“Papa mein mar raha hoon, aa jaana,” Delhi Police head constable Gyanendra Rathi told his father over the phone, seconds before shooting himself at his home in northeast Delhi’s Brahmpuri area. It was 12.48 am on October 30 last year — a date, time and conversation forever etched in the memory of his 65-year-old father, Gopi Chand. Sitting at his Muzaffarnagar home, he listened to his son’s words and felt helpless. And then he heard a gunshot.
It’s a sound that still echoes in his ears. A retired Delhi Police assistant sub-inspector himself, Chand says he is yet to come to terms with why his son decided to end his life. According to Chand, Rathi had “no financial problems, work-related stress or issues at home”. Married for 13 years, he was known to be “jovial”.
But the head constable’s death fits a pattern of cop suicides over the last five years. The Indian Express met families and colleagues of several such officers, and found that there are silent triggers that often go unnoticed — from lack of leaves and timely counselling at work to a feeling of being misunderstood at home.
At his newly constructed home in Brahmpuri, its interiors unfinished, Chand tries to maintain his composure. Pointing to the sofa set where his son usually slept, he says, “He slept there days before the incident. We spoke about his work; he seemed calm. Two days later, he shot himself, though I don’t know why. It’s a mystery he has taken to his grave… I believe there was something he wasn’t able to share with us.”
Rathi’s brother Surender, an ASI in the Delhi Police, nods in agreement. As Rathi’s wife, Tanu, listens to the conversation, her hands clench almost involuntarily. Constantly rubbing her ring finger, she says her husband had consumed liquor when he reached home that night.
“He had a minor tiff with me over food and got agitated. It was normal; he would get worked up and then calm down in a few minutes. It was an ordinary fight between a husband and wife,” she says.
But a few hours later, he went downstairs and pulled the trigger.
“I don’t know what was going on in his mind. A few days earlier, on Diwali, he had got our 12-year-old son a phone and spent Rs 10,000 on crackers. He seemed happy. He was usually very busy and rarely discussed his work. My son still asks about his father, but I don’t know what to tell him,” she says.
Tanu now receives a monthly pension of Rs 17,000 and says she hopes to get a job in the Delhi Police on “compassionate grounds”.
According to the data compiled and verified by police sources, 43 Delhi Police personnel — all men — committed suicide between January 2012 and July this year. This year alone, four police personnel killed themselves.
Senior police officers concede that ready access to a gun could be a contributing factor. “You deal with cases of death on a daily basis and it emotionally disturbs you. And if you ever become depressed, you start thinking about how to get over it. At the same time, you have a weapon, so the possibility of killing yourself increases,” says Deputy Commissioner of Police (headquarter) Vikramjit Singh.
While senior police officers say extending a “helping hand” in the form of counselling could be a solution, they maintain that such suicides usually happen due to “family issues”. Families, on the other hand, don’t believe that’s the case.
Head constable Pramod Kumar (50) left two suicide notes before hanging himself at his residence in Mandawali on August 23, 2015. One said that “nobody should be troubled” by his decision, another asked his son to take care of the family.
But those hardly give any closure to relatives still grappling with questions. Kumar’s ailing 65-year-old mother says she still rues the fact that she couldn’t see her son before he died. “Sab bhagwan hi marzi hai, kaun kab chale jaaye,” she says about the incident.
Many in Kumar’s family point to the death of his cousin the same month as a possible reason for his suicide. Others say he was so busy with work that he had “very little time for his family”.
On the day he killed himself, Kumar dropped off his wife at a relative’s place and sent the children away for some work. “We wonder if he would have changed his mind had his wife been home,” says his mother.
Kumar’s 25-year-old son Vishal says he, too, wants to be a policeman, but not on “compassionate grounds”. He says his father always seemed “very positive” and never complained about work. “If we had have any clue, this would not have happened,” he says.
The “cluelessness” families talk of is a common thread in many such suicides. According to clinical psychologist Rajat Mitra, director of Swanchetan society of mental health, “Policemen remain cut off from their family for long periods of time and often don’t discuss work with them. Eventually, they stop sharing work-related stress, and other problems, with their wives, parents or relatives. When they are unable to take it anymore, they commit suicide. The families have no clue why they took the step.”
Delhi Police’s chief spokesperson Dependra Pathak says a simple chat with seniors can sometimes alleviate an officer’s “depression”. “It (suicides) may be due to family problems or the police force. They should contact senior officers and discuss; it is the duty of an officer to listen to the grievances of his junior and do the needful. Any officer can come and contact a senior, including the head of the force, (through an application or request) at any time. They can discuss their personal grievances or family problems with them,” he says.
But this is easier said than done. Head Constable Chandpal Singh (45) had served in the force for 24 years when he decided to kill himself — the first cop suicide in the capital this year. It was at 8.30 am on January 2 and Singh was on duty at the Supreme Court.
A suicide note left behind chronicled Singh’s problems. An officer who investigated the case says many points were written in a “zigzag manner on two pages”, and it seemed the note had been written over a week’s time. His note revealed a myriad of issues — lack of support from his wife, a land dispute with his brother, money he owed someone, and insufficient leaves.
Singh, who hailed from Uttar Pradesh’s Baghpat district and stayed at R K Puram Police Colony in Delhi with his wife and children, was also stressed that one of his sons was visually impaired and that treatment had been ineffective.
“The duty hours are long, there’s a lot of work pressure. Plus you’re expected to take care of the family. It’s not easy,” says the investigating officer. “I have two sons, but I attended the parent-teacher meeting of my eldest son 16 years after he started going to school. When both my sons were born, I was out of the city, conducting raids to nab criminals,” he added.
He emphasises that spousal support ought to act as a counterbalance to pressures at work. “We don’t give much time to our families, which leads to tension between husband and wife. When we focus on home, work gets affected and our seniors express dissatisfaction. Who do we prioritise?” he says.
On compensation to families, police sources said five per cent vacancies are reserved for kin of personnel who die during service. DCP (establishment branch) R S Sanjeev said the families are also provided financial help. “Every case is considered under legal judgments, rules and norms. Our screening committee, which is headed by senior officers, considers these cases and provides help on compassionate grounds.”
The most recent case of an officer committing suicide was on June 10, when 41-year-old head constable Har Bhagwan shot himself in front of his colleagues at a resting room in Shahbad Dairy police station.
Those who knew him say Bhagwan, who has two daughters and a son, showed “no suicidal tendencies”. His son Ritik, who turns 18 next year and will be eligible to join the force as constable on “compassionate grounds”, says his father was an “easy going man” with a fondness for old movies. The last movie they watched together was Border, he says, adding, “He liked Hindi serials too.”
On the morning on June 10, Bhagwan took his children to the departmental store. “We bought household goods and made plans to visit our village, near Jalandhar,” says Ritik. Despite his busy schedule, Bhagwan always made time to drop his children to school. “All my life, I have seen him work. Though he didn’t have much time, he took care of us,” he says.
At the family’s one-bedroom flat in Rohini, one of the walls has several numbers scribbled on it. One of those is Bhagwan’s, with the word ‘papa’ written next to it. “Sometimes, my mother would forget the number… So we wrote it on the wall,” he says.
While the constables who were with him said Bhagwan was “speaking to his wife” right before he shot himself, Ritik says that was not the case.
Those who worked for him remember him as a “hardworking” officer who was “transferred to this division 20 days before his death”. “Three days before he shot himself, he had caught a wanted criminal while on patrol,” says one officer.
Back home, Ritik, who wanted to become a chartered accountant, says he will take up the police job. “I remember the day it happened. Some policemen came to the house around midnight and said my father was unwell. When I reached the hospital, he was no more… My mother has been unwell since then, so I have no option but to take up this job,” he says.