Book Reviews | Good Books - All in the Life of COP | A Spirited Probationer

What is there in the life of a cop?

In the Police Training College, the faculty made us believe that we had opted for the best profession, which offers everything one can hope to get in a single lifetime. Our instructor for outdoor classes, which included Physical Training (PT), parade, Un-armed combat (UAC) and sports, S.Wassan Singh, called it the noblest profession after a doctor, where we would have the opportunity to serve the suffering humanity.

I thought, then, that it was an exaggeration, merely to boost our morale.

But after living through this profession for thirty-three long years, I know, now, that it was not an exaggeration. To put it in a few words, I found the life in Police had been regal, glorious, glamorous, exuberant, adventurous, dangerous, precarious, and vulnerable. With such a cocktail of shades of life, it has a rightful claim on what you call a ‘complete life’. Add asceticism to it, and it is a fulfilling life.

No other profession gives you a gamut of experiences comparable to this profession. You are an investigator, a scientist, a doctor, an engineer, a soldier, a lawyer, a politician, a jurist, an administrator, a social worker, a protector, and a saviour. Whatever you can think of, all rolled into one.

Fame and ignominy accompany you on both sides, and you constantly find yourself on a razor’s edge.

I believe that with its ups and downs, I lived a life truly King-size!

I do not think many would be interested in the training account of a Policeman. Training could be eventful, but who cares! It happens to everyone who has donned the recruit’s ammunition boots.

However, a little introduction may not be out of place because that will give the reader a reference point to relate to a particular time frame. It was 1977 when I joined the Himachal Pradesh Police Service as a Deputy Superintendent of Police. I had recruitment training in Police Training College Phillaur (near Ludhiana) Punjab. After completing training at the Police Training College, the young officers are attached to the district police for their practical ‘hands-on’ training. For about two years, the trainee is on probation and called a probationer.

The Government attached me to district Kangra, the biggest district of the state of Himachal Pradesh. It was a welcome opportunity to get attached to bigger districts that offer you better exposure in dealing with all types of crime.

Shri Bhag Singh Sen was the District Superintendent of Police at Dharamshala, the Head Quarters of district Kangra. He was an efficient and seasoned officer who had risen to that position from the ranks. He had a pair of small keen eyes, and his eyebrows would arch further up towards the corners of his balding forehead while making a point. He spoke slowly in a husky voice, emphasising every word he said.

It was the winter of 1979, to be precise, the last day of the year. A friend of mine, Chandra Shekhar, travelled from Delhi to Dharamshala to spend new year eve with me. Dharamshala is a vibrant town located in the foothills of the Dhauladhar range. The town is known as the seat of the Tibetan Government in exile and is a well-known tourist destination. The town is charming during winters when the mountain range in the backdrop gets covered with snow which adds to its beauty.

We planned a quiet and serene New Year Eve at my residence with my friend. I bought a bottle of whiskey to celebrate the occasion. Generally, all government officers used to get together for celebrating the event, but this time it was different. The then Chief Minister, Shri Shanta Kumar, had come to his hometown Palampur, situated at about 40 km. from Dharamshala. The Deputy Commissioner, the SP and other senior district government officers had to be there as per the protocol.

Those days, government employees were agitating. Almost the whole District Police force was deployed at Palampur to avert any law-and-order situation that may eventually cause embarrassment to the Chief Minister.

For some inexplicable reason, the SP spared me, and I was having the best of it. We enjoyed the evening. Time took to wings as we had much to talk about. We had met after a long time. We had had two shots of whisky each, which had started numbing our senses.

Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. We looked at one another as if wondering who could be there at that hour. It was a few minutes past ten. My wife opened the door and announced that some messenger from the Police Lines wanted to see me. I went out. The messenger told me that there was some problem at the Police Station. The DIG (Deputy Inspector General of Police), who was present in the Police Station, had called for me along with the available force.

I came back grim-faced and passed on the information to others, who were waiting for me to speak. I had no means to know what exactly had happened. The luxury of a telephone was not available to a probationer. “I must go immediately,” I told my wife and asked Shekhar to go ahead with his drinks and that I might join him for dinner.

“I am coming with you; I hope the DIG wouldn’t mind,” he retorted resolutely. With some reluctance, I agreed. I put on my uniform hurriedly while Shekhar donned a long coat and a felt hat. “I should look like a man from CID. That may be of help,” he laughed.

On reaching the Lines office, we found that there were no men whom we could take along. I asked for a vehicle, but the same story! There was no vehicle available except for a prison van (sort of bus). We could have walked uphill one km. to Police Station, but this would take time, so I settled for the prison van. It had another advantage, too, I thought. If it were a law-and-order situation, the crowd would believe that reinforcement had arrived. That would give us a psychological edge.

In the next ten minutes, we entered the Police Station. I dashed straight to SHO’s (Station House Officer - in charge of the Police Station) room, where, I felt, there was some commotion. Shekhar followed but stopped near the door.

The DIG, Mr Amrik Singh, was sitting on the SHO’s chair. He wore a dark blue lounge suit with a red tie and a clean black turban but no smile.

He replied to my salutation with a nod and signalled me to sit. He considered me with his big menacing eyes for a while and then spoke softly. “While coming from the club, I found this man shouting and causing a lot of commotion in the bazaar. He was abusing and threatening some shopkeepers as he was heavily drunk.”

I glanced at the man standing on the other side of the table with two constables standing on either side. He was a well-built man clad in a tweed coat and jeans and must be in his early thirties. He was standing in a defiant posture. His flushed face and fiery eyes announced that he was dead drunk.

“No sir, I am not drunk, and I did nothing…….”

“Please keep quiet,” I interjected firmly. The pair of red eyes turned towards me. By now, Shekhar had also come in and taken a seat after I introduced him to the DIG.

“My gun-man (personal security aide) and the constable had a tough time in bringing him here,” the DIG continued, “take necessary legal action against him under Section 34.”

“O Sardar Ji, don’t tell lies. I know the law. What action, what action? I am not a criminal. I’ll see you all.” he blurted out and started hurling profanities all around. The policemen had a tough time controlling and keeping him quiet.

The DIG got up, “Okay, I am leaving,” and walked out of the room. I followed him to the car.

“Take stern action and let him know where he is!” With an emphasis on the last few words, the DIG left.

Swiftly I returned to the room and occupied the seat just vacated by the DIG. The local SHO had also been deputed to Palampur. Now I was the in-charge of the situation.

The last line of the DIG, ‘Let him know where he is,’ reverberated in my ears. What did he mean by this? Indeed, he was angry with the man for his ill behaviour. But I was unsure what he wanted me to do, to make this man know where he was. Naturally, he meant strict legal action, and maybe third degree? “No… no, he surely does not mean that” I shook these thoughts off my head.

I called the Station Clerk and asked him to take the man to his room, note down his identification details, and fill in the necessary forms for initiating a medical check-up. Himesh (not the real name) belonged to the town and worked at Ropar Panjab. His father was a small-time local Congress leader. Congress was the main opposition party and its rival; the Bhartiya Janata Party was ruling the state.

In the meantime, I called the SP at Palampur to apprise him of what had happened there. He endorsed action I had taken under section 34 of the Indian Police Act, 1861.

What..? 1861…??. The reader must be intrigued. Yes, the Police Act of 1861 still governs the Indian Police, which the British had enacted to punish and control India post the first war of Indian independence, which the British referred to as the 1857 Mutiny.

The Act served us well even after independence because we could not think of something better! It took 60 years after independence to enact a new Police Act in 2007 in Himachal Pradesh, which also has its feet firmly perched to the Act of 1861.

Papers were ready. Himesh was escorted into the room by two policemen. I addressed him and told him that he should not have misbehaved with the DIG.

That infuriated him. He roared with anger, “I will see that Sardar is transferred out of Dharamshala tomorrow. Whatever you people are doing is utterly wrong and amounts to harassment to a law-abiding citizen. I will see you all.”

“Okay. Okay. I am to tell you that I am arresting you under section 34 for causing the breach of peace in public under intoxication. Now, we will take you to the Civil Hospital for medical examination.”

Here it is worthwhile to give a brief introduction of section 34 of the Police Act. The section gives Police, among others, the power to arrest a person who disturbs public peace in a public place under the influence of liquor and keep him in custody before he is produced before a magistrate. It is a minor offence, and the magistrates generally let the person off with a warning or a nominal fine. Police can itself release him on bail at their discretion. The arrest and resultant stay in the police lock-up for the night is the real punishment and an effective deterrent.

“No, I will not go. You cannot arrest me as I have not committed any crime. I have read law, and I know it.”

“You WILL go, you will have to, or we will have to take you forcibly.”

I thundered. I asked the two policemen to catch hold of him and take him to the hospital. The policemen fumbled for his wrists with apparent reluctance while he resisted vehemently. The unwillingness of police officers suggested that the man wielded some influence.

“O deputy, you can’t do it. I know you are only a trainee. You will soon be sorry for what you are doing.”

“Hand-cuff him,” I ordered the Station Clerk. He brought a pair of handcuffs and gave it to one of the constables. Handcuffing was not a taboo at that time. The constable tried to handcuff Himesh, but he resisted with full force. The policeman looked at my face helplessly.

“Mister, please cooperate and don’t compel me to use force,” I warned him in a matter-of-fact tone. I had read the law, and it said that Police could use sufficient force to effect an arrest if someone resisted. I found the man an incorrigible egoist and felt that it might be necessary to hurt his ego before he submits.

“Teri to me Vardi utarva dunga (I will get your uniform taken off).

What do you think of yourself … &%$@*, only a trainee…”? He was getting abusive.

I silently rose from my seat, went to him, and slapped him across his face. The sound reverberated in the serenity of midnight. Shekhar got up abruptly, apparently to stop me, but it was already over. My sudden action stunned Himesh for a moment. It seemed to give courage to the policemen, and they quickly handcuffed him.

Now they were quick enough to drag him literally to the hospital.

The story did not end here! The climax was yet to come.

The word had spread around that the DIG had taken a local youth to the Police Station. His father gathered some of his Congress party friends and workers and started marching towards the police station. By about 11.30 PM, a crowd of 40-50 people surrounded the police station, agitated and shouting slogans against the DIG and the Police in general. They demanded the immediate release of Himesh.

Luckily, Himesh had already been taken to hospital before the crowd assembled; otherwise, it would have been challenging to get him medically examined. With great effort, we were able to keep the public outside the office.

So far, the crowd did not know that I had slapped that wretched man.

I conveyed all the developments to the SP on the phone. He told me to hold on and that he was coming to Dharamshala along with sufficient force.

I knew I would have to hold this crowd in good humour till the SP arrived. And it was going to take more than an hour in any case.

The first thing was to ensure that Himesh was not brought back from the hospital before the SP returned. After that, I kept telling the leaders in the crowd that there was nothing significant about it. The fellow had been booked under very mild provisions of law and would be released after the medical examination and that he is hale and hearty with us. Intermittent slogan-shouting kept disturbing the tranquillity of the night.

The SP and the force arrived at around one ‘O clock. First, I ushered him to the office and recounted all that had happened in detail, including the slapping. He heard without showing any expression on his face except that I noticed a faint smile when I said that I had slapped the man, as one gets mused over a naughty child.

By that time, the constables brought Himesh back, and the SP called some crowd leaders in the office. Himesh insisted that the Police had arrested him wrongly and that the trainee DSP had slapped him and beaten him up badly. It infuriated the crowd further. They demanded immediate release of Himesh and, of course, disciplinary action against the trainee DSP.

Himesh was still under the spell of alcohol. He kept shouting at the SP, “Ask this DSP to come out and have a dual with me.” SP Shri Bhag Singh Ji was a seasoned officer, calm and composed. He assured the crowd that he would get the matter inquired into, and appropriate action would follow.

Himesh was released on bail, and the situation was defused. The public moved out of Police Station, shouting slogans.

While getting out of the room, Himesh did not forget to threaten me, “Saale, come out, I will see you.”

“Okay, wait for me outside. If you dare,” I retorted. SP quietly signalled me to keep quiet. The advice from the SP before we parted for the night was, “In any situation, don’t lose your cool!”

And I am still at a loss to know whether I lost my cool or it was my well-thought-of plan to let Himesh know where he was!

No one came up to file a complaint against me, and therefore there was no enquiry into this incident. In due course of time, Police filed the final report in court.

As usual, the court let off Himesh with a warning!

- From the Book "All in the life of a COP"

T. Mallikarjuna Prasad
Trainer | Facilitator | Consultant
Department of Personnel & Training
Government of India
Book Reviews - Police

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