While many in India are trying their best to move away from caste-based stereotypes and divisions among people, it seems that many in our law enforcement agencies don’t believe in equality and would rather stay divided. The police lines in Patna city, which a about a kilometre away from the iconic Gandhi Maidan, might have cops fighting crimes under one banner during the day but come night time, constables, hawaldars and officers – young or old – separate into various camps formed along the lines of caste and ethnicity.
Cops divide into groups and cook on 20 separate chowkas – makeshift kitchens – each marked for a specific caste.
When asked about this ritual, a constable said:
“Yehi parampara rahi hai yahaan saalon se (This has been the tradition for years.)”
When further asked if this was due to a divide in the camp or among the ranks, many brush away the concern and say this is based on friendship. They admit, however, that people of a particular cast or area generally tend to be friends with people from their caste or region:
“If you are a Yadav, you will generally have more Yadav friends. So you live together and eat together. The same is true for other castes. Also, if you are from a far off place like Darbhanga, it doesn’t matter whether you are Hindu or Muslim, you will live in close proximity.”
While the above might be true, one wonders why barrack number 3 is a Rajput bastion, number 5 is dominated by Bhumihars, and 8 is identified as the one where the Paswans hold sway.
When a hawildar was asked about this, he said:
“These are mere indicators that that particular caste outnumbers the rest in that barrack. You will also find a Dalit in a Bhumihar barrack. It’s not that the entire barrack belongs to the Bhumihars,”
And not just the caste angle, the condition of the barracks in itself demands an investigation. More facilities are needed as there are over 5,000 people crammed in different buildings. The excess amount of policemen in single buildings have resulted in overflowed toilets and cramped sleeping areas. The main buildings were built way back in the 1960s and the facilities provided were keeping in mind the police strength of the time. Talking about the situation a senior police officer said:
“The facilities were built keeping in mind the strength of the force at that time. Over the years, the numbers have risen exponentially but the facilities have remained the same. Major renovations are also a problem because we don’t have a place where we can shift these people to allow repair work to begin.”
The situation as of now is so bad that each floor is stuffed with beds where cops are sometimes forced to take turns to sleep. The ceilings of many buildings are crumbling and chunks of concrete can land on a sleeping policeman’s head at any time.
With elections around the corner, the already cramped barracks will now have to accommodate another few thousand men in the coming days.
With law and security top priority for these police officials, looking at the conditions they are put in it is no wonder many cops are angry. A frustrated cop said:
“A lot is said about the improved law and order condition in the city and the state. Who made it possible?People blame us for everything without realising what we go through to make Bihar a safe place. And look what we get for it?”