He hurt himself grievously while on official duty at Brahma Temple in Rajasthan’s Ajmer district in January, and stayed bed-ridden for over ten months before dying a painful death. He looked after an elderly mother, a wife and a seven-year-old. His self-respect stopped him from asking for financial help. His seniors in the Indian Police Service (IPS) were indifferent to his plight to the extent that they had stopped his salary for months altogether. He did not have the money to even pay for oxygen cylinders. The Rs 1500 bill for every ambulance trip to the hospital was too much for him. He belonged to the 2013 batch of the IPS. Rajasthan cadre. What was his name? It doesn’t matter. His story does.
The story of a policeman in life and in death. Of any policeman and policewoman irrespective of rank and region. Of the worth of the life of each of them. On the front page of the morning newspapers. In the breaking news ticker of the evening news channels. And into the pages of books on rights of policemen and women as human beings.
This is not about that officer alone; this is about the plight of the government employees who happen to wear the police uniform. This is not about a personal problem; this is about a public issue. This is not about a post-fact analysis; this is about making the defunct leadership accountable.
Rajasthan police officers have patted themselves on the back for their magnanimity for giving him a state funeral. They claim that this gesture will shun any doubt that he died on account of injuries sustained while on duty. The police chief of Rajasthan had the prudence to issue a press note to emphasise that the department did everything possible to help him during his prolonged illness. His officers were smart enough to make his salary slips viral through WhatsApp and other social media.
Last week, Officers Times, a relatively little-known Hindi magazine that runs a website as well, accessed the bank account details of the deceased officer and found out that his salary had been stopped for four months. The specifics are available on the website.
The Rajasthan DGP has not been able to issue a press note to counter these findings. Not a single mainstream newspaper or news channel in Jaipur and New Delhi has brought this story to the public view. This is the might of the IPS when it comes to killing a true story. And this might comes into play only when their collective identity as the saviour of this country is under threat. Not when the dignity of a fellow officer is involved as a matter of the first principle.
Most in the IPS who are at the senior level speak this language. “I have a different view on the manner in which this should be pursued. The main purpose was to ensure that the family of the deceased officer is not to be neglected. It cannot be to go after those who failed him. Not at the cost of the main purpose. After all, it is Rajasthan police and its senior leadership that would ultimately hold his wife’s hands and be by her side and that of others in the long run. Unwittingly we mustn’t do or stretch things that would sour that relationship and the Rajasthan police permanently. There is a difference between moral liability and technical-legal liability. Much of the succour, we all know with our experience, comes through latter. Our job was to alert the system to be responsive. Having done that, let’s give Rajasthan police a chance to do things that they may have overlooked.”
These officers need to ask themselves some questions. Why is “the purpose” to ensure his family is not neglected? Are we admitting the fact that we cannot take criticism and wreak vengeance on those who have brought “it” upon us? Are we doing a martyr of the nation a favour by having a cordial relationship with his or her family? If Rajasthan police leadership was capable of taking care of a young officer in distress, what was the need for a self-respecting man to share his bank account details with his batch mates and seniors and why did they, in their individual capacity, collected a few lakhs to help him tide over the crisis?
After his death, the Rajasthan wing of the Central IPS Association found the time and wisdom to request all the IPS officers of the country to deposit Rs 10,000 and or more in their SBI account. What did the association do when the deceased officer was fighting for his life for over ten months? If this is what can happen to an officer, what must be happening to our voiceless, faceless constabulary? India’s police leadership, the members of the IPS, need to answer these questions. Both as individuals and as an interest group. Press notes and aggressive media management won’t help.
Basant Rath is 2000 batch IPS officer who belongs to the Jammu and Kashmir cadre. Views expressed are personal.