Is the Indian police reform-able?

    Civil societyIs the Indian police reform-able?
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    Is the Indian police reform-able?

    Police officers have often spoken of the need for independence from the political bosses and that police reforms are the only way to go forward on this. Did Prime Minister Narendra Modi allude to this while speaking of the need for police reforms?

    By Bijoy Patro

    Prime Minister Narendra Modi has batted for police reforms. Speaking of the need for radical reforms in policing at a convocation function of the Rashtriya Raksha University yesterday, he said, “The mool mantra (main goal) should be that in a democracy, one should be strict against those instigating society and soft towards society in general.”

    For a leader who understands the importance of communicating with the masses, the Prime Minister fully understands how the perception of the police force hinders its acceptability among citizens. He aired his concern over the way the force is portrayed in popular mediums.

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    The Prime Minister’s address should be a starting point for a discourse on the space that the police has occupied in the lives of common citizens, the conduct of policemen and a conversation on the subject of police reforms.

    This is important because police officers represent the force of the republic. Their uniform and insignia represents the power of the State. Beyond being mere government servants (as many of them feel compelled to realise), they are public servants, backed by the Constitution of India.

    The Prime Minister’s address must also help another parallel discourse on police reforms. The Prime Minister has spoken of the need for reforming the force, and the politician in him has tried to score that ever(green)brownie point of the need for radical police reforms needed since independence.


    Police officers have often spoken of the need for independence from the political bosses and that police reforms are the only to go. Is that what Prime Minister Narendra Modi alluded to?

    Committees and commissions on police reforms have been set up by state governments and also by the union government. Many police officers underscore the need for police reforms, often telling how their hands have been tied because SHOs feel obliged to a local politician for their postings.

    But the question that arises is whether the Indian police can be trusted with independence. A second question that arises is if the police are worthy of being invested in?

    My answer is NO.

    Let me explain why.

    An abusive force

    As a young journalist in the nineties, I would often agree with police officers who would speak of the urgency of police reforms. I ‘understood’ their point of view. They needed to police the districts – ensure law and order, provide for a VIP’s security, control traffic, ensure sincere investigations and work to defend their chargesheets in court. In Haryana, where I worked, they also had to tally notes with the local CID district inspector, whose job was to keep an eye on the Chief Minister’s detractors.

    Over the years, I have also seen the police abuse their powers. I have seen false complaints foisted on common people. I have heard the cries of family members who have lost dear ones to fake encounters or survivors hiding from the police and umpteen cases of habeas corpus. I have observed policemen lie through their teeth during court cross examinations. I have heard myself the misogynist gossip of policemen and how easily they are swayed by a rapists’ accounts, besides also witnessing traffic police constables collect bribes (and also sharing the loot at the end of a hard day’s work).

    I have also heard from police officers how the personnel under their command are “vulnerable” to being complained against because of the nature of their work!

    I have also been aimed at and (mis)fired upon by policemen on the command of an officer who was openly siding with a chief minister during a violent election. (Interestingly, just about a year earlier, the same officer spoke to me very passionately about the need for police reforms.)

    I have also seen that complaints against policemen never work because dealings within the department are incestuous.

    Does this department indeed need reforms?

    How independent a police force is depends on how much its leaders value their independence. Few policemen in leadership positions refuse to genuflect before the political masters of the day. On the contrary, many officers religiously portray their dependence on the politicians of the day.

    Reforms or the sack?

    Of course, with power comes the opportunity to abuse it. The abuse of power by policemen is so common that one is tempted to generalise it. The police have been unabashed and violent in the abuse of its power. That, for beginners, is how corruption is defined.

    Let us recap what role we have seen the police play in the past few years. We have all seen how police constabulary has been let loose on citizens. Can we forget the sight of policemen storming a university library? We have seen the police land pregnant women in jail because that is what their political masters want them to do. We have seen how a partisan police, under the watchful eyes of the world media, allowed rioters to run amok in East Delhi.

    We have seen how top police bosses conducted themselves and defended the conduct of their policemen against protesting citizens. And, of course, we know that the police itself believes that the process of the law is punishment enough when they do not have a good case on their hands – and present the court with chargesheets running into thousands of pages so that the accused is tied up in knots and finds it difficult to even obtain a bail!

    And lest we forget, we have heard the Prime Minister approved, even admired and applauded the work of the police after policemen ill-treated women, beat up students and catapulted themselves into the orbit of the ruling party.

    Are we serious about reforming a department that actually deserves nothing else than an en masse sack – and an urgent replacement with fresh young blood of young men and women (and queer people, why not?) who can uphold the Constitution of India?

    How else can a wrong be righted? The wrong people have been recruited. In the Haryana of the nineties, the going rate for the job of a police constable was Rs. 30,000 and the men were called Tees-Hazaris.

    The Indian police, at present, is seriously compromised.

    It needs a changeover. Not reforms. All talk of reforms will only give the abusers further more power.

    And, a last word from where the Prime Minister left his speech yesterday: A welfare State does need a police. Yet, most certainly, our police force is not a parcel of the welfare State we would like to live in.


    Image: Representational image from Wikimedia. 

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