Lower-rung police personnel in Kerala have now been allowed to sit before their seniors at stations, giving civility a leg-up in a force with strong hierarchical practices.
The unwritten code of conduct had been that lower-level policemen and women shouldn't sit before their senior officers even if seats are vacant.
But now, State Director General of Police KS Balasubramanyam has ordered senior officers to let juniors sit while speaking to them. The top cop has sent out a circular asking officers to strictly implement his order.
In police stations, constables stood at ease before the station house officer (SHO) while briefing him or her. Similarly, SHOs stood before police superintendents. It is a practice prevalent in most parts of India.
"We have been blindly following some of the outdated customs of the British era. Some of them were quite inhuman," said a member of the Kerala police association who fought for the right to sit.
Lower-rung police mostly spent their time shifting their weight from one leg to the other, with some going on to develop varicose veins by overworking their legs. None really knows how and why the police inherited such a system but they have been following it in letter and spirit.
"Even if seats are there some of them (officers) never offer us. At times, they behave as if we are bonded laborers. This has to go. Even the lowest-level officer should be given the dignity he deserves," said a head constable at the Cantonment Police Station in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital city.
Kerala Police is not new to reforms. It was the first to allow associations (read unions) in police and civil service. And one of these associations in the police led the fight for the right to sit.
The last Left Democratic Front government led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist had abolished the practice of using entry-level personnel to do domestic chores at officers' homes. The government had found that around 200 gardeners and constables were employed at officers' residences. Like the armed forces, they were treated as orderlies, though no such post existed in the police.
Kerala was also the frontrunner in scaling up the number of women personnel in the force. It was the first to set up a women police station in 1973 in Kozhikode. In 2014, eight all-women police stations were opened in the state.