Despite being understaffed, police across India seem to be facing an image crisis. They seem to be caught between being occasionally praised for showing their humane side by going out of the way as frontline warriors but, at times, they are heavily criticised for the ways they strictly impose COVID-19 restrictions, especially while tackling the mass exodus of migrants.
Ever since the Indian lockdown commenced on 25 March, police personnel have been ensuring that people do not step out of their houses. Over the last 50 days of the lockdown, the police have not just been on the roads and keeping a look out for violators but they have also been helping the needy with essential services like daily meals.
At many places, these officers reached out to the people to help them celebrate their birthdays and helped stranded people and pregnant women, winning accolades.
However, several videos of the cops thrashing or finding new ways to punish people have also gone viral on social media. These policemen have been criticised for going out of their way to use excessive force.
A number of police officials told Sputnik on condition of anonymity that they are doing it for the country and its people but mostly they fear they get highlighted for their few mistakes.
"People need to understand the sensitivity of the situation. We are doing everything possible for them from taking them to shelters to providing them food and ration. I think this is the first ever time people have seen this humane side of us. Otherwise, we are always criticised for our excessive action or inaction,” a senior police official in Delhi told Sputnik.
Reacting to the videos of beating violators or using different means to punish people going viral on social media, a senior official, Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIGP) said: “We use different means so that they understand the seriousness of the COVID-19. In incidents where excessive force is used the personnel has been suspended."
People need to also observe one fact that despite COVID-19 spreading so much, police personnel are performing their duties religiously, said another top-ranked official from Haryana state.
"If you see several hundred police personnel across the country have been infected by the virus while on duty. But that has not stopped the others from serving the nation. Apart from some of the cases, the cops have done their best for the welfare of the countrymen,” said a Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), Gurugram city, Haryana state.
Talking to Sputnik, people from different walks of life shared their views on police action during the pandemic.
A Delhi-based advocate Manu Bajaj stated that everyone has a story and everyone has a reason but a person who stands on the street without any reason or motive is a policeman.
“During this lockdown we have seen many people risking their lives for themselves. But we have also seen many people who risk their lives for others. The increasing number of policemen being tested positive makes it evident how they have risked their own life and left their family with no hope just to ensure that we stay out of the hands of coronavirus,” he said.
But Anushka Sanap, a Pune city-based teacher, said that police had crossed a line.
“We see the ruthless side of the cops that too against the poor and people who can't raise their voices. We know that they are doing their job but the way they are handling the poor migrants is shameful. The migrants are the worst hit by the pandemic and they are using force on them,” Sanap said.
Prakhar Ankit from Lucknow said that Bollywood had stereotyped us into believing that Khaki, the colour of police uniform, stands for trouble.
“But this pandemic has shown that Khaki (police uniform) stands for a much bigger cause when they came to our help keeping their own safety at home. Be it controlling distressed crowds, distributing food packets or saving health workers from stone pelters, they have shown that they are the true warriors,” Ankit said.
Although policemen have been provided essential safety equipments like masks, gloves, face shield, sanitizer, etc., to perform their duties, many of them have caught the virus while performing their duty.
According to the United Nations, India has a ratio of 153 police personnel per 100,000 of population.
According to the Indian Health and Family Welfare ministry statistics, over 112,000 positive cases of COVID-19 have been registered across the country and more than 3,400 people have died from the virus.