Why the cycle of abuse persists within the Indian Police Services

By Anoushka Dalmia 

The police force in India is a deeply flawed establishment, much like most countries in the world. It does not hold a good reputation, nor does it succeed in making the citizens feel safe in its presence. Many Indians view cops as corrupt bribe-takers, violent abusers, or as lazy men who couldn’t possibly be relied on for help. In movies, policemen are seen standing by and doing nothing as drugs are transported, blaming the women who come in to complain about sexual harassment, sleeping on duty in comedy movies, and expressing a general disregard for their duties and responsibilities towards the community. While this may not be painting an entirely true picture, it is an incomplete one.

It takes two to tango

The image of a typical police station in India usually consists of a dilapidated building with paint chipping off its walls, furniture that is more than a decade old, and seven employees in one semi-sized room, sweating in the heat that an overworked fan can’t cure. It is a sorrowful picture of a regiment that represents the foundation of the justice system. But this visual is even more important because of the reality it represents; one that the public is perfectly aware of but ignores when demanding a more efficient law enforcement system.

India’s police-population ratio—one for every 720 citizens—is among the lowest in the world. In 2013, the total number of civil police fell short of the sanctioned number by an alarming 25%. These figures indicate two things: that the existing police force is insufficient to deal with the problems of a country with the second largest population in the world, and that there is a lack of applicants for the police force even with a nationwide unemployment rate of almost 8%.

Miserable working conditions

A study carried out in 2015 revealed that 90% of the policemen work for more than eight hours a day, 73% can’t avail their weekly off even once a month, and most policemen are called in for emergencies when they do take a day off. The tiresome work schedule results in health problems among the staff and hampers their personal and social life. The constant workload combined with inferior workplace conditions tends to have a negative impact on the morale and efficiency of even the most dedicated public servants. If we add in the mediocre pay and lack of recognition and gratitude, it starts to look like a very unsatisfying job, resulting in a system which is cracked right at the bottom.

The issue of custodial violence

It has been stated numerous times that the negative perception of the police force serves as an obstruction to their functioning. But it is also undeniable that these perceptions have not been formed without reason. There have been numerous cases of the police going against procedure, outright defying human rights and international laws. A report released by the Human Rights Watch in December 2016 stated that at least 591 deaths occurred in police custody between 2010-2015. Successive governments have been unable to hold these policemen accountable for their actions. There has been limited willingness to start complaint departments, which are needed to ensure that the police force works outside the sphere of political influence.

Pawns in a greater game

Affiliations and beliefs of political parties often create larger problems for law enforcement. The country is currently in the grips of another religious battle; one side protests to condemn the violent crimes committed against beef consumers, and the other claims to have no sympathy for the minorities in the country. Barbaric citizens are taking the law into their own hands, and the police force is expected to sort out a predicament created to win political favour.

The police force in India is an organisation that is broken at both ends. They function under poor conditions, which gives rise to their sub-standard performance. The lack of repercussions for policemen who abuse their power provides an incentive for the rest to do the same, especially since they remain unsatisfied with their own working conditions. It creates a vicious cycle, which is hard to break unless the institution is provided with the means to undergo a major overhaul. There is a grave need to focus on improving and incentivising this crippled pillar of our country.

Featured Image Source: Flickr