Five years ago, then a fresh graduate, Sarfaraaz, now a cop with the J-K police, was waiting for his life to begin. Rows of shuttered shops are now around him, an empty street is before him. He has to guard both. His eyes are restive the moment someone peeps from a window or a vehicle seems in bit of an extra rush in curfew-bound Srinagar. “Watching others -- that’s not much of a life,” says the policeman, who actually wanted to be a teacher. The salary is “so-so”; the hours, long; and the “rules” of combat are not often followed, he adds.
Regarding working conditions, Kashmiri cops have two points of reference – the CRPF, but more often, the Punjab police, a force that has, like them, handled a popular insurgency. “Punjab police have a 12-hour duty, we 24. These days, off days are rare and you could even be on the job from 5 am. A J&K constable earns Rs 20,000 a month, a Punjab constable Rs 36,000,” he says.
“The CRPF men get to go home on long leave. But we are always here. In our own land, we have the image of oppressors,” says Sikander (name changed), a cop at Bemina, “and yet in a situation of increasing turmoil, we do almost the same work as the CRPF.”
Indeed, at every major crossing or thoroughfare; or in keeping the highway clear for traffic. Behind the spools of concertina wire, stands a joint team of the local police and the paramilitary force. At any protest, the J-K police are the first line of defence.
“The state budget says we have to wait two more years for the implementation of the 7th Pay Commission,” points out the cop at Bemina. “The CRPF gets 80 days leave, we 20.”
A paramilitary police force of nearly 80,000 is stationed here in the Valley. “There are four paramilitary personnel for every Kashmiri,” says Akram (name changed), a cop at Lal Chowk, quickly putting on a black patch over his face to talk to HT. “I don’t want to be identified as talking to the media,” he says. “There’s much a J-K cop has to say, but can’t.”
Would he allow a video? “We will be handed a suspension order if we ‘talk’ to the media. But since you’ve come from far…. video is unthinkable.”
K. Rajendra, DG, J-K police, was not available for comment. Local media in Srinagar say the charge of “biased reporting” is levelled at them, but as senior cops do not answer their telephone calls, their stories are invariably “one-sided”. National media fared no better.
Cop after cop refuses to give his/her name. Those who did, held back their surnames. A Sanatnagar cop spoke on the condition that we follow his bike to a vacant plot in nearby Rawalpora. A Jawaharnagar cop said he would speak if we could meet him at Rajbagh.
Most policemen say the reality of police work is completely different from what is given in the training manual. In over 50 days of curfew, over 500 people have serious pellet wounds.
Are cops exercising enough restraint? “During training, what we have been taught is when a mob appears, take the magistrate with you, give a warning, then give the people 5 minutes, start counting, and then start action to scatter them, and, if need be, shoot at the legs…the reality is orders are given to go on the offensive from the word ‘go’,” says a cop at Gawkadal. “There are mixed signals all around,” he adds. “The government says ‘people should come out of their homes’. And we say: ‘Curfew has begun, go back home’.”
Sarfaraaz says what he can perhaps never say during office hours. He wants “aman (peace) and azaadi”. “Whatever you do, don’t diminish our heroes. If Burhan Wani had been just a militant, would so many have cried at his funeral and carried that boy on their shoulders?”
Has he ever rained his stick on a fellow Kashmiri in the course of his job? “Sometime or the other, I have had to hit a boy whose brother or uncle I know,” he says. “It is a pity that I’ve to control a violence created by situations that has nothing to do with me.”