The edgy lives of constables' wives

The tensions inherent in a job that involves strenuous training and situations of conflict often get transferred to family members of constables, especially their wives. Says Simi Prabhash (35), “When I got married, my husband was doing his training at the KAP Battalion in Trichur, Kerala and would come home just twice a month.” Once he moved to the training centre in Kottayam, his home town, Simi moved to her mother-in-law’s home in order to meet her husband thrice a week. It’s only in the last five years that Simi, her husband and their two children have been able to live together as a family. Their dingy, two-room police lodging has a kitchen, a bedroom and a tiny toilet. The bed serves as dining table, study table and ironing board. In all probability, this will be their only permanent home.

Sreeja Ravindran (35), who is married to a constable based in Trichur, recalls the first time her husband, Ravindran, left for his training at the KAP Battalion. “It was barely three weeks after our marriage. I was 19 years old and all alone in his house at Alleppey. He was soon made the platoon leader and was granted a day off every month. His journey home would take 12 hours and he would end up spending only three or four hours, before boarding the bus back to Trichur,” she says.

It’s Sreeja’s belief that a police constable’s wife has to be as tough as her husband to cope with life.

“In movies, they (constables) are either depicted as buffoons or as corrupt criminals. Why doesn’t anyone care to find out the struggles we face?” she asks angrily.

Women like Sreeja and Simi have to fend for themselves whenever their children fall ill or a death occurs in the family. Because of this, the wives of police constables rarely seek employment. They need to make up for the absence of their husbands.

Deepa lives in quarters that look a little better than those of the others, and her husband, M K Prasannan, works in a police station close by, but she doesn’t think she is privileged in any way.

She says, “He has night duty thrice a week – it is either bike patrol from 4 pm to 5 am, or jeep patrol from 11 pm to 5 am. He doesn’t get any time with the family.” Prasannan served for seven years at Trichur, three years in Idukki and one year in Kottayam, before settling down as local constable in the Kottayam East police station since the last five years.

“This may be a good job in terms of honour and security of tenure, but it is impossible for the family of a police constable to save, let alone build a house,” claims Deepa. But more than money, it is the constables’ personal security that worries their wives.

Police constables are the most vulnerable in any situation of conflict or violence. They are exposed to physical assault. “The trauma I go through each time my husband is called away to places of unrest is difficult to express. Now even my children have stopped asking me why their father is not home yet,” says Sreeja.

Since work and family conditions impact behaviour, the authorities have been forced to envisage reform measures. Premji K Nair, district president of Kerala Police Association, says: “The government has decided to cut down on time spent in training, and is beginning to assign local postings according to individual choice as soon as the new recruits complete their Battalion training. This means new recruits could be living in police lodgings with their families in less than two years of joining the force. Earlier, postings at ‘mother-stations’ – ie, stations at a recruit’s own hometown or his spouse’s home town – were deliberately denied. Now, the department believes that a recruit is most suited to a posting in a place with which he or she is familiar, since the constable will have first-hand knowledge of the area, a wide social network and could make a smoother transition to post-retirement life.”

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