C Y Gopinath: Good cop, fat cop
The problem is not why Mumbai's cops have pot bellies. It's why they're so angry and bitter
His Royal Highness, the King of Thailand was going to be passing through Sukhumvit, where I was waiting to cross the road. It's normal for the roads to be kept open and clear when the king's motorcade passes through, so I waited along with other pedestrians till normal traffic resumed. Then I noticed the Bangkok cop.
He looked like an extra from a Star Wars set, with something very like a light saber in his hands. His tan trousers, folded wide at the bottom to reveal shiny, albeit dusty, boots, were still creased, and his shirt was a perfect fit. His silver-buckled white belt matched smartly with his red-black-and-white helmet. He looked ready to protect royalty.
Most noticeable, he didn't have a paunch. He looked fighting fit, like he could give your average felon a run for his money. He's not an exception. Most cops in most countries that are serious about fighting crime and protecting citizens look exactly like you'd expect cops should look: fit, muscular, broad of shoulder, with excellent posture and gait, radiating a reassuring confidence. The iconic London bobby is not only a stalwart but also friendly and cheerful, the sort to whom you would happily hand over your baby while you rushed to the subway toilet. They can also help old ladies cross the street, direct you to the nearest pharmacy, know the football score and climb a tree to save your cat.
China, Thailand and United states
So when I reflect on why Mumbai's — and India's — cops are so rotund, almost caricatures of themselves, I confess that I feel the need to go more than, er, skin deep. Daulatram Jogawat, of Neemuch, Madhya Pradesh, mercilessly fat-shamed by columnist Shobhaa De, received free surgery that brought his weight down from 180 to 115 kgs. It was only discovered later that his obesity was a disease not caused by too much rice or not enough exercise but an insulin imbalance that did not require bariatric surgery to correct.
I know how difficult it is to lose just a few kilos. I stand 5' 11" and 77 kgs, but I wanted to be feather-light at 68 kgs. I cut out rice, wheat and sugar and began walking 7,000 steps a day. After five weeks, I was down to 74 kgs. It's not easy to lose weight.
In short, I don't think a Circle Officer would be any less circular if you put him on an Atkins Diet. The correct question is not why Mumbai cops are fat but why they are so angry and bitter. About 90 per cent of Mumbai policemen work over 8 hours a day. Most police station staff have to remain on duty over 11 hours daily. Nearly three-quarters of them don't get weekly offs even once a month. And over 80 per cent of them say that they get summoned on their off days to deal with emergencies. Festivals like Ganesh Chaturti and Diwali are nightmares for them with endless duty rounds.
The average Mumbai cop barely gets time for his family, children and friends. He is severely sleep-deprived. He is a cop in a country that inexplicably limps on with a police force 30 per cent of the size the country needs and has one cop per 720 persons — the UN prescribes one per 454. The Ministry of Home Affairs did what ministries do, coin a slogan rather than solve the problem. The new mantra is 'Be fit, but not fat'. To be awarded for merit or service, a policeman must be in the Shape 1 category defined by the Indian Armed Forces to indicate 5-point fitness: Psychiatric (S), Hearing (H) , Appendages (A), Physical (P) and Eyesight (E).
Such a person is almost Superman. He can be posted for any duty. The problem is that Indian cops are already posted for any duty anyway, on any day and at any time, and pretty much all the time. They don't get helmets like, say, Thai cops, but cloth caps that make them look like jesters. They don't get family time off days or shifts. They are worked like dogs.
Then they get fat-shamed in public by celebrity columnists. I wish Mumbai's Finest were smart, strong, tough and fit policemen who I could trust to save my life. But they're the victims of a brutal system that finally makes them unfit for the very job they were hired to do. The blame falls on the top of the ladder, not the bottom. There may be a lesson in what the cops of Morena district, Madhya Pradesh, did when their Superintendent of Police told them to lose weight in two months or be suspended. They performed a massive 'yajna' for the SP's transfer. Needless to say, of course, neither the yajna nor the order to lose weight worked.
Here, viewed from there. CY Gopinath, in Bangkok, throws unique light and shadows on Mumbai, the city that raised him. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org Send your feedback to email@example.com
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