A day in the life of: A Sub-Inspector, 42, posted at Arvind Kejriwal’s dharna
As he stands there impassively, a tirade of curses and insults rains down on him. Someone tries to spit on him, he moves away an inch. A week ago, he could have imagined himself on the other side of the police barricades. After today, he doubts it.
A sub-inspector with the Delhi Police, the 42-year-old has been in the force for over two decades. Usually, he’s posted at a government hospital in south Delhi. On January 20 morning, he was rushed to central Delhi’s Rail Bhavan roundabout, to be on duty as Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced the unusual move of sitting on a dharna.
Initially, the S-I says, he was quite happy. “I had voted for him, but I had never seen him, except on television. I knew that this protest was against police, but some of the things that the Aam Aadmi Party is talking about — corruption in police, lacklustre performance of some officers — these are true and need to be rectified,” he says.
After 24 hours on ‘Kejriwal duty’, however, the policeman is a disillusioned man. If the insults being flung at him with increasing vehemence leave him saddened, that they are clichés hurts him more. Someone calls him a ‘dalaal of the Congress’, another says he has sold his soul for a few rupees.
A police officer needs to have a thick skin, he knows. But standing there on January 21 — braving the intermittent rain, the cold and the angry protesters, and guarding a man who has made it known he thinks little of policemen like him or the service they provide him — he asks, shouldn’t a CM too know better?
“Some of the things Kejriwal has been saying are very stupid. He’s the CM and it’s important that he doesn’t say something that will make the crowd angrier. But by denouncing police and the media in such unclear terms, he’s setting things up for a violent episode,” the S-I says.
This is only a few hours before clashes between the police and AAP supporters turn violent. When the first stone is flung in his direction, he stands up angrily, only to sit down abruptly, remembering the orders given to the police not to react. Senior officers have told the policemen to ensure that no harm comes to any of the protesters, even as they are turned away from the site of Kejriwal’s dharna. “In other words, we have been asked not to touch anyone — even if we are pelted with stones,” he says, rubbing the stubble that has grown on his chin overnight.
It’s the first time in many years that he couldn’t shave in the morning. As Kejriwal slept in the open, he and hundred-odd others took turns keeping a watch through the night, barely 15 metres away, trying their best to keep warm in the clothes they had on them. While AAP arranged for blankets for its protesters, they didn’t offer any to the policemen on duty. The S-I had some tea before dozing off around 3 am. “The night was especially bad and very cold,” the policeman says. “I had only one jacket, I wrapped it around myself, and slept on the ground.”
Shave isn’t the only thing the S-I is missing as the day drags on. “I haven’t eaten anything since last night. I got my food from home, but that only lasted me till yesterday. Since then, we’ve been getting whatever food we can get from those shops,” he says, pointing to a few on nearby Rafi Marg.
He has two daughters and a son. The daughters are in Classes VII and VIII while his son is in Class XII. “He’s currently preparing for his board examinations. He wants to become an engineer,” he says. On most days, when he has the day shift, the S-I is back home in east Delhi by 9 pm. After dinner, he spends time with the children, asking them about school. He likes watching TV but, chuckles, makes it a habit to stay away from news broadcasts. He had also hoped his Rail Bhavan duty would be over by January 21 morning.
His children were partly the reason he decided to vote for AAP, the S-I says. “This party comprised people, I felt, I could go up and speak with, people like me. My daughters are growing up and, even though I am in police, I worry about them. In fact, it’s because I am in police that I worry about their safety, my son’s too. If AAP can bring changes that make the city safer, I’ll be very happy,” he says.
At Kejriwal’s dharna site though, that hope is receding as he worries if AAP knows the right way. “By attacking police — which is on the ground — he’s only making us feel like outsiders and making the people angry. Today, someone tried to pelt stones at us, tomorrow they’ll shoot us,” he says.
The S-I also questions Law Minister Somnath Bharti’s midnight raid against some Africans. “He tried to boss police around, and when they said they had to follow procedure, Kejriwal’s trying to get them fired. This goes against everything we were trained to do before we joined. This isn’t right,” he says.
Near Kejriwal’s car, someone is drawing a caricature of the police force on a chart paper. It shows an officer with bloodshot eyes, a long tongue hanging out of a cavernous mouth and claws for hands, as Rs 500 notes rain down around him.
While the S-I’s talking, an AAP supporter walks up to him and says, “Tu kya has raha hai be? Tu hamara naukar hai (Why are you laughing? You are our servant).” The S-I immediately brings on his impassive expression. “They forget that we’re also aam aadmi. I am just trying to do my job, follow my orders. This is my duty. It’s what brings food to my family. But here they’ve turned us into demons,” he says.
Asked whether he would vote for AAP again, he gives a brief smile. “Vote main kisko doonga, wo toh main dekhoonga. Bas koi isko yaad dila de ki policewallah bhi aam aadmi hota hai (Who I vote for is my concern, but someone should remind him that a policeman is also a common man).”