THE constabulary constitutes the base of the police pyramid. The duty hours of constables are long and their work can be frustrating and strenuous. The Police Commission, set up in 1902-03, had recommended that they should be assigned a mechanical role, wherein they would not be asked to exercise discretion or judgment. Over a century later, not much has changed. They are, by and large, still used as errand boys.
In my long career in the police, I witnessed acts of courage and presence of mind as well as leadership by constables. Back in 1979, the country witnessed a policemen’s strike. Their unaddressed grievances had triggered the agitation.
I was at that time posted as the range DIG at Rourkela (Odisha). Along with other officers, I organised an ‘Aalochna Sabha’ for the constables. They unburdened themselves and aired some of their long-pending grievances pertaining to compensatory allowance, housing and medical facilities. As the demands had long-term financial implications, the police authorities were in no position to redress them without the support and commitment of the state government.
Within a couple of days, policemen of various districts of the state stopped reporting for duty. Constables of the military police battalion stationed at Rourkela came out of the campus and staged a march in protest against the misbehaviour of the unit commandant. The commandant had grabbed a constable by the collar and admonished him in the parade ground. Seething with anger, the policemen gathered in the town and raised slogans. The District Magistrate and the SP came to my office and informed me of this unseemly development. They felt that as the seniormost police officer, I must persuade the protesters to desist from indisciplined conduct and slogan-mongering. I immediately left for the spot.
My initial efforts to pacify the constables by promising to look into their grievances and initiating disciplinary action against the errant officer were not successful. The SP, the ADM and the local MLA also failed to bring down tempers.
While I was in a fix, a young constable came to my rescue. He took up the cudgels on my behalf. In a clear, unfaltering voice, he admonished the constables for acting in a way that diminished public respect for the police and cast a cloud on police discipline.
This unexpectedly sharp reproof from a comrade had a calming and sobering effect on the angry group. They quietened a bit. Taking advantage of the situation, I again addressed them and promised a thorough probe, followed by corrective measures. I asked them to return to their campus. They listened to my exhortation and slowly trooped back to their barracks.
I now turned to congratulate the hero of the hour, who had displayed the finest qualities of a police officer as a crisis manager. Dignified and self-possessed, he clicked his heels and gave me a smart salute before gracefully walking away.
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