Night watchmen: They stay awake so others can dream

From gated societies and colonies to marketplaces, shops, banks, ATMs and houses, security providers are seen working 24×7, despite climate extremes, lurking danger and emergencies. Patriot brings an insight into the lives of the city’s watchmen

Night watchmen: They stay awake so others can dream

From gated societies and colonies to marketplaces, shops, banks, ATMs and houses, security providers are seen working 24x7, despite climate extremes, lurking danger and emergencies. Patriot brings an insight into the lives of the city’s watchmen. (All photos: Ali Fraz Rezvi)

As the clock strikes 8 in the evening and people return to the comfort of their homes, Ram Parvesh gets ready for a tiring night in his small 1RK flat in Bhogal, close to Nizamuddin Railway Station. 

“This has been my life for the past seven years”, begins Ram Parvesh as he gently closes the door and starts walking to the road. “The flat you saw is where I live with my wife, who works in a beauty parlour”, states Ram as he unlocks his cycle with a rusted key. 

“You might find it hard to imagine a life like this but there are thousands of people living in situations much worse than this. I have been married for the past nine years, but it is impossible for me to think of a child. I am already taking care of my brother’s college fee. Both Reena and I are literally working day and night to make our ends meet, and the amount we earn disappears before the month end.” 

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Reena’s income directly goes to the rent while his salary takes care of daily essentials. He stops suddenly and looks at his watch.

“I would have told you a lot, but I can’t afford to be late. A late watchman is marked absent at the factory”, he says, disappearing into the night. 

The modern concept 

A senior member in the management of SIS (Security & Intelligence Services Ltd) explained the idea of a security guard. Keeping himself anonymous as per the company’s policy, he informed Patriot that the idea of a security guard has evolved a lot. 

“Remember those times when a man used to shout ‘Jaagte raho’ in the middle of the night? Or the old man sitting at the bank’s gate in television shows and advertisements? The same security guard/watchman is one of the most reliable people in today’s India. And I feel proud to say that our company is the second largest security provider in this equation”, he added with a smile.

“Contrary to the popular imagination, these security guards are well trained and prepared to handle the toughest of situations. They too, wear a uniform like most of the national security forces. However, we fail to treat them with respect and dignity. This, I must say, is our failure as a society”, he concludes.

Unjust salaries 

However, the agencies themselves have an exploitative relationship with the guards whom they deploy. “One of the biggest problems that we face, apart from the constant threat to our lives, is the low level of pay”, states Diwaker Paudel, who works as a watchman in Lajpat Nagar. 

“I used to work as a watchman in Chhattarpur, but I lost my job during the pandemic. Within a few weeks, I secured a job here because of the agency, but I had to take a pay cut. Earlier, I was earning Rs 6,500 more than my present salary, and it was a safer location as well. Lajpat Nagar is a marketplace and the chances of robbery and theft are higher than the residential areas”, stated Diwaker.

“You can call it a perk that sometimes, a few shop owners are generous enough to give something from their own pockets, a practice which was more prevalent at my previous workplace. A minimal cleaning of the cars each morning and a good amount could be added to the next month’s salary.”

Occupational hazards 

Muhammad Asghar, who works as a night guard at an ATM in Tughlaqabad, told Patriot that guarding an ATM is the toughest job as a security guard, especially when on night duty. 

“This is a tough neighbourhood in Delhi, which is why you won’t find a lot of ATMs open in the night hours. Sometimes it is because of the security situation and sometimes it is because no guard is ready to be posted here”, he states with a deep sigh. 

“If I had an option, I would never have opted for night duty in this area, and there are multiple reasons for this”, he continues. “First of all, these areas are not safe — after Covid, snatching and robbery have turned into a common sight. Especially in the night hours, when almost everything is closed — sitting in front of a machine with thousands of rupees is the most dangerous of all tasks”. 

The way he describes it, it’s one man against gangs of robbers. “If they are not looting the ATM, because of the CCTV cameras and everything, they loot the people coming out of the ATM. These people are dangerous and have all sorts of weapons as well. Who do you think would risk his life for a few thousand rupees? Poor people like us!” Asghar answers his own question.

When Patriot asked the Tughlaqabad Police Station regarding the situation, a senior police official stated that it is true that cases of snatching and robbery have increased post-Covid but there has not been a concomitant rise in the number of registered cases in the area. 

“Our officers are on regular patrol, and the police vehicles are on round throughout the night. It is our duty to ensure that everyone is safe in our area, no matter if it is in the daytime or in the middle of the night”, he claims. 

Other posts are dangerous too, as recent incidents of assaults on security guards in posh societies of Noida have shown. Asghar personally knows of a guard who was slapped despite doing his duty. 

“A friend of mine who works as a watchman in a gated society was slapped multiple times by a biker, just because he asked the man to show his ID before entering the society”, Asghar adds. 

“The worst part is that you are not treated well by the people for whom you are risking your entire life. But, you know, that’s what our life is — to sacrifice our sleep so the others can dream”, he concludes.

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Ali Fraz Rezvi covers heritage, history, literature and current social issues for the Patriot.