[ By Poonam I Kaushish ]
Last week tore to tatters the slogan: With you, for you, always. When another free-for-all epidemic of mob violence was unleashed across the country with gau rakshaks lynching people with the State, legislators and those tasked with ensuring the aam aadmi’s safety turning active participants and patronisers. Questionably, are they netas’ police or janata’s?
The sordid tale began at 12.41am in Rajasthan’s Alwar district when the Ramgarh police is informed of cow smuggling, they reach at 1.15am and find Rakbar lying in mud. He is ‘rushed’ to hospital only 4kms away, arrives at 4am and declared dead. Four kms in over three hours?
Apparently, policemen took him to a village, stopped for tea, reached the police station, changed Rakbar’s clothes then headed to hospital. Notwithstanding bystanders testimony of him being kicked and abused by policemen, the DGP averred “it’s an error of judgment”, coos State Home Minister, “he was tortured in police custody…I have ordered an enquiry.” Added Union Minister Meghwal “lynchings happened because of Modi’s popularity.” All washed their hands off him.
Meanwhile, in Kerala young Udayakumar was bludgeoned to death because he demanded policemen return Rs 4000 they had forcibly taken from him at arrest time in 2005. The case dragged for 13 years but last week two constables were sentenced to death.
Undeniably, Rakbar’s lynching and Udayakumar’s custodial death is a chilling reality of the police becoming all powerful. When the State turns against people or becomes perpetrators of crime and allows its instruments, like police to wreak havoc with horrifying impunity. A failed State where minorities and their bodies are traded for votes, their killers garlanded and offered sweets.
A milieu wherein policemen behave like bloodthirsty goondas with a tacit backing of the State – which maintains a deafening silence over mob violence, lynching etc which threaten to blow us apart. Remember Alwar’s dairy farmer Pehlu Khan who was lynched last year and all six accused got a clean chit.
Turn to any mohalla, district, city or State the story is tragically the same. Be it a minor offence or a major crime wherein brutality and bestiality have become synonymous with the police. Want to get rid of somebody? Call up the “Policewala Goonda.” From bride-burning to road rage, out-of-court “settlements”, fake encounters and torture deaths, it has trapped all with bullet-proof precision. Sending petrified shivers down one’s spine.
A case in point: A complainant goes to file an FIR. The SHO refuses to record the complaint if it pertains to the rich and powerful or demands money, threatens and shoos him away. A woman complainant is molested and raped, specially in notorious UP and Bihar. If the FIR is against a corrupt policeman, God help. Who will investigate it? How will evidence be collected? None of his colleagues will oblige to protect their own. Leaving the complainant with limited options: Go to the media, write to higher authority and hope to hell that somebody pays heed.
Less said the better of our polity? All know what is happening. Umpteen Police Commissions have been constituted and over 8 reports presented. Only to be dumped in raddi and forgotten. Why? At the crux: Who should control the police? The State Government or an independent body? A Catch-22 question, for our power-greedy netas to honestly answer and us to stupidly expect.
Arguably, is the police more sinned against than sinning? Are the main culprits politicians? The truth is midway. Both work in tandem in furthering their own self-interest with the result the system becomes self-perpetuating. Where criminalization of politics has given way to politicization of crime and political criminals. Resulting in complete brutalization and dehumanisation of the polity and police.
Shockingly, while crime per lakh people has increased by 28% from 2005 to 2015, expenditure on police accounts for only 3% of Central and State Government budgets. Add to this, State police forces had 24% (5.5 lakh) vacancies and Central forces 7% in January 2016, severe weaponry and vehicles shortage and only 14% funds for modernisation of infrastructure used by States. Worse, 60% arrests are unnecessary or baseless with unjustified police action accounting for 43.2% thereby making the police less answerable.
Attempts at police reform have been on since 1973 yet political satraps refuse to give up control and implement the Supreme Court’s 2006 order. Earlier this month, it again tried to curtail State Governments power over police officers, their postings and ordered the DGP’s selection by UPGC with two year tenure.
Undoubtedly, threat of transfers to ‘insignificant’ posts, demotions and suspensions forces most policemen to toe their mai-baap Minister’s line. Specially, at election time when they want goons released from prison. Those who refuse to follow orders are humiliated and given punishment postings. Consequently, in States like UP and Punjab the average DSPs tenure is an abominable three months.
Said a senior police officer, “compromises have become more a routine than an exception. This encourages corruption, which is an all pervasive phenomenon.” The problem is “hafta” and “chai pani” is considered a policeman’s birthright who get away by hiding behind netas for their venality. Recently, a Delhi Police DCP stands accused of amassing disproportionate assets worth a few hundred crores while the UP Police DG disclosed an Inspector General was under investigations for releasing a criminal involved in the Nabha jailbreak.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau UP and Bihar have only 94 and 65 policemen per 100,000 population and 137 all India. Compare this to 217 in Australia, 393 Hong Kong, 370 Malaysia, 195 South Korea, 307 UK and 256 in USA. Shoddier the police is diverted for VIP security or misused for personal errands by senior officers and their families.
For policing to be effective, policemen need to be well-versed and competent on local crimes: murder, rape, kidnapping, burglary and handling mass agitations in a sensitive manner. Consequently, hiring policemen is not enough they need skill upgradation and training, adequate equipment, latest technology and weaponry and organized.
Clearly, the police will have to change radically in order to become people-friendly. The goal should be to reinforce the Rule of Law along-with the ethos shifting from enforcement to enablement. Law and Order should be divided into two separate departments. With a separate police force for each.
Time now to insulate police officers from pressure, usher transparency in posting, transfers, and security of tenure, separate law and order from investigations and set up of a police complaints authority to check abuse of power. Alongside, our leaders need to stem the rot by self-correction.
Our leaders better pay heed before it is too late. A revolutionary change in the operational command of our police personnel is the need of the hour as merely mouthing platitudes and inane, obsolete and muddle-headed formulations will no longer work. The Central and State Governments need to think beyond the headlines. The bottom line is clear. When push comes to a shove there is no easy option. Tough times call for tough action.
As Herman Goldstein succinctly said: “The strength of democracy and quality of life enjoyed by citizens is determined by the police’s ability to discharge duties.” Will the aam aadmi continue to rot behind iron cages at the hands of the policewala goonda? A time to ponder and introspect: Kiska danda, kiski lathi aur kiski bhains? —- INFA