Growing up, it was common for most children, including myself, to be terrified of police officials.
Often, when I threw a tantrum to not eat veggies or stomped my foot or sat down on the road creating a ruckus, my mother would tell me, “Will you stop? Police ko bulau? (Should I call the police to arrest you?)”
While it would be unfair to say that these are the only incidents that influence our perceptions of khaki-clad men and women, popular culture doesn’t do much to change that perception either.
Where one Dabangg cop, clearly against the rest of the system saves the world as other officials are showcased to be bribe-taking, common-man harassing villains.
“That is a perception that needs to change. We are bound by law and our conscience to help people in distress. Often, the general public’s opinion of us is based on hearsay,” senior inspector of Charkop Police Station, Hemant Sawant, tells The Better India. He has been serving in the force for more than 30 years.
The senior cop made headlines recently after he went out of his way to help a Kashmiri man, Shoukat Ali, get his provident fund (PF) which was stuck since March 2019.
Ali worked for a private company in Kashmir in 2013, the headquarters of which are located at Charkop in Kandivali, Mumbai. Due to lack of financial backing, he could not visit the firm’s head office or the PF office to claim his PF money.
This was at a time when he needed the money desperately, for his daughter’s admission fee.
Though he tried to make several calls to officials at the PF office to clear the amount of Rs 52,000, his efforts went in vain. He was asked to come down to the office, which he couldn’t. Lack of a proper internet connection and shutdown of services in the valley added to his woes. So he couldn’t even go about filling the online form either.
Finding no recourse, the man went on the Mumbai Police website and found the closest police station, which happened to be Charkop.
Without further ado, he dialled Inspector Sawant’s number and put forth his grievances.
“He apologised to me saying, ‘I know this is not the work of the police, but I am in urgent need and I have no one to help me. Please help me, Sir.’ I could feel his helplessness, so I decided to help him out,” Sawant adds.
He jotted Ali’s EPF number and also sent a constable to the PF office for a few other details. He then visited the office and spoke to the concerned officials about clearing Ali’s amount.
The PF officials extended full support and also explained the technical reasons behind the delay in releasing the amount. They added that Ali would have to fill up a form and send it across. Sawant took the printed form and couriered it to Ali in Kashmir. Once the man filled the details and sent it back, Sawant submitted it to the PF office.
“The cheque was released and he (Ali) was very appreciative of my help. He did not expect that the police would help him. But I am glad I was able to change that.”
Ali added how it moved him that the officer went out of his way to help him, a gesture which helped him save close to Rs 10,000 on the trip.
Speaking to the Hindustan Times, he said, “Although I’ve never met Sawant Sir, he went out of his way to help me. I’m grateful to Mumbai Police.”
Sawant was lauded for his gesture by Sanjay Barve, Commissioner of Police, Mumbai; Rajesh Pradhan, Additional Commissioner of Police, North Region; and Sangramsinh Nishandar, Deputy Commissioner of Police.
He bids adieu with a message for fellow officials.
“If a person walks into the police station, understand that he/she is in distress. No one expects you to go out of your way to help them. But within the framework of the law and your duty, make that effort to address their issues. And do it honestly with a clear conscience. You will have to help them now or later, then why drag the process by doing it half-heartedly? Help the common man happily. They are our utmost priority.”
The man, with thirty years of experience, gives officials a tip, saying, “When a common man walks into my police station and asks me for help, I put myself in their shoes and think, ‘How do I expect the police to help me?’ And that’s how I then go about addressing their concern. Empathy is important.”
To the general public, he says, “Every action has a reaction. When you approach the police arrogantly, you forget that they too are human beings and can react the same way. But when you approach them positively, you will get the assistance you need.”
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)