It’s a Tough Job

  • Ishtiyaq Sibtian Joo
  • Publish Date: Jul 7 2017 10:32PM
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  • Updated Date: Jul 7 2017 10:32PM
It’s a Tough Job

They are killed, intimidated, ill paid and overworked, but policemen in Jammu and Kashmir won't quit. Why?

 

Abdul Ahad Hajam, 65, of Batpora in Hazratbal, Srinagar, looks at his wife, a signal to take away their crying grandchild from the room so he has a quiet moment to remember his slain son. Constable Ishfaq Ahmed Hajam, 23, was killed, along with four other policemen and two private security guards, when militants ambushed a cash van of the Jammu and Kashmir Bank in Kulgam on May 1. Since then, his family says, Abdul Ahad mostly keeps to himself; he does not like noise even if it is a child crying.

The news of the lynching of Deputy Superintendent of Police Mohammad Ayub Pandit near Jamia Masjid in Srinagar Thursday night does not seem to evoke any emotion from Abdul Ahad.

“So they killed him on Shab-e-Qadr,” he says, referring to the DSP before adding, rather agitatedly. “And then they must have sought Allah’s mercy and forgiveness, and blah blah. The irony is they even expect to get it after killing those who, like everyone else, are working to fend for their families.”

His wife Sara Bano and younger son Tanveer Ahmad try to pacify the grieving father and ask him to speak calmly. He does.

On May 1, he recalls, when he was told about the attack, he knew the worst had happened. “No sooner did my neighbours inform me that there had been an attack on a police van in Kulgam and that my son was injured, I somehow knew that he was dead.”

By evening, the death of his 23-year old son was confirmed.

Abdul Ahad is too weak of hand and sight to keep doing the shawl needle work, the family's traditional occupation. His oldest son lives separately. So, the responsibility of earning the family's bread was on Ishfaq. He joined the J&K Police in 2013, selected in the special Director General Recruitment drive commonly known as “DG bhirti".

The family does not want to blame anyone for the killing of their son. "We blame only our fate. Why else would anyone kill our innocent son? He never harmed anyone. He didn’t kill anyone. He was trying to help his family, his old parents. He wanted his younger brother to go for higher education,” says Ishfaq’s mother, cradling the son of her only daughter, Sakina Bano.

 

HARD TIMES

For the J&K police, 2017 has been a torrid year. At least 17 of their personnel have been killed so far. Being the local force, they must constantly negotiate a precarious situation: doing their duty put their lives and that of their families at risk, and not doing it invites the wrath of the state.

The current spate of attacks on the police started around March when militants started barging into the houses of policemen and threatening their families. On March 08, armed men vandalised the home of a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) in Chillipora Heff village of Shopian, who was posted in Srinagar. On March 25, Baramulla Jail Superintendent Abdul Samad Bhat's home was raided in at Hafru village in central Kashmir’s Budgam district, and his son Ashiq along with his nephew Bilal were abducted in the family’s car. Two days later, militants raided the house of Assistant Sub Inspector Dilbar Ahmad and his brother Constable Reyaz Ahmad at Daroo in Shopian district, and threatened their family. The next day, they ransacked house of Superintendent of Police (SP) Hazratbal Dawood Mattoo in Khudwani village of Kulgam district. By the end of the month, militants had raided the homes of at least five other police officers in south and central Kashmir. Each time, the militants left a message for the officers: “Quit the force or face consequences.”

“The situation is very difficult," Nazir Ahmed, 30, a constable posted in Shopian says, referring to the attacks and raids on homes. “Our families are always worried about us. We have to keep them posted that we are fine almost every hour.”

 

NO EQUALITY

They are worried, certainly, but the police are not deterred from doing their duty by these attacks and intimidation tactics. They are, however, disheartened that despite risking more than their counterparts in the central forces, they are compensated far less.

The police have been asking the state government to double their hardship allowance, but without success. Currently, this allowance is 10 per cent of the basic pay. More importantly, there is a huge disparity in their salaries. “From maintaining law and order to rescue work during floods and fires, from regulating traffic to ensuring smooth conduct of yatras, we are supposed to deliver on all fronts. Yet, when it comes to pay and perks, central forces get fatter salaries as well as special duty allowance,” complained Constable Bilal Ahmad, 26, who is posted in Pulwama.

A CRPF constable posted in Jammu and Kashmir gets Rs 3,750 per month as risk allowance while his state police counterpart gets just Rs 100. “The CRPF personnel who were rushed to the valley as reinforcements during last year's unrest were paid Rs 13,500 as special duty allowance on top of their risk allowance, but no such allowance is paid to the state police,” says Bilal.

Constable Ajaz Ahmad, 37, who is serving on the force since 2009, echoes Bilal’s concerns. “I wonder if our lives are less important than those of central forces. Why else would there be this big difference in allowances?”

“Army, BSF or CRPF personnel come from other states. The Home department and everyone else pays attention to them and no one is bothered about J&K police. Militants don’t barge into their houses, nor are their family members getting intimidated. Yet their lives are valued more by providing them more incentives,” says Ajaz, who recently completed his near two-year stint in the Traffic Police, where he sometimes worked 18 hours a day.

Urging both the state and central governments to address the pay disparity, Bilal says, “You can’t be partial and expect people to lay down their lives for you. If the state police takes a step back, both the state and central governments will have to face its repercussions.”

Another concern of the police is regarding ex-gratia relief. Ishfaq's family received a compensation of Rs two lakh, Rs one lakh from Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and two installments of Rs 50,000 from the police. They want to know why they were paid far less than what was given to the family of Ummer Fayaz, an army officer who was kidnapped from a wedding and killed by militants in Shopian on May 10. Umar's family was paid Rs 75 lakh from the Army Group Insurance Fund and Rs one lakh by his unit, the Rajputana Rifles.

“We have been given Rs 2 lakh and promised Rs 12 lakh as Special Welfare Relief. Why this huge difference? Was our son's life less valuable than Ummer, who happens to be our relative?” questions Abdul Ahad.

 

LITTLE CHOICE

Still, despite the risk, pay disparity and exacting workload, people in the valley are queuing up in their thousands to join the police.

According to Chairman, Police Recruitment Board, Surinder Kumar Gupta, the valley's youth "always show overwhelming response" to police recruitment drives.

“In our recruitment drive in May, over 51,000 boys and girls applied for 2,800 police constable posts. We got the highest number of 8,421 applications from South Kashmir’s Anantnag district, followed by Kupwara and Baramulla,” he said. From the volatile districts of Kulgam, Pulwama and Shopian, 3,802, 3,750 and 1,700 applications were received, respectively.

Constable Nazir cites unemployment, lack of better jobs and "unstable private sector" as key reason for the youth joining the police. “I worked in hospitality before the unrest of 2010 crippled private businesses, especially the hotel industry, rendering thousands of people working in the private sector jobless,” he says.

A job in the police at least ensures guaranteed regular income and, for the most part, no sifarish or bribe is required to get it. “A government job is unaffected whatever may happen in the valley,” says Nazir, who joined the police in 2013.

 

NOWHERE TO GO

It's for this reason that most police personnel say they won't leave their jobs however much the militants might intimidate them and their families. “Before joining the police, my family had no permanent source of income. We managed with whatever my ageing father earned from painting work, which was not easy to come by. After finishing my Class 12, I started working with my father to increase the family's income. But there was not much work," says Constable Tanveer Ahmed, 27, who is posted in Anantnag. “So, when I got an opportunity to join the police in 2013, I took it with both hands. I can’t imagine leaving as that would take my family back to those difficult days.”

Two of the policemen killed in the May 1 attack in Kulgam trained with Constable Muzaffar Hussain, 30, who is posted in Sumbal, Bandipora. He was saddened by their death, of course, but the thought of leaving the force never crossed his mind. “I believe everyone has to die one day. So why fear death?”

“People pay lakhs of rupees to get a government job. I managed to get one without paying a rupee and you expect me to quit just because someone says so?" he asks. “No, I won’t.”