UNABLE to bell the cat, we pass the buck

Author(s): Joginder SinghThe Author. The Government is fully aware of what is wrong with India's police force. But it has not cared to implement any reform. Consequently, British-era laws still govern the much-maligned forceThe Police...

UNABLE to bell the cat, we pass the buck

The Author.

The Government is fully aware of what is wrong with India's police force. But it has not cared to implement any reform. Consequently, British-era laws still govern the much-maligned force
The Police Act of 1861, on which our modern India’s police force is founded, was legislated by the British in the aftermath of the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny, also called the First War of Independence. At that time, the British naturally wanted to establish a force that would help the Government crush dissent and any popular movement that demanded self-rule.
The Act continues to this date in independent India. Though some States have enacted their own police Acts, these are broadly based on the Police Act of 1861, which gives full authority to the States to exercise superintendence on its functioning.
A news report that came out earlier this month illustrates a classic example of Government superintendence over the police. According to the report, a total of 1,828 officers of the Provincial Police Service were transferred in Uttar Pradesh in 2011 and 2012 alone. This includes the 478 officers of Additional Superintendent of Police rank and 1,350 of Deputy Superintendent of Police rank.
As per information obtained by a Lucknow-based RTI activist, in Uttar Pradesh 307 ASPs were transferred in 2011, while 171 were transferred in 2012. Also, in 2012, as many as 892 DSPs were transferred, while in 2011 that number was 458. In 263 such cases of transfer, the State Government either cancelled or modified its previous order. Twenty one orders relating to ASPs were cancelled while 36 were modified. Among DSPs, 74 orders were cancelled and 132 modified.
But it is unfair to single out Uttar Pradesh. A similar situation prevails across the country, irrespective of the State’s ruling party. The result of this kind of superintendence is the criminalisation of the police force and a total breakdown of hierarchy. This is in addition to the disastrous consequences of posting police officers on the basis of their caste, language and region.
My cadre in the IPS was Mysore, which was later on named Karnataka. It was a nice State when I joined in 1961. But after a deputation to the Government of India, I went back to the State in 1985. It had totally changed — so much so, that the then State Home Minister told me that I should ask Delhi for another posting, as I had been recruited from and sent to Mysore. There is nothing that I could do, except wait for my time. The above incident shows how our country, thanks to vote-bank politics, has been divided by politicians on the basis of caste, religion and regional bias.
Whenever any anti-social incident occurs — be it a terror attack like the one in Bangalore or a Maoist offensive in the Red corridor or separatist violence in Kashmir — policemen form the first line of defence. But our rulers have made a mess of the police force. Instead of merit, it is either outright bribes or other considerations that matter when it comes to jobs in the police force, and even outside in other Government agencies.
Consequently, criminals who should be miles away from the police are recruited into the force to serve society. These recruits are people who believe that they can get away with even murder, as they have the blessings of the powers that be.
It is perverse people like these who, instead of taking up the cause of the those they are duty-bound to protect, put minor rape victims in jail, as it recently happened in Uttar Pradesh. Shocking as it may be, such incidents are not isolated and in fact happen all over the country.
In another case from Uttar Pradesh’s Bijnor district, a rape victim who was running from pillar to post to file a First Information Report was beaten up by a lady constable on the instructions of a Sub-Inspector posted at that same station. The only fault of the victim was that she was from a poor family. Much of this happens because policemen cultivate contacts with politicians to escape any wrongdoing.
Also, policemen live in a de-humanised society where physical assault or even murder is not uncommon. Some have been thrashed by political goons. Breaking the law is profitable because there is always a demand for illegal services.
During an All India Police Science Conference in Raipur, Chhattisgarh, Mr P Chidambaram, who was then the Union Minister for Home Affairs, laid bare the conditions of the police force. He admitted that the force was “inadequate and ill-equipped” and that this was the reason for the sorry state of affairs of policing in the country. “We need to at least double the police strength and create necessary infrastructure to impart them quality training to improve policing in the country”, Mr Chidambaram said. He also acknowledged that there were not enough police stations. Besides, many police stations did not have enough policemen to man them while some of others existed only in name.
Rarely, if ever, does the media or the public say anything nice about the police. Yet, it is the police officers who put themselves in harm’s way to protect the common man. This is not to say that there are no bad apples, but at the same time the role of good police officers, many of whom lay down their lives for the people, has rarely been recognised.
The Government knows the disease that afflicts the police, thanks to the findings of several commissions and committees that have carefully diagnosed the problem. Yet, it has done little to implement the recommended reforms either at the State level or nation-wide. This reminds me of a story I read sometime back.
Long ago, mice had a general council to consider what measures they could take to outwit their common enemy, the cat. Some said this, and some said that; at last a young mouse got up and said he had a proposal to tackle the issue. “You will all agree”, he said, “that our chief danger consists in the sly and treacherous manner in which the enemy approaches us. Now, if we could receive some signal of her approach, we could easily escape from her. I venture, therefore, to propose that a small bell be procured, and attached by a ribbon round the neck of the cat. By this means, we shall always know when she is around, and can easily retire while she is not in the neighbourhood.”
This proposal met with general applause, until an old mouse got up and said: “That is all very well, but who is to bell the cat?” The question here too is the same: Are our rulers willing to bell the cat?
Also, the people should remember that the police are the public and the public, the police. The khakhi-clad men are members of society too, except that they are paid to protect the common interests of their society

Tuesday, April 30, 2013