The tragic death of Mumbai’s top cop Himanshu Roy by self-inflicted gunshot emphasises the absence of counselling. We do not even recognise Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and even our soldiers, firemen, policemen and all those in high-stress jobs, who risk their lives on a daily basis, have nothing to fall back on by way of support after they have seen it all and worse. There are many cops amongst department who have issues that just no one wants to see. Sometimes when they cry for help, no one answers it. Finally, when the situation becomes tough they found themselves suicidal as the result of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression. As a police officer, they hide their mental health challenges due to the stigma that exists within the culture of law enforcement. There is a code of secrecy around mental illness in police agencies across the nation, a code that is difficult to break through.
More officers die of suicide than they die of shootings and traffic accidents combined. It’s a problem that cries out for answers and remedies, but too many departments are reluctant to admit it exists, much less implement programs to address it. While a few of the known deaths are publicly attributed to depression or PTSD, the overwhelming majorities are listed as having “unknown causes”. Stigma — the fear that it will reflect negatively on a department or result in liability claims by the family — appears to be a motivating factor behind such vague information. There are many police personnel, which are going through a variety of issues from health to family. Work-related stress and depression are far more prevalent in police work than reports suggest. Instead of continuing to ignore the problem, the law enforcement community needs to address mental health and suicide head-on, devising what they call a “cradle to the grave” approach for officers. Finally, officers should be encouraged to go at least once a year to a therapist who is adept at dealing with stress and trauma in the same way they get an annual physical or dental check-up. That would give an officer the opportunity to see what has been working well emotionally for the past year, but also affords him or her, a chance to see what has not. The irony is that cops are paid their salaries for months. They just slog, slog and slog.
Look at Himanshu Roy, he could not even realise he was suffering from cancer. While fighting with it, he was isolated and cornered. No authority, no celebrity or no human went to his rescue. He was alone in his bedroom one day with his gun drawn, ready to shoot himself. Roy just gave up fighting cancer that was eating him from within is heartbreaking and unfortunately, in India, we see family as the bulwark of our fight and will to survive. What we fail to recognise is that the family is already traumatised and shaken, and the sight of seeing them adjusting their lives to accommodate your illness and suffering along with you is a huge psychological burden to bear. While one cannot speak for Roy, a man who spent his life combating evils in society, he must have felt so lonely and stricken by his condition, impacting on his loved ones and what it was doing to them, that the one way to end the agony was to end it. Guilt on top of illness can be just too much to bear for a man with that sort of willpower; imagine the breaking point of lesser people. If Roy had no access at his social level, think of several hundred thousand others who are fighting the goblins in their mind alone because the system sees it as ‘their fault’ and not as a medical condition, which needs addressing.
There are many such Roy like cops in the department fighting their battles. 8,50,000 police officers that work on the streets day and night it’s a harrowing job indeed. What they need is attention and some care.
Recently a police constable attached with Mumbai police was seeking permission to beg in his official uniform for not receiving salary since past two months over the leaves that he had taken for his wife’s medical treatment. The cop Ahirrao claimed to have taken leave from March 20 to March 22 this year however during the period, his wife’s leg got fractured in his village and due to which he could not report to duty. The letter states that he had informed the unit in charge of a phone call about the emergency leave and after that had taken leave for five days. After the treatment of his wife, he had joined the duty on March 28 and is currently posted at Matoshree. However, he has not received his salary since past two months as it has been stopped due to the leaves that he had taken. He has to take care of his ill wife, old parents and a daughter who is studying in Nursery. What if cop Ahirrao takes an extreme step out of frustration?
On an average, 120 Mumbai police personnel have died while on duty every year since 2002 till date, with 98 per cent of them succumbing to various ailments, including cardiac arrest, according to an RTI reply. The RTI figures also reveal that 15 personnel committed suicide on an average every year in the last one decade. A total of 1,341 policemen died while on duty between 2002-12, and among them, 347 (25 per cent) died of cardiac arrest while 167 men ended their lives by committing suicide. The highest numbers of 687 deaths were reported from the armed police wing, followed by motor transport department with 86 deaths. One of the major reasons for discontent in the police force is the undue long hours of work, which often includes ‘bandobast’ duty to secure VIP movement in the city. The police are posted at least two hours before a VIP is supposed to pass a spot but often end up standing there even hours after the motorcade has passed. Often, the officers in command forget to send a message to disperse, complain the personnel. Unlike in any other government department, the police personnel work a 12-hour shift on average and often end up working 14 to 15 hours a day.
Surprisingly, we have no home ministry in Maharashtra, no one to listen to the cry of a cop. The arrogant BJP government is in its own tipsy. Himanshu’s suicide is just the one news, there are many more such headlines in making.
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