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Unsung sentinels

Their attractive apparel often bearing a close resemblance to police uniforms is a mere euphemism for their low-status occupation on barely subsistence wages.

Statesman News Service | New Delhi |

They can be seen everywhere — the ubiquitous private security guards manning high-end condominiums at Gurgaon, elite gated residential enclaves in the capital, housing societies, glitzy malls & multiplexes, ATM kiosks, glass-cladding corporate offices, etc.

Their attractive apparel often bearing a close resemblance to police uniforms is a mere euphemism for their low-status occupation on barely subsistence wages.

The phenomenal growth of this sector during the last two decades has been fuelled by the ever-widening income inequality, lack of effective community policing, low police-to-people ratio, breakdown of community trust and familial bonds, and a heightened sense of insecurity among the ultra-wealthy & the burgeoning upper-middle class.

This largely unregulated sector has spawned employment opportunities on a massive scale, so much so that in almost all major cities and towns, the number of security guards far outnumbers the combined strength of the police and paramilitary forces.

A matter of worrying concern is the lack of access to social benefits and entitlements for a large majority of these security guards.

With 80 percent of the private guards engaged in the largely unorganised informal sector, the regulatory framework with respect to employee welfare, social security benefits & entitlements viz. adherence to minimum wages, provident fund, bonus, statutory training requirements, provision of leave and holidays, basic medicare facilities, etc. remain largely a pipe dream.

Moreover, the agencies have no compunction whatsoever in enforcing a wage cut for the period of absence of these guards, even under the most trying circumstances.

These servile sentinels are generally provided two sets of coarse clothing, a pair of shoes and stockings, a whistle, and a wooden staff. The makeshift security cabin, often sans any light or table fan, is generally too small and claustrophobic.

A nondescript plastic chair serves as his resting place. Being continuously exposed to the elements, he has to seek shelter under a shady bough to ward off the searing heat in summer or seek refuge against a wall to avert the bone-chilling colder days in winter in their so-called make-do winter clothing.

Those on night patrolling duty have a difficult time warding off the mosquitoes. Sixty-year-old Badal, a veteran guard at ‘G’ Block in Kalkaji is often found burning empty egg cartons on his night shift, as the fumes emitted from the discarded plastic keep his tormentors at bay.

Rajendra Singh from Darbhanga undertakes a three km to-and-fro trip from Sant Nagar to C R Park on foot every day, as he cannot afford the auto/bus fare for reporting at his gate.

Notwithstanding the travails of daily commute and the vagaries of inclement weather conditions, he greets the residents with an affable smile, as he is beholden to them for their occasional offerings of some edibles, snacks, and fruits on festive occasions, ceremonial events & community get-togethers.

Sheer economic neces sity has compelled 45-year-old Munim to travel all the way from Panki near Kanpur to join this trade about a fortnight back.

Job less for the last two years, he had borrowed Rs 25000 from a vil lage moneylender for footing the marriage expenses of his daughter a month earlier.

Literally, at the end of his tether, he has no clue about the repayment of the loan. Greater regulatory oversight and implementation of benevolent measures as per laid down norms of the Private Security Agencies (Regulation) Act in right earnest will go a long way in mitigating the woes of these hapless sentinels. Our saviours certainly deserve a better deal!