As lights and festive cheer emanate from the houses by the sidewalk and a swell of laughter is heard as jokes float around, there’s a lone figure in uniform. Miles away from the comforts of the four corners of the home and the spirit of the festivities, Aishwarya Dongre prepares herself for a tedious duty that lies ahead. While the country geared up to celebrate the festivities, frontline workers had no excuse to let down their guard. In the realm of the unknown, police officers in India have been pushed to breaking point right from the advent of the pandemic. With its innumerable challenges lining the horizon of uncertainty, the pandemic has been no cup of tea for Aishwarya Dongre, a police officer. How do you deal with this, we ask. “When duty calls, you have got to buckle up,” she says.
“We’re coping with a trial and error method”
The pandemic brought on unprecedented turmoil and revamped business patterns forever, compelling professions around the globe in every sphere to operate in the confines of home. In the wake of this, a police officer’s job was augmented triple-fold. Crimes began to rise rapidly, and so did the pressure to enforce law and order. As things seemed to tumble out of control, Aishwarya Dongre IPS, an ACP in Trivandrum, says the battle only got tougher. “There was the fight against the invisible enemy on one hand and the spike in crimes on the other.”
“The fight against the pandemic is a war,” she says. “We are always trying, succeeding and failing at what works best for proper protocol enforcement. The theatre of wars has changed to various fronts thus making it even more challenging.” With the shift of office culture to a work-from-home one, cyber crimes have risen. “People are frustrated. Add to this unemployment, poverty, and that explains the surge in domestic violence cases.”
“Citizens look up to us as their last resort”
While one might ignorantly assume that the pandemic is a sole time when things have gotten tough for the police force, this is far from the truth. Just at the onset of the year, anti-CAA protests shook the Nation to its core. This, followed by a virus that forced the country to shut down. As news of rapes and murder dot the landscape of the prime time news almost every other day, do police personnel ever rest? With a smile that suggests otherwise, Aishwarya says the duty is to tirelessly perform. “We have trained ourselves in the toughest and most demanding times. We are a citizen’s last resort, and we aim to serve them to our best capacity.”
“I am working on a two-fold path of prevention and quick reaction for crimes against women”
As Coronavirus cripples the country, there’s a shadow pandemic doing the rounds - domestic violence. Horrific figures suggest women are being tormented as they are confined with their torturers at home. Being a woman and having to deal with these cases on a daily basis would cause understandable anger and frustration, but Aishwarya says that shouldn’t be the way it is viewed. “I do not feel any different than my male counterparts while dealing with crimes against women. They are equally empathetic and concerned about the rise in such cases. Women related crimes occur by virtue of just her sex and that is something that needs to be addressed.” Aishwarya explains the two-fold path of prevention and quick reaction that she aims to work on. “The former aims to prevent being a victim of violence through awareness sessions, self-defence classes, asking women to stand up and speak out.”
This said, she emphasizes the need for neutrality while hearing a case. “ There shouldn’t be bias while hearing concerns. Qualities of courage, hard-work, sincerity, pride in uniform, empathy, sensitivity, honesty and a clear conscience play an important role.” While on the subject, she adds that she finds the term ‘female police officer’ a problematic one. “While numerous professions including the police force are male-dominated, this thought reduces people to the fact that a gender has to be put for the police force.”
“The induction of more women into the police force would break stereotypes”
“All professional spheres need more women so as to bring a more balanced approach to decision-making processes. The induction of more women would instil a sense of confidence amongst women citizens, who can then feel free to speak of their concerns. It would also change the stereotype that all police officials have to be aggressive, muscular with macho characteristics.”
“The pandemic has been a learning experience”
Having been able to challenge herself in untested waters, the pandemic proved to be the test of abilities for this police officer. “The pandemic threw challenges at me and required that I react quickly. I have also learned the ability to listen to the concerns of others before making a decision.”
Aishwarya recounts the instance of the migrant crisis that grappled the country when the lockdown hit. “I made it a point to listen to their grievances instead of just baselessly acting without understanding. I also learned that it is important to keep up the morale of our officers who are working tirelessly and that has to be done at constant intervals.”
“Being away from family is painful”
While this set of frontline warriors push themselves to ensure safety and harmony, the mental health of police is something that needs attention. “While efforts are being taken to address mental health concerns through welfare activities, on-duty police personnel are required to perform their best for the sake and security of all,” says Aishwarya Dongre IPS.
She has had a harrowing time dealing with the pandemic and its challenges but another spoke in the wheel for this police officer, is being away from her loved ones. “Duty does take a toll on our family life. Sometimes, the health of our personnel is also compromised. These are occupational hazards which we are trying to bridge. The presence of family is always a sense of support and the feeling of being cared is great. In our domain of work, we see a lot of negative aspects of society, thus when we have our family around, it brightens up our lives with love and obviously good food and warm hugs.”
As Aishwarya Dongre IPS is set for another long shift that is no doubt bound to be filled with odd hours, horrific cases, hectic schedules, and a longing for home, there’s a spark in her eye. “Being a police officer is not just a profession, but a calling. The pandemic has been a game-changer,” says this police officer as she walks into the evening.