By Poonam I Kaushish
Last week will be remembered as gory when scenes of soul-crushing violence in Delhi left the country reeling. As masked goons wrought havoc killing people, burning homes and shops, rampaging everything in sight as the police patronizingly stood by watching the mayhem. Just as they did at Jamia Millia, JNU and Aligarh earlier over the CAA. Why did the khakiwallahs abdicate their responsibility to protect citizens? Was it accident or design? Questions which have no easy answers.
Turn to any mohalla, district or State the story is tragically the same. In UP the police face accusations of high-handedness and in Karnataka, a hyper-active force stifles dissent by invariably enforcing Section 144 across the State. In insurgency-affected places they behave like the armed wing of the ruling Party and carry out extra-judicial killings in Maoist-affected areas under the garb of counter-insurgency.
Want to get rid of somebody? Call up the “Policewala Goonda.”From molestation, rape, bride burning to road rage to out-of-court “settlements”, fake encounters and torture deaths. It has trapped all with bullet-proof precision. Sending petrified shivers down one’s spine. And we call ourselves a civilised society!
Experience shows how over the years the police has not only misused but also grossly abused its powers. Scandalously, it defies logic and accountability with impunity. That police personnel try to please their political mai baaps and are used as an instrument of partisan agendas by all Parties in power is no surprise.
As it continues to be governed by the archaic, colonial-era Police Act of 1861 which makes the vardi-wallahs subservient to its masters and hostile to the aam aadmi. Worse, this provides it with a negative role, basically that of protecting the Establishment whereby our netas use the police for their purposes manipulating it for their unsavoury ends.
Consider what a Police Commission report has to say: “Sixty per cent of all arrests in the country under normal laws are unnecessary or unjustified and that unwarranted Police action accounted for 43.2% of the expenditure in jails. Thus, the police has not only become more and more powerful but also less and less accountable. Time out of number, the checks and balances which are a prerequisite of democracy have been dispensed with.”
Indeed shocking are the percentage of arrests in relation to bailable offences which are as high as 113%. According to the Human Rights Commission, Sikkim topped, followed by Gujarat 99.75%, Andaman and Nicobar 95.8%, Haryana 94%, Assam 90%, Madhya Pradesh and Daman and Diu 89%, Karnataka 84.8% and Kerala 71%.
Scandalous is the tenure of our khakiwallahs, as Chief Ministers use transfers as a danda to get cops to do their bidding. Those who refuse are humiliated and given punishment postings. In UP the average tenure of DSPs is an abominable three months. Punjab, too, has a poor track record. Notwithstanding Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Kerala who believe in a stable tenure for policemen.
At the crux is the issue: Who should control the police? The Government or an independent body. A Catch-22 question for our power-greedy polity to honestly answer and for us to stupidly expect.
Arguably, are the police more sinned against than sinning? Are the main culprits the 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 the complete brutalization and dehumanisation of the polity and the police. Just recently policemen were seen at a mafia don’s New Year celebrations. Earning them the nick-name of police-mafia saath-saath.
Yet, can the ‘upar se order aaya tha’ excuse isolate the police from blame when in the garb of maintaining law and order it thrusts a reign of terror? Is it true that a deeper rot in our policing mechanism has crept in?
Pertinently, a Centre for the Study of Developing Societies study reveals gross inadequacies and a frightening picture of lack of training on human rights, caste-religion sensitization, prejudice against members of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe and crowd control. More. One out of five policemen feel killing dangerous criminals is better than a legal trial while three out of four justify being violent towards criminals. Telangana rape killing a case in point.
Besides, one in five felt cases registered under the SC/ST Act “are false and motivated”, 70% felt migrants are “very much” or “somewhat” likely to committing crimes, 50% felt that Muslims are “very much” or “somewhat” naturally prone to committing crimes and 35% justified mob violence against suspects in cow slaughter. Bluntly, harassment and violence against innocents is a regular affair.
Adds a criminal psychologist victim shaming runs deep in the police and violence brings out the worst in them. They feel the vardi has the licence and power to bully and is the law. The beat constable and thana-level treat one with contempt because they feel you are burdening them with work which results in poor FIRs, shoddy investigations that get slammed by courts.
What next? Time for the men in khaki to get a makeover desperately: Of a “new-age policeman” who is more professional, better motivated, equipped and trained with the latest in tactics and technology. Police training must keep pace with best practices followed world-wide and its administration drastically overhauled, made more accountable and protected from political interference.
Certainly, this 160 years old law should have no place in a democracy and various Commissions and eight reports underscore this —— stop political influence, change the force’s mindset, improve its public interface and prevent politicization, criminalization and corruption. Succinctly, reform. The result: zilch as the polity wants the status quo to continue.
Even, the Supreme Court’s 2006 historic judgment directing the Central and State Governments to comply with a set of directives. Namely, functional autonomy to prevent politically engineered mass transfer of officers on change of a Government and accountability of the police was like water off a duck’s back.
Other orders to set up a State Security Commission in every State to monitor transfers and postings, act like a watchdog to insulate cops from unwarranted political influences and pressures and ensure the force abided by the law also came to nought. As did replacing over-centralisation with decentralization and give functional autonomy to the police from the Station House level upwards and their priorities and goals set with cooperation and consultation of the local population.
Clearly, the police will have to change radically in order to become people-friendly. Merely mouthing platitudes will no longer work. The objective 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.
Remember, there comes a time when people get tired of being trampled over…Hence the strength of democracy and the quality of life enjoyed by citizens is largely determined by the ability of the police to discharge its duties honourably and independently. Will the aam aadmi continue to rot behind iron cages at the hands of the policewala goonda whose slogan of being “with you, for you” is a chimera! A time to ponder and introspect — Kiska danda aur kiski lathi — INFA