19th April, 2010 (Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, India)
‘People think of police as men with sticks, who accept bribes and abuse people, I aim to change all of that”, declares 58 year old Balak Ram Prajapati.
Past Thursday, social activist Prajapati drove to meet city Police Chief Akhil Kumar on his rickety old two-wheeled scooter. He went to him with a sermon and a plan to reform the police’s image in public eyes; little did he expect that the onus of doing so would be put on him so soon!
Taking a leaf out of the script of a Bollywood movie, the Police chief asked Prajapati to take charge of Lisadi Gate Police Post for 24 hours on Saturday and execute his reformist ides for the Police.
The Police Chief’s order seemed to be inspired from ‘Nayak’, a Bollywood movie, in which the film’s hero was made the state’s chief minister for a day, which was magically enough for him to cleanse the rotting state’s political system.
But reality however is far removed from fiction, as Prajapati found out during the course of his day-long term with the police.
Earlier in India’s history too, Qutb-ud-din Aybak, the ruler of Delhi in 13th Century made a bhishti (term used for men who sell water on roadside from leather pouches), the state’s emperor for day and bestowed him with legal powers which were used by him to launch currency notes in ‘leather’!
But unlike the bhishti, devoid of any legal powers, Prajapati arrived at his office in plainclothes at around 10 am on Saturday morning and soon after was inundated with hordes of complainants.
Within a matter of hours, however, Prajapati started speaking the same language as the policemen do asking them ‘to stay calm and cooperate as the police did its work, despite its limitations’, which seemed like words borrowed from the police chief’s dictionary!
“Police’s precious time and resources go into resolving and dealing with complaints in which they can’t be of any help”, said Prajapati.
“For example, I attended and resolved through my mediation 26 cases of family dispute, what is required in such cases is not a policemen but a counselor!” he added.
A grassroots activist for the past 35 years, Prajapati heads a local social welfare group and earns his livelihood through beekeeping. ‘I work on empowering people through setting up SHGs or Self-help groups”, said Prajapati when asked about his focus area in social sphere.
“I suggested to the Police chief that police should play a role in reforming young people (serving their terms in prisons) by training them in employment skills. If young men are well-employed, they would stay away from performing crimes”, suggests Prajapati.
Prajapati went on routine police checking round too.
Thankfully, the day in the city was otherwise calm and there was no need for the police to involve or demonstrate to him, how the forces nab and kill criminals in a Police ‘encounter’, else this experiment would have had the police chief running for cover.
Somveer Singh, the ‘regular’ incharge of this police-post wasn’t impressed with Prajapati’s day in the office. “He kept on asking the constables to summon one or the other people mentioned by the complainants in their application. This is not practically feasible option every day however as we have a limited force”, said Somveer.
“I have 13 blocks of Meerut city under me and to manage such a big area I have an extremely small 26-man force, if all of them go to summon one or the other people based on people’s complaints then how will the police fulfill other duties of theirs?” questioned Somveer.
Whether Prajapati has completely understood the constraints, dilemmas and struggles that a policeman endures on the job is something that only ‘tomorrow’ can tell but till then Prajapati takes delight in the good press he has generated for the police in his few hours of fame and power.
To reform the police system and public’s perception is an arduous task. For the common man on the street, “this system, the police and bureaucracy is hopelessly stagnated; rotting at its feet, mired in corruption and weighed down by political pressure” but Prajapati isn’t giving up the fight just as yet.
“I am a man on a mission”, he concluded.
All power to his elbow!
Text: Vasudha Mehta (C) JAAGRUTI