Yesterday I was listening to some lovely old Marathi songs on the internet radio on my phone and the theme was ‘patriotism’. One of the songs was Veer Savarkar’s ‘ne majasi ne’ a poem he wrote while in England and expressing a great longing to return to the motherland. Though this song was not exactly doing that, many songs in this genre, extol the sacrifice and martyrdom of our soldiers.
It got me thinking- why doesn’t the sacrifice of policemen get the same status in people’s’ minds? The act of a soldier laying down his life is seen as a supreme sacrifice made by him for upholding the value of our national integrity and identity. Whereas policemen laying down their life while doing their duties is not seen as protecting any specific value.
Police personnel have been killed while controlling mobs, or while performing duties in Naxal areas or while fighting terrorism or even while taking action against mafia activities in mineral rich areas of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh etc. But these incidents have rarely gone beyond being news. So has there been a deficit in focusing the police role on a particular value? And if so, what should be the value which police, as an organization, should be seen as protecting even with their lives?
In the past, we have had situations like the Salman Rushdie incident at the literary festival in Jaipur. The police handling that incident was perceived as ‘not protecting freedom of speech or liberty’. The argument from the police side was that they had to impose restrictions in order to keep peace, indicating that the majority in the society is not ready to accept tolerance of free speech and would disturb public order. So if a law and order situation does occur and some policemen die in the incident while controlling a mob, it would not be seen as a sacrifice to protect any revered value. The policeman’s death is also likely to be perceived in public memory as just a job risk.
In Naxal affected areas, the police department loses a lot of its men. What value do the police seem to be protecting with their lives there? Democracy? I’m not sure that it is such a clear cut idea to perceive. Also, the idea that development needs to reach the grassroots in those areas and police is enabling that, even at the cost of their lives, is not clearly identified as very valuable in public perception because of the otherwise rampant corruption in government service delivery in most developmental activities elsewhere. So the sacredness of the policeman’s death is lost in the confused public perception.
Bringing clarity to a value worth protecting with one’s life, is not easy to identify in the large expanse of the policing canvas. But it just might be a useful exercise for the police to strategise on how to bring clarity to the different core values worth protecting with their life, in different functional units of police. It could motivate policemen and the organization towards a sacred, higher goal and at the same time each policeman’s death will get the deserved public respect and honour, of a martyr to a sacred cause.