On Police Commemoration Day, October 21, this year, Prime minister Narendra Modi inaugurated and dedicated to the nation the National Police Memorial.
This memorial, laid out over 6.3 acres in the high-profile Diplomatic Enclave in Chanakyapuri, Delhi, has a central structure, a 1600-square meter parade ground, and a museum underneath with artefacts, weapons, uniforms and other police-related items on display. The central structure comprises a `Wall of Valour’ that bears the engraved names of 34,844 martyrs, who have laid down their lives in the line of duty since our independence in 1947; a 238-tonne, 30-feet, central sculpture made of black granite, with the weight and colour standing for the gravitas of the sacrifice and surrender of the policemen; and a 60-feet river runs below, that denotes their continuous goodwill efforts.
For those who dismiss this event and the memorial itself as mere symbolism, and lament that “of all things needed, the government does this!”, it must be remembered that this memorial has finally seen the light of day after over 30 years, since the time that Rajiv Gandhi was prime minister. Such a memorial – to acknowledge the service and sacrifice of our Police personnel – had first been conceptualised in the 1980s, but many a slip occurred in-between to prevent its construction. First, it was the relocation from its originally proposed site, followed by objections from some quarters. When a structure was finally constructed in the early 2000s on this very site, it had to be demolished because it obstructed the view of the Rashtrapati Bhawan from Shanti Path, and got caught in legal wrangles.
That the Memorial is a reality now, is not exactly attributable to the Modi government in that sense, as it has been a work-in-progress over decades. Yet, we are inclined to believe, as the PM said in his speech on the occasion, that “Perhaps, God has chosen me to do all noble work, and that is why it is during our government’s rule that it has come up”. He gave credit to the time-bound work processes developed by his government.
Having made this statement, the Prime Minister must realise that the corollary is that the rest of the noble work related to the Police must follow. And equally speedily. The memorial must serve as a reminder to his government, of the work that remains undone.
Expectations are now high, given the sensitivity of his speech on the occasion. Police officials are of the opinion that it touched all the right points – when he talked about police being silent workers, who go unnoticed and unacknowledged. “People are not even aware of the extent of work that the police personnel and paramilitary forces are ever-ready to perform – no matter the time of day, weather, season, and even working non-stop through festivals. That “this very alertness is the reason that each moment of peace lived by the citizens is made possible, and innumerable attempts at disturbing peace and security are thwarted – even though most often these efforts go unrevealed and unsung, let alone receiving praise!” – were roughly his words.
His voice choked, as he told the public that the NDRF/SDRF personnel who we saw rushing to disaster-sites like boat collapses, railway accidents, building collapses, toiling to save lives as they put to stake their own, were the same khaki-clad police jawans. “Woh mere police ke jawaan hi hain!” he had said – and many an eye had welled up with tears, throats turned lumpy, especially among those who are aware of the lives of policemen.
Certainly, this memorial and the speech should help bring to the fore of public consciousness, the crucial role and contribution of the Police. In Jammu and Kashmir, in combat in Naxal-infested areas, in mainstreaming youth in Naxal-affected areas, as the backdrop of the development work in the North-East – are some of the instances that the Prime minister mentioned. It would evoke a mix of good feelings for the police – “saluting valour, pride welling up in the chest as well as condolence and empathy”. Only then would the public be able to offer its cooperation to the police, so crucial for optimal police-functioning, both to prevent crime and for curbing terrorism.
Currently, as police organisations lament, police receive exactly the opposite sentiment, thanks to a largely negative and unfriendly image.
As a presentation made by Greater Mumbai Police for Police Commemoration Day on 21 October 2018, noted: “The Policeman is denounced by the Public; Criticized by the Preacher, Ridiculed by the Movies, Berated by the Newspapers...shunned by the respectable,...condemned while he enforces the law and dismissed when does not..”
The same presentation gave some enlightening facts about the police in this regard: that, since independence, 34,832 police personnel have laid down their lives, in trying to safeguard the integrity of the nation and providing security. A statement that followed in smaller font informed us that in the same period, “23,000 Indian Army soldiers had made supreme sacrifice”. Also, that from September 2017 to August 2018, 414 police personnel had laid down their lives; in the whole of 2017, 106 Indian Army soldiers laid down their lives. These figures help put things into perspective about the extent of police sacrifice.
The Hot Springs Case
The Prime Minister’s speech had referred the “Hot Springs” case, following which 21 October started being observed as Police Commemoration Day. This event, which happened nearly 60 years ago, is described in the Greater Mumbai Police presentation, and here are some excerpts:
On October 20, 1959, three reconnaissance parties were launched from Hot Springs in North Eastern Ladakh, in preparation for further movement of an Indian expedition…. While members of two parties returned to Hot Springs by the afternoon of that day, the third one comprising two police constables and one porter did not return. All available personnel were mobilised early next morning in search of the missing personnel. DCIO Shri Karam Singh led this team. (DCIO stands for Deputy Central Intelligence Officer, an equivalent of Deputy Superintendent of Police in the state police.)
At about mid-day, Chinese Army personnel opened fire from a hillock and threw grenades at the party led by Karam Singh. Since there was no cover, most were injured; Ten of our brave police personnel attained martyrdom, and seven others sustained injuries. The seven injured were taken prisoners by the Chinese. Bodies of the ten personnel were returned by the Chinese only on 13 November 1959 – a full three weeks after the incident. These bodies were cremated with full police honours at Hot Springs.
The Annual Conference of Inspectors General of Police of States and Union Territories in January 1960 decided that 21 October would henceforth be observed as police commemoration day/martyr’s day. It was also decided that a memorial would be erected at Hot Springs and every year, members of Police forces from different parts of the country would trek to Hot Springs to pay homage to those gallant martyrs.
A senior police officer points out to us that “Ironical as it may sound, the Commemoration Day on 21 October, is in memory of an incident where forces essentially responsible for internal security, made the supreme sacrifice fighting an external enemy, on the country’s border!” Such was their call of duty, and this is just an example of how far police will go for the sake of their country’s security.
A Paradigm Shift
For the public to be able to view its police force with the kind of reverence that these sacrifices deserve, another change must occur. And that is what the prime minister mentioned as “developing compassion towards people” – a sensitivity accompanying the service that they render. This attitudinal change must be a point of introspection among police personnel, and flow top-down.
At the solemn occasion that day were present police officers across the ages – from former National Security Advisor(NSA) MK Narayanan, who was the Director of the Intelligence Bureau(IB) when the idea of a Police Memorial was first conceived, current and several ex-directors of IB, NSA Ajit Doval, and Chiefs and other senior police officials from across police organisations. All of their expressions betrayed a deep sense of satisfaction and pride – to see this monument of their shared history and purpose, which was now for real and for everyone to see. Perhaps, this realisation of their long-standing desire would get them to take even more solid steps now, for attitudinal improvement in the police cadres encompassing pride in work, a high sense of duty and maintaining reputation.
Thoughts along these lines have been occupying minds of senior police officers, both serving and retired, with some fructifying into efforts also. Some such ideas towards this were contributed in a paper titled “Towards a People-friendly Policing – Recruitment Procedures and Training” in 2008, by the Indian Police Services officer KR Nandan of the Andhra cadre. Quoting Bureau of Police Research & Development figures – he said that, 22.19 per cent of the people said they did not cooperate with the police, 36.08 per cent avoided police, and 13.27 per cent hated the police – it was argued that police leaders must evolve systems and procedures based on the right service values.
The paper highlighted some of the problems in police training as:
a) lack of clear-cut objectives in training, no task analysis, and courses not taking the difference in levels of officers/recruits into account;
b) police training is currently shouldering the burden of professional education, and thus, stressing more on teaching law, criminology and other academic subjects that were divorced from the real needs in the field.
Nandan suggests formulating a training program to fit in with the expectation of what a policeman should do; and the education part – Police science, forensics, criminology and basics of criminal law, etc. – to be taken care of at earlier levels like in the intermediate, or even as a graduate program, or by setting up `Police Schools’ on the lines of Sainik Schools. These can then serve as feeder programs for those choosing policing as a career – this professional qualification requirement would help recruitment complement training. He concludes with the example of the Police of (the then undivided) Andhra Pradesh where a paradigm shift was attempted. Improving service-attitude and intentions were done through improving self-esteem, personality development and giving “gentlemanly living conditions” to the police personnel themselves; they were given the experience of working as social workers.
The Police Memorial, imposing, prominent, should remind think-tanks, influencers and policymakers in Policing to conduct this introspection and set right existing wrongs – if the police-public partnership is to work successfully.
Last, and certainly not least, the large structure should stand as an unmissable reminder to the government at both Central and state levels of the enormous task that remains undone – following through with police reforms. If policemen’s lives are indeed precious, and they are to do meaningful work, they surely need to be freed from the shackles of the political class.
Umpteen reports have been presented related to the scarceness of manpower and resources with the police, which hampers their functioning. Even a middle-path that suggested a shift-duty system for police personnel that would reduce stress and enhance functioning, has not been embraced sincerely. The structure must remind the governments and each passer-by of this. Perhaps, the appearance of this structure in public view, to remind us of the hundreds of lives laid down each year – which is often avoidable – is an indication that it is time that we, the people, now demand the same?
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