Why policemen kill themselves

On May 11, 2018, senior Maharashtra IPS officer Himanshu Roy committed suicide in Mumbai. He was suffering from cancer and resultant depression. Another IPS officer, Surendra Kumar Das, committed suicide in Kanpur in September 2018 due to “family issues”. Ajay Kumar of the Delhi Police, who was suffering from depression, chose to end his life in New Delhi on April 4 this year.

Reasons for suicide

These are just a few instances of suicide in the police. Over 940 police personnel committed suicide in the five years till December 2018. This includes personnel of the Central Armed Police Forces. As many as 54 Delhi Police personnel chose to end their lives in the last four years. In Tamil Nadu, 166 policemen took their lives between 2010 and 2014, while in Maharashtra and Kerala, the figure was 161 and 61, respectively. In the last three years, 105 personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force, entrusted with the onerous responsibility of looking after the internal security of the whole country, committed suicide.

The reasons for suicide among the police are manifold. Police personnel have no fixed hours of duty. They are considered to be on duty all the time. This deprives them of the luxury of spending time with their families. They are frequently made to work for anywhere up to 16 hours a day. Families are ignored and this leads to familial conflicts. Festivals are given a go-by as they have to be on duty to ensure peace in their areas. K. Annamalai, a 2011 batch IPS officer of the Karnataka cadre, who resigned from service recently, said that though he enjoyed the challenges of being a police officer, he missed many important functions and “the small things in life”.

Denial of leave is another sore point that affects the efficiency of the police and leads to frustration. Though no superior generally likes to deny leave to his or her subordinates, operational requirements most often warrant a full-strength force to deal with varied law and order problems. While it is easy to apportion blame on the officers for suicide or fratricide, it is the system that stands to be inculpated. Due to large vacancies in the police forces, a huge responsibility rests on the available personnel to maintain law and order.

The health of police personnel has taken a toll because of erratic working hours and lack of physical exercise. Many of them are known to suffer from stress-related diseases such as depression and obesity. Unable to cope, they end their lives.

Filling up vacancies

To arrest the growing incidence of suicides, the government needs to take multi-pronged steps with urgency. An acute shortage of personnel in the police has to be of immediate concern. In 2014, there was a shortage of over 5.6 lakh personnel against the sanctioned strength of 22.8 lakh. An in-depth study of the requirement of police personnel over the next decade would be conducive to plan recruitment and training in a phased manner.

Senior officers need to identify personnel with deviant behaviour. The Delhi Police has taken a step forward in this direction to identify personnel with psychological disorders to put them through counselling sessions. Frequent interactions between officers and subordinates will help subordinates air their grievances freely. Solutions can be jointly worked out. Even if the grievances are not immediately redressed, it will be soothing for an officer to share his or her problems with a senior officer. It might even forestall a suicide attempt.

The writer is a retired Inspector General of Police with the CRPF

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