On Wednesday morning, when reports emerged that a team of constables in Mumbai were attacked for trying to keep revellers safe during the ongoing Ganesh festival, both citizens and the police were startled.
On Sunday, a police team tried to stop a group from entering a lake in suburban Mumbai to immerse Ganesh idols, as the water body is known to have crocodiles. The group, however, reacted by pelting stones at the cops, injuring a woman constable on her thigh.
But this was not an isolated incident. In the past few weeks, there have been several attacks on police personnel in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region – at least three of which have been reported during the Ganesh festival alone.
Spate of attacks
On September 7, news websites carried a video of a youngster trying to drown a police constable at an immersion site for Ganpati idols in Kalyan, on the outskirts of Mumbai. Four men were reportedly arrested and charged with attempt to murder. On September 11 in Thane, a constable suffered serious injuries after being beaten up by a mob of revellers during the Ganesh festival. The constable and his colleague had attempted to stop a fist fight between two groups of revellers.
The same day, another man from Thane hit a local police constable on the head with an iron rod for motives that are still not known.
Traffic police, too, have been subjected to many such attacks recently. The most widely reported case was that of traffic police constable Vilas Shinde, who died of injuries on August 31, nine days after he was attacked by the brother of a helmetless biker.
On September 6, a youngster and his sister who were riding without helmets attacked a woman constable in suburban Mumbai when she pulled them up.
Earlier, in February, a Shiv Sena party worker slapped and punched a woman constable in Thane when she admonished him for talking on his phone while driving.
‘Police portrayed as corrupt’
Concerned by the growing number of such attacks, the Maharashtra police submitted a report to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Tuesday, informing him that since 2012, at least 4,560 civilian attacks on police personnel had been recorded in the state. At least 947 of those cases were reported from Mumbai.
But why are so many police personnel in Mumbai being attacked so frequently?
The reason, according to former police officer YP Singh, is a blatant lack of respect for the police. “Because of social media and television news, which always portray the police as corrupt, ordinary citizens have lost respect for them,” said Singh. The former officer said that the fear of the law does not seem to deter angry citizens when, in the heat of the moment, they attack a police official. “Women constables are attacked because they are never given serious duties in the police," he added. "Since most of them do peripheral duties, even the public doesn’t take their commands seriously.”
According to Meeran Borwankar, the director general of the Bureau of Police Research and Development, the attacks on cops are a result of the general disregard for the law. The police are attacked because they represent the rule of law,” said Borwankar. “People would rather take law into their own hands.”
A politicised force?
Former officials, however, said there is some truth to the perception of corruption in the police force.
“The politicisation of the police is the main reason for the lack of respect for the force,” said Julio Ribeiro, a retired Indian Police Services officer from Mumbai. “Many police officers make friends with every political party in order to get the kind of transfers they want, and then they are willing to do whatever those parties want them to.”
While this does not condone attacks on any individual policeman or woman on duty, Singh believes the force would have to work hard to win back the trust of the general public. “The corruption has to stop,” he said. “The police need to earn the respect of the citizens.”