(The image used is symbolic in nature and not of the police men interviewed. )
Location: Mandir Lane, New Delhi. It is the meeting place of four routes leading to Rajinder Nagar, Gol Market, Karol Bagh and Chanakya Puri. Traffic flows thick and fast here. From the top of the roundabout at the convergence of these routes, every mean machine blazing past the scorching streets looks fast and furious, even on a Sunday when this interview was taken.
Every now and then, cars and bikes would stop at the traffic police’s station asking for directions; after all it’s a mind-boggling maze. Lining every route are newly erected swell walls and footpaths, the run up to the Commonwealth Games. Youth Ki Awaaz Production Manager– Shruthi Venukumar and Cinematographer- Shivangi Mittal scoot over to the stationed officers and have a tÃªte-Ã -tÃªte. After the initial refusal to come on camera and reluctance to allow using their names in print, candour follows. In time, the conversation drifts away to encompass the general police force too.
Shruthi Venukumar: There seems to be no let-up in the volume of vehicular traffic here, even on a weekend.
Officer: You should see the traffic on weekdays; especially rush hours. What we see today is only a fraction of the traffic on a busy day.
SV: The confluence of four routes; must be a tough job handling mishaps.
Officer: This is not an accident-prone area.
SV: Hats off to you, Sir. How tough is it to keep traffic going smooth here?
Officer: (pointing at a traffic signal light) Did you notice that? Those lights don’t work. In the absence of electronic guides, vehicles tend to confuse and poor judgment can result in accidents. This is where traffic policemen come into the picture. We act as guides and manual traffic directors.
SV: What’s the most common type of traffic gaffes that happen here?
Officer: Over-speeding. The current limit is 50 km/hr. The new raised speed regulations (80 km/hr) are yet to be implemented. Personally, 50 km/hr is an unrealistic limit that tends to encourage flouting it leading to disregard for rules.
SV: We see a lot of over-crowded jam-packed buses ferrying on almost every route in Delhi. As we know, the maximum limit allowable is the maximum seating capacity of the bus plus 6 passengers. Don’t you think fining a handful of over-crowded buses would curb this practice and make errant buses fall in line?
Officer: That is a very good question. But Delhi faces a shortage of public transport buses. If buses run only to their capacity, it will inconvenience the general public. Auto-drivers and rickshaws would have a free run unscrupulously over-charging passengers. Again, police will have to take the blame and will be accused of apathy to the problems of the people.
Shivangi Mittal: Auto drivers have a history of over-charging. Do you receive complaints?
Officer: Yes. There are many reported cases of over-charging by autos. We intercept such autos and bring them to book. But sometimes the public does not co-operate. The front lanes of a popular girls’ college in Chanakya Puri used to be beelined with autos ferrying students from the gates of the college to the nearest bus stop. Over time, the auto drivers realized their indispensability as the bus stop was quite a distance from the college and began to over-charge. The traffic police stationed there impounded blatant flouters but the practice had to be discontinued. Why? Because the girls complained being harassed by the lack of autos and painted traffic police as the bad guys. Such incidents provide indirect immunity to deviant autos.
Secondly, I have noticed that there is a general lack of civic sense in Delhiites. Certain areas in Delhi, eg: in Connaught Place, are no entry zones for autos. But passengers themselves press auto drivers to flout rules and operate in those restricted areas. Again, a case of indirect immunity. You won’t find this kind of attitude in Mumbai and other metros.
SM: Maybe proper policing is the answer …
Officer: At every 6 Â½ Km, a traffic policeman is posted. It is very difficult to keep an eye on everything that happens on this stretch.
SM: (nodding) Yes, people resort to various tricks to avert the attention of the police. There are motorists who tuck cell phones in their helmets to go undetected.
Officer: (smiles cynically) We don’t have an equipment yet to mine out hidden live cell phones from underneath helmets.
SV: Why not deploy more officials?
Officer: That is under the purview of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). For some reason, MHA seems to think the present force strength would suffice.
SV: Among the public, there is a general deficiency of confidence in the police.
Officer: In our country, policing is made out to be a dirty business. You often hear mothers snuffing out their two year old’s cries for chocolate with a, “Chup ho jao, warna police uncle jail mein bandh kar denge.” (Keep quiet else the police is going to lock you up.) This instills in the mind of the young child a fear for the police and it carries into adolescence and adulthood. For every corrupt police official, there are a hundred honest ones.
We have a 12-hour duty day, often stretching into overtime. In case of accidents, it is the police who rush victims to the hospital. Some accident sites are so gruesome, you would faint. Not many among the general public have the time or energy or sympathetic eye to help out in such a scenario. If your car stalls in a ditch on a rainy day, it is the police that roll up their trousers legs to help out, not passers-by. People who have a good experience with the police have a favorable opinion of us. There is this accident victim who almost had an eye gorged out. He was rushed to the nearest hospital. Timely medical care saved his eye and today he cannot stop praising the force.
Madam, your college is situated in the embassy area. Beautiful safe place right? When do you reach home? By 5 p.m? It’s another story after 9 p.m. Had it not been for police patrolling in the lanes near your college after dark, there would be no count or account of the number of girls falling to the exploits of conceited moneybags youngsters biking down the streets.
Tough job you ask? Yes. We are often disconnected from our own children to see to the safety of others’ children. Often it is our women at home who single-handedly bring up the kids and look after the household. If the woman is not strong or understanding, the pressures of the job become much more difficult to handle.
SM: Does the police have roles that are unknown to laymen?
Officer: We are a developing country. In the developed world, people vote to bring to power parties that show the most promise in making the nation richer; parties that are the most competent in manipulating capitalistic market mechanisms. India votes for parties that promise to get its odd BPL population food, shelter and clothing. In such a scenario, the role of the police becomes instrumental in providing social welfare. Our role is not limited to checking crime. The examples that I just mentioned best describe the humanitarian aspect of policing.
SV: Thank you sir, for bringing to us your side of the travails. Would you like to give out a message to our readers?
Officer: Ours is a “yes sir” job. There’s no scope of negation. People must remember that our hands are tied. We work to carry out orders given to us from seniors. Those seniors further have bosses sitting in a hierarchy. At the end of one’s career, we’re often so disillusioned by the lack of real power that most just feel like giving up on the system. There are no such exigencies on the general public. A little civic sense, proactive public opinion, having faith in us and the courage to approach us with grievances will surely make it a lot safer world.
SV & SM: Thank you sir, for your time. Surely this interview will let people see what they often fail to.
image courtesy: The Delhi Traffic Police official Facebook Page.