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Understanding the Limitations of the Police Force in the Indian Context

Understanding the Limitations of the Police Force in the Indian Context

By Trisha Pande

Edited by Madhavi Roy, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist

As New York grapples to come to terms with the recent violent shootings of two policemen by a lunatic, the entire debacle raises questions that go much beyond the murder of Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu.
The debate about whether the shootings were a domino effect inspired by the death of Eric Garner, who was killed by a policeman’s unwarranted force, or simply the cause of stark insanity, continues between the police department, the city hall and the people protesting Garner’s unfair death.

Reflecting upon these recent events, I turn my gaze upon my own country and wonder about the nature of reciprocation that the police system, exclusive of its highly criticized use of power and police brutality, receive within the contours of India.

The stereotypical picture of an Indian policeman that is imprinted upon our weary brains is one of a morally dysfunctional, middle-aged, money minded, portly man who is interested in little apart from how much money he can extract from whom. There is no stereotypical image of a policewoman in popular imagination, yet because we simply don’t get to interact with too many of them.
Which is not to say that we don’t have outstanding women and men who actually believe in maintaining law and order – just that they are outnumbered by the ones who believe in exactly the opposite.

Be it the Tirunelveli massacre of 1999 that was likened to the ghastly Jallianwala Bagh incident of 1919, or the P. Rajan case during the Emergency, where the boy suffered such extreme torture, allegedly at the hands of the Kerela police force (notably from the appalling practice of rolling a heavy log upon the person’s body), that he succumbed to his injuries – these atrocious incidents shook the public for a brief amount of time and then disappeared into the corners of textbooks and yellowing newspapers.

The Stanford prison experiment might be another way to illustrate why the police force in India feels that it is permissible to devise elaborate and unconstitutional methods to extract information from prisoners, or torture them to the extent that they lose their life. Especially when we are told to conform and obey in all the social mores and norms that we grew up with, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that when shown the lathi and the menacing face of the authorities, one complies with the monstrosity that goes on behind bars.

No doubt, our country has seen some zealous and passionate men and women who genuinely want to weed out miscreants. Some of them have been exceptionally successful in this regard – Shivdeep Lande of Patna, who battled the medicine mafia, and now donates most of his salary towards elevating the status of women, and Hemant Karkare, who was killed in action during the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, are both cases in point.

However, despite all of the multiple well-meaning attempts, an air of controversy surrounds too many of our law-enforcement officers. Even Kiran Bedi, who is celebrated as the first woman police officer of the country, was not spared by the diabolical hands of controversy.
After serving her nation for a good thirty-five years, she retired to open two NGOs and win the 1994 Ramon Magsaysay award. All the allegations levied against her had no legal standing, though, and most of them appear to be cases of either retaliation or jealousy, having no evidence to prop themselves upon.

Most of the problems in India also often boil down to its population problem – and something similar does indeed rear its ugly head in the police-population ratio of the country, which stands at about 106 cops per 100,000 people. Only the disturbed regions of North East and Jammu and Kashmir have sanctioned cops above the UN recommended ratio of about 220 officials, whereas states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh are doing terribly with numbers swooping as low as anywhere between only 54-75 officials per 100,000 population.

With desperate statistics come desperate measures, and the severely understaffed police force believes that it can waste neither time nor effort upon the FIRs of the masses. Similarly, this is another reason that corruption prances naked upon the roads, because it is easier to let things go, or take a route filled with lesser paperwork.
All of us love complaining about the system, but most of us fail to realise that at the same time, we are the ones who contribute as the cornerstones in maintaining the vicious cycle of bribery.

Change doesn’t come from having lively dinner debates in front of the television and turning up the volume when the Newshour comes on, it comes with every note that you pay and get a traffic ticket in exchange for. It is far easier to blame the system because it has enough holes in it to make it akin to a hunk of cheese, but walking the talk might just get us on the path towards improving the socio-legal organizational structure of our country a whole lot faster.

Trisha Pande is studying Sociology at Lady Shri Ram College for Women, and is eager to work on the field and conduct sociological research. She lives among stacks of books which tell tales from different eras, continents and cultures. Writing has always been an outlet for her; and hopefully it shall forever be able to perform that function. Someday, she hopes to visit the women of Afghanistan, live with them and be able to understand their everyday life.

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