9th Anniversary Special
That the Indian police have lost their credibility with the
By KS Dhillon
The recent carnage in Gujarat — some call it genocide — has
been well–documented, thanks to an
It is also, in a different sense, a tribute to the strength and vibrancy of the secular tradition that thankfully still runs deep in Indian society as a whole, not excluding a vast majority of Hindus. Admittedly, there has been a major ideological shift to the right in Indian society, especially in the northern and western states in recent years, in the wake of the empowerment of sundry outfits of the sangh parivar, as a sequel to the BJP’s ascendancy to power. In consequence, a certain enfeeblement of the secular sentiment has taken place because of determined and calculated assaults by the Hindutva proponents, against communal harmony and the composite nature of Indian culture.
What is even more dangerous is that such intolerance and anti–minority biases are no longer confined to the uninformed and ignorant segments of the people; they have seriously undermined the secular belief systems of a large number of the well-educated and well–to–do middle classes. Considering all these factors, it is highly creditable that Indian civil society still retains enough fire and sparkle to be able to rouse the collective conscience of the nation so as to effectively challenge the forces of obscurantism, intolerance, atavism and communal hatred that triggered the recent Gujarat happenings.
In the event, the horrendous designs and goals of the current rulers in Gujarat stand discredited and stalled, at least for the present. However the issues of police and magisterial collusion with the politicians in such matters and their failure to implement the law of the land in the process are equally alarming and need to be examined in some depth.
That the Indian police have, by and large, lost their credibility with the minorities is no longer a matter of opinion. The fast spreading virus of communalism in the force is a stark reality, which has troubled well-meaning members of the service now for several decades. The matter has engaged the attention of police leaders for long and has been debated at length in umpteen in-house meetings, seminars and conferences. It has also been written about and projected in the media ad infinitum.
Commission after inquiry commission has provided ample evidence of the increasing deterioration of the force in many different ways. It is not as if the political classes are unaware of the inherent vulnerabilities of the Indian police as constituted under the Indian Police Act of 1861 that make it open to misuse and manipulation by the State, which really means, in the current situation, the political party holding office. No political party for the last several decades has made any effort to restore to the police and magistracy some measure of functional autonomy so that they are able to uphold the rule of law and provisions of the Constitution. The sad fact is that no political party is averse to using this coercive instrument of state power in advancing its own selfish interests and political agendas, hidden or otherwise.
As late as mid–April this year, the parliamentary standing committee in the ministry of home affairs castigated the Gujarat police in severe terms for its partisan role in handling the communal frenzy in that state. It asserted in very clear terms that the police all over the country are "politicised and politically polarised." It described the police as a "pawn in the hands of its [political] masters."
The committee further asserted that policemen consider political "patronage essential for their survival… and police personnel are found to be divided in camps having distinct political leanings" and that this connivance of the police with the powers that be is giving rise to cynicism among people… "These are, by all means, very dangerous signs for the continuance and survival of democracy." Recommending the preparation of a blue print for a "model police force" to be followed by all states, the committee impressed upon the home ministry to "make earnest efforts to depoliticise the institution of police before it becomes too late to retrieve it from the morass of degeneration."
It is interesting to note that the committee that made such profound observations was presided over by the veteran Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee. Unless he was suffering from temporary dementia, surely the suave Mukherjee could not have forgotten the reign of terror let loose on the Sikhs in Delhi and many other Congress–ruled states in October-November 1984, when the police stood by and watched hundreds of Sikh men and women being murdered in cold blood and according to a plan hatched by his own senior colleagues.
Not one of those police officials, including some IPS officers, indicted by several official and non–official committees, was disciplined or so much as superseded. His party government adopted the same lackadaisical attitude to guilty police officers in the Mumbai riots in 1992–93, or earlier in Meerut. The latter case, in fact, is an interesting study in itself. Although indicted in no uncertain terms by an eminent commission of inquiry for shooting down dozens of Muslim men and dumping the dead bodies in a canal, the impugned PAC personnel could never be brought to justice because of want of government sanction to prosecute them.
During that period, UP was ruled by all political parties at some time or the other — the Congress, BJP, BSP and the Samajwadi Party of the wrestler–turned–political leader Mulayam Singh Yadav. One need not labour too hard to expose the hypocrisy and pretensions of Indian politicians, for they are in evidence at every single moment in some part of the country or the other.
The Congress party, which has been in power at the Centre and in the states for much longer than others must also take the major part of the blame for failing to effect structural and operational reforms in the police and its law–enforcement procedures, in tune with the new constitutional and other imperatives.
It is incredible but true that the Indian police continues to function under a legal framework that dates back to the mid–nineteenth century. The Indian Police Act that governs the police in India and indeed in the whole of South Asia except Pakistan, was enacted in 1861, the Indian Penal Code in 1862 and the Indian Evidence Act in 1872. Most other laws that the police are expected to enforce also belong to the 19th century.
It is not that the urgency for updating the law–enforcement organs of the State has not been underlined again and again by expert bodies, police and administrative commissions and many other forums over the years, including the national police commission [NPC], state police commissions, administrative reforms commissions and any number of inquiry commissions. Even the Supreme Court and the National Human Rights Commission are on record for having stressed the need for urgent and meaningful police reforms.
That the Indian political classes have continued to turn a blind eye to this most important subject is not because they are unaware of the total decay of the system in recent decades but because they are loath to lose this servile and obedient instrument of oppression that can be manipulated to serve their partisan interests in a most effective manner, not unlike their imperial predecessors.
The question that worries the concerned citizens of the country is why do Indian cops refuse to change with the times and why do they continue to behave in the same high–handed and insensitive manner as during the colonial era. These are by no means vacuous worries and are perfectly justified. However, in the absence of substantive reforms to update the legal architecture that governs our police and taking it out of the control of politicians, no worthwhile change can be foreseen.
One need only go through section 23 of the Indian Police Act, 1861, to realize that under the law, Indian police have no commitment to or concern with accountability to the community or earning their support. As against this, out of nine principles of conduct that govern the British police and which serve as their mool mantra right from the time a recruit joins the force, as many as seven deal with community participation and support.
(The writer was formerly director–general of police, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh).
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