A study conducted in 2009 by then Additional Director-General of Police (Recruitment and Training) D.V. Guruprasad is a telling commentary on the state of the constabulary that constitutes around 85 per cent of the police force. The study, based on the responses of 1,000 constables across the State, found that a majority of them were unhappy with their jobs because of two reasons — the non-availability of weekly off days and the lack of toilets!

Speaking about his study, Mr. Guruprasad told The Hindu: “Most policemen who participated in the survey said that they joined the force for the sake of a job. They neither expected good salary nor were attracted by any role model.”

Organisational stress

Psychologist Manika Ghosh, whose Ph.D. in 2003 focussed on stress among police, said that Sunday’s tragic incident is a reflection of the kind of “organisational stress” in the police force. “It’s a kind of stress that the public cannot even comprehend. There’s strong culture of hierarchy and subordination, superiors treat their subordinates badly and the orderly system persists. Add to this the fact that the ratio of police persons to the population is low and crimes (and the nature of it) have only increased,” she said. Her observations on the people-police ratio are borne out by the annual report of the Bureau of Police Research and Development which found that in Karnataka, there are typically about 41 policemen per 100 sq km — a figure that is much lower than neighbouring States.

Abysmal housing

Add to this the dismal housing situation of the constabulary and it seems like a wonder that there are any police constables at all. Less than 38 per cent of constables in the State have been provided housing quarters. And a visit to one such colony of police quarters off Mysore Road exposed just how bad even these are. Families with more than 10 members sat huddled in a tenement no larger than 300 sq ft.

Residents said that the maintenance of the entire colony was their responsibility. The tiled roofs leak during monsoons, the sewage system is crumbling.

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