Even as Uttar Pradesh Police Thursday launched a helpline (1090) meant to serve women in need of protection, people wondered whether a helpline for cops in distress might not be a good idea.
In the eight months that Akhilesh Yadav has been chief minister of the state, one sub-inspector was shot dead, a home guard escaped an attempt on his life, three police officials had their weapons looted, and more than half a dozen police stations have been attacked, vandalized or set on fire.
In the last fortnight alone, three incidents were reported from state capital Lucknow, of policemen being attacked by hoodlums; in one instance, there was an attempt to run over a traffic cop.
Only last week, a circle officer of the deputy superintendent of police (DSP)-rank belonging to the chief minister's security was bashed up in public view.
On Nov 1, a traffic constable near Bapu Bhawan in Lucknow was thrashed by motorcycle-borne youth; the next day, a sub-inspector of the traffic department was beaten up in Mahanagar locality; on the same day, a policeman of the state's Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) was beaten black and blue on a city bus.
A police sub-inspector was shot dead by criminals in Lakhimpur Kheri Oct 28 and his service revolver snatched.
A few days later, a home guard was attacked and shot at.
In August, some policemen, including a station house officer (SHO), were bashed up. Police stations in Ramgarh (Firozabad) and Amwas in Kasganj were attacked.
Soon after the Samajwadi Party (SP) government took over the reins of the state eight months ago, policemen were attacked in Uldan village in Jhansi and their service weapons looted.
Four policemen were seriously injured when a group belonging to 'nat' caste attacked policemen at Nizampur village in Barabanki and an SHO, sub-inspector and other policemen were beaten up in Baldehra village in Shrawasti.
Policemen have been tight-lipped about the public ire they face. Even so, newly- appointed Additional Director General (ADG) Law & Order Arun Kumar has sought detailed reports from districts where such incidents have taken place.
One senior police official, on condition of anonymity, admitted that the force was shocked that the attacks were often from "common people".
"The government is serious about resolving the matter, but it has also been caught unawares by sporadic attacks on men in khaki," he said.
Swamy Prasad Maurya, senior Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader and Leader of Opposition in the state assembly was pointed in his criticism: "There is a general perception that whenever the Samajwadi Party comes to power, goondaism increases. This time, though, all previous records have been shattered. The police force is being thrashed and killed."
Senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Kalraj Mishra says the situation is "alarming, dangerous and unprecedented".
The law and order situation in the state has reached a new nadir, he says, adding that the attacks on policemen and police stations could not be dismissed as stray incidents, since there were far too many such attacks. What is more, many of the attacks happened in full public view, shaming law enforcers.
India Against Corruption (IAC) activist Vaibhav Maheshwari has an explanation for the phenomenon: "This is a delayed but desirable venting of frustrations of people, who are sick and tired of being at the receiving end of police high-handedness."
Sharad Chandra Mishra, 84-year-old longtime resident of Lucknow says stoically: "The common man has seen the police force in action extracting bribes, showing indifference, or expressing anger. Now, they're giving it back. It's quite okay."
Director General of Police (DGP) A.C. Sharma, however, says the attacks are by no means "alarming". What it shows, he asserts, is that the police are now in "proactive mode".
"See, who attacks a docile police party? It is only because we are issuing challans, raiding criminals and setting things right that we are being attacked. The people doing the attacking will be dealt with strictly," Sharma says.
(Mohit Dubey can be contacted at email@example.com)