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On Thursday, a day before Basant Panchami, around 11 pm, Pratap Bahadur Patel, a constable with the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) of the UP Police, was getting ready at his company's base at Kydganj, five kilometres from the Sangam. Half an hour later, he headed for duty at the main snan ghat (bathing embankment). His task is to manage the crowd at the ghat so that bathers can move freely.
"My colleagues and I got here at midnight and we have been on duty since. It's supposed to be a 12-hour shift but we're never really off-duty," says Patel. He has been stationed at Kumbh since January 14. "I often find myself doing Magh Mela or Kumbh Mela duty. It is because our company is based at Mirzapur, which is not very far from here," he says.
After his 12 hours are done, Patel returns to his camp to get some restóbut not always. "I can't describe my routine. I can't tell you when I wake up, eat and sleep. The only thing fixed about my routine is that I have to be ready for duty 24 hours a day."
On Mauni Amavasya, February 10, the crowd was at its largest. Almost three crore devotees had thronged the ghats. Patel was manning one of the pontoon bridges. "We remained standing at one place for 12 hours without a minute's break. Such was the crowd. We had to ensure that there was no overcrowding and people kept moving."
A normal duty shift, Patel says, is messy. "We push people, but we also get pushed by huge crowds." Sadhus often put up stiff resistance, he says, when they are refused entry at certain places. "They get angry and abuse us. But they are sadhus, so matters get sorted out when we fold our hands and express our inability to allow people on certain pathways."
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