By Samant Sekhri
“The police force is far from efficient; it is defective in training and organization; it is inadequately supervised; it is generally regarded as corrupt and oppressive; and it has utterly failed to secure the confidence and cordial co-operation of the people– Indian Police Commission (July, 1902) under the chairmanship of Sir A.H.L. Fraser concluded.
“yeh andar ki bat hai, Police hamarey saath hai . (Inside news: behind the scene support of police is with us) a graffiti left behind on the charred walls of a madrassa in Sundaramnagar, Gujrat read. In another incident, a policeman extracted diesel from his vehicle and offered it to the mob to set fire to a slum. In Orissa Police remained mere spectators as mobs looted and burnt Christian’s properties in curfew bound areas.
What is the role of the police in a democracy? Is it to protect the people or torment them? Can there be a society without any police? – A plethora of questions come to mind. But before we answer these questions let’s look at the image and perception about the police today.
The policemen in general are personnel empowered to enforce the law, protect property and reduce civil disorder – even to the extent of using legitimate force to do so. The term Police denotes purposeful maintenance of public order and protection of persons and property against commission of unlawful acts. In short one of the foremost purpose and role of the police is to instill a feeling of confidence – a sense of security in the people that they are safe and can sleep in peace because there is someone to protect them.
In spite of all this citizens in India can trust the police and fear the police as much as the criminals.
Despite catchy slogans and jargons like “With you, for you, Always”– most people refuse to accept it as a “protector of the people”. Their perception is of it is that of an intimidating instrument of the government in power.
A policeman is seen as a symbol of state power and as an agent of coercion and retribution; and not as a friend and protector of the people. This image was largely a creation of the colonial era, when the police force was used essentially to protect the empire and to suppress all rebellion and dissent.
The common perception is that police is one of the most corrupt government department. A sad reflection of this trend is even today mothers make their children to eat food or go off to sleep by telling them to do so or else the police might come there.
It is not surprising that 50% of the complaints received by National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of India every year are against police personnel.
As Justice A.N.Mullah of Allahabad High court said in the 1950s: “Police was biggest organized gang of criminals“. Echoing similar sentiments on extrajudicial killings by police Justice Suresh said; “They kill, they decide, and they justify”.
According to reports over 700 Gujarat cops were caught for committing crime in the last few years. in a written reply Narendra Modi who was then Chief Minister of Gujarat informed the state Assembly that (till June 2010) 15 PSIs, 221 ASIs and Head Constables and 468 Police Constables had been caught for various crimes and booked under CRPC, IPC and Prohibition Act. Modi also informed the house that charge sheets had been filed against these police officers in various courts.
Not to be left behind, 1,398 Punjab police personnel, right from DGPs to constables, were found to be involved in all sorts of crime from rape to murder, custodial third degree to running fake currency rackets and organizing illegal immigration. Atleast three DGPs, an ADGP, three IGPs, 19 SPs and 28 DSPs among others figured in the list. Eight serving DSPs had been accused of murder and an equal number were accused of abduction and kidnapping.
Corruption has become a part and parcel of the police system. As one police officer himself described – there are two types of police officers today: meat-eaters – or the ones who “aggressively misuse their powers for personal gain,” and grass-eaters, who “simply accept the payoffs police throws their way. Today there is no ideology left – people simply join the police service – for both status and income.
General police corruption may range from corruption or bribery to suppress or expedite a case, fabricate someone in a false case or release a person or property on bail. Other aspects of police crimes may include brutality, fake encounters, sexual harassment, custodial crimes and use of illicit weapons.
A case in point is Priyadarshini Mattoo Murder Case in which Priyadarshini, a law student of Delhi University was allegedly raped and murdered by Santosh Singh, son of an IPS officer at her flat in 1996. The trial judge and the High Court observed Santosh’s father J P Singh had manipulated the probe in the initial stages. Terming the police failure to protect the life of a citizen the Delhi High Court criticized the police “for absolute dereliction of duty”: “You are the root cause of all this. Had action been taken during that time, the girl (Mattoo) would have been alive” the bench observed.
The nature of the complacency can be judged from the fact that the Investigating Officer did not record the statement of the victim’s neighbour Kuppuswamy, the of the, who saw the accused outside the victim’s flat on the day of the murder. His statement was only recorded after the initial investigations were over. The IO also could not give any satisfactory answer why he didn’t or couldn’t send the blood, visera and semen samples collected from the scene of crime for forensic analysis till four days after the incident.
Likewise in the high profile Shivani Bhatnagar’s Murder Case: — the prime accused Ravi Kant Sharma was an IG (Prisons) in Haryana. Little wonder it took the police more than 3 years to make the arrest.
The situation today is such that police officers accused of serious criminal offences from brutality to extortion, helping politicians frame or eliminate opponents or hobnobbing with criminals manage to get promoted. It is a situation where prime postings are decided not by merit or experience but on the basis of caste, political affiliations, proximity to the powers that be and readiness to bend the law in favor of the political masters.