The Police in India, and at most places across the world, are forever battling a popularity crisis. There is never a time when society is gung-ho and full of praise for their work such is the cantankerous nature of the profession. A policeman represents the most visible face of governance and that too right on the street. Anything that an unsuspecting cop does in public eye can be scrutinised and criticised. If he is scratching himself somewhere or blowing his nose or simply yawning, he is potentially the butt of ridicule from passersby. And if he is indulging evidently unwarranted behaviour, he is obviously the first one to be vilified. Those who sit behind desks in offices and conduct themselves dishonestly are less likely to be noticed except when a person comes directly in their contact.

And in this era of social media enabled scoffing and always-on watch dogs of various shapes and sizes, the plight of police personnel is all the more pitiable. There is very little that they can do erroneously or deliberately without being
blown to smithereens in conversations across the land. As the son of late Mr J.P. Atray, a celebrated IPS Officer of the 1963 batch who died in harness, I was able to gain deep insight into the ethos and functioning of the police force while growing up. The tension across my father’s face was palpable at times when he was grappling with sensitive issues. He spoke little and always maintained a stoic exterior. Yet he was a very warm human being who would shower his love on family and friends when he found respite from his very tight schedule.
As Sub Divisional Magistrate and District Magistrate during my own career, I often found myself involved with law and order duties which entailed close interactions with uniformed colleagues, at times in stressful situations.
Both these kinds of perspectives left me convinced that the sketchy image of the police in the common man’s viewpoint is not entirely fair and is often skewed. Several police officials are extremely diligent professionals, who give their life’s energy to their service. They toil behind the scenes or in the forefront of the action, often without recognition or reward, and many a time are vilified for no fault at all. Honest policemen are considered to be non-existent but let me tell you that there are many of them!
Where does the poor constable come from anyway? He comes from our society and represents the people at large. If he falls prey to the menace of corruption and if he carries himself without dignity, then society is to be blamed as well. The system within which he works often deals with him inhospitably, harshly and even downright perniciously! Has anyone crossing a constable on duty ever considered his working conditions? He may have reported for duty at 5 am; he may have slept erratically on a bench at the police station with mosquitoes, noisy happenings and various smells for company.
Yes, the police force often goofs up, and senior as well as junior officers do shoddy jobs of policing us. But the image that the police presents to the outside world is much worse than it deserves. The public relations machinery is just not able to keep pace with the demands of a potentially crisis ridden environment with demanding stakeholders breathing down its neck at all times. Mr V.K. Kapoor, former Additional DGP, Haryana, a charming and much admired retired officer, says that the problem is of leadership. There is a disconnect between the top brass and ground level functionaries at most times.
Few youngsters who wish to join the civil services opt for the IPS as their first choice. Yet, the IPS is manned by some of the bravest and most intelligent minds. And more lady officers have added an empathetic hue to the police canvas.
Perhaps it is time to highlight success stories of the police a little more, and celebrate excellence across ranks and across states. A country which takes pride in its armed forces should also be able to take pride in its police. Both
performance improvement and perception management are the need of the hour!