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HomeCRIMEYeh Mera India: Police and the Common Man #1

Yeh Mera India: Police and the Common Man #1

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Why the society needs responsive and honest police?

Police in India
Pic: PTI

Police and medical services are two departments to which people go only when they are in acute distress of some kind. It is not that citizens must not expect quick service from other departments, but the degrees of stress and urgency do differ when people have to go to the police or hospitals.

Naturally, they do expect instant succour from the police and the doctors. Even if your problem cannot be solved immediately, a few kind words and a sympathetic attitude go a long way towards reducing the stress level of the man.

That is why people are greatly hurt when all they get is indifferent and callous attitude, if not outright rude and insulting behaviour or worse, the demand of bribe for doing what they are supposed to do anyway as part of their job.

Unfortunately, the reality of India is that people seldom get the response they deserve. The default response of the police and the medical services is that they are not helpful to start with and you will be made to run around in circles, with a pompous insistence on red tape and formalities.

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The ingrained attitude of ruling over people

Once during a conference, I had happened to enlighten a senior police officer that the British street cop, Bobby, habitually addresses the common man as ‘sir’.

His instantaneous response was that if we in India start addressing the common man as ‘sir’, they would climb on our heads (sir in Hindi)!

The Indian police regard themselves as an integral part of the ruling machinery. They are there to ‘rule’ over the people, not to ‘serve’ them. Their primary objective is to ‘lord’ over the people for the benefit of their ‘masters’; if in the process, they also happen to do something which is a part of their legally and constitutionally-mandated duty, it is only incidental. You find an exact parallel in the privately-owned healthcare business. Their primary objective is to make money; if you get treated also on the side, it is only incidental!

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This one unguarded response of a senior police officer reveals almost everything about the Indian police and its attitude towards the people and their job.

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Not only that the police do not proactively do anything significant to help the people in distress, they are often the biggest tormentors of the common man. The inaction of the police, their apathy, or their abuse of power is all the more reprehensible because people in distress are in no position to argue with them. If they argue, they invite more trouble. This is an incontrovertible fact of life in India. One who has any doubt about it has either not had enough experience with the police in India or is an outright liar. He may try arguing with the SHO sahib at his own peril and check for himself.

Legally mandated duties and responsibilities of the police

The duties and responsibilities of the police are defined in the Criminal Procedure Code, the Indian Police Act 1861 and subsequent Police Acts of various states that have repealed the 1861 Act.

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Since I happen to enjoy the rare distinction of being the author of the Kerala Police Act, 2011, which happens to be the most progressive piece of legislation in India, I would cite that for the edification of the readers.

Preamble (on why we need the police):

Whereas it is expedient to provide for a professional, trained, skilled, disciplined and dedicated police system to protect the integrity and security of State and to ensure the rule of law with due transparency and by giving due regard to life, property, freedom, dignity and human rights of every person in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution of India;

And whereas, it is necessary to make capable the police by giving adequate statutory powers and responsibilities to exercise the powers and discharge the duties efficiently;

And whereas, it is necessary to have a Police system that functions in consonance with the modern democratic society and maintains public harmony and law and order;

And whereas, it has become imperative to ensure that the powers vested in the Police shall not be abused and that the activities of the Police are subject to statutory and effective controls.

General duties of police: The Police, as a service functioning category among the people as part of the administrative system shall, subject to the Constitution of India and the laws enacted thereunder, strive in accordance with the law, to ensure that all persons enjoy the freedoms and rights available under the law by ensuring peace and order, the integrity of the nation, security of the State and protection of human rights.

Functions of the police: The Police Officers shall, subject to the provisions of this Act, perform the following functions, namely:

  • to enforce the law impartially;
  • to protect the life, liberty, property, human rights and dignity of all persons in accordance with the law;
  • to protect the internal security of the nation and act vigilantly against extremist activities, communal violence, insurgency, etc.;
  • to promote and protect arrangements ensuring public security and maintain public peace;
  • to protect the public from danger and nuisance;
  • to protect all public properties including roads, railways, bridges, vital installations and establishments;
  • to prevent and reduce crimes exercising lawful powers to the maximum extent;
  • to take action to bring the offenders to the due process of law by lawfully investigating crimes;
  • to control and regulate traffic at all public places where there is movement of people and goods;
  • to strive to prevent and resolve disputes and conflicts which may result in crimes;
  • to provide all reasonable help to persons affected by natural or manmade disaster, calamity or accident;
  • to collect, examine and, if necessary, to disseminate information in support of all activities of the police and in the maintenance of security of the State;
  • to ensure the protection and security of all persons in custody in accordance with law;
  • to obey and execute lawfully all lawful commands of competent authorities and official superiors;
  • to uphold and maintain the standards of internal discipline;
  • to instil a sense of security among people in general;
  • to take charge of and ensure the security of persons, especially women and children found helpless and without support in any public place or street;
  • to discharge any duties imposed by any law for the time being in force;
  • to discharge such other functions as may be lawfully assigned to them by the Government, from time to time.

Needless to say, such duties and functions can be discharged properly only if the police force is both responsive and honest.

It is not really tall or impractical order. These days the police have great resources of all kinds at their command. All they need is the will to serve the people.

How in practice they have failed the people

Unfortunately for the people of this country, delivery of service by the police to the satisfaction of the people had never happened and this is not happening now either. Fact is, in essence, police still functions very much the same way it used to function ages ago in the era of the Rajas, Badshahs, the Company Bahadur and the British Crown. Its resources have changed greatly over the years; its mind and spirit remain the same.

Police is one classical example of historical continuity and attestation of the fact that the relationship between the rulers and the ruled has not changed one bit in India down the ages, even as we have been pretending to swear by Westminster democracy for the past 74 years!

The gears of the complex machinery called police refuse to move even a little without the lubricants of some ‘pressure’ or ‘bribe’. In fact, there was a time when, in a dispute involving two parties, police used to take money from one party and do their work. Now they have become so clever that they take money from both the parties and do the work of that party, which has paid more. Quite an ingenious business model and a proof of what most poor people have known instinctively that justice goes to the highest bidder!

In India, except those people who have had to suffer the depredations of the police directly, most people only harbour vague notions about the depths to which the police could fall in their depravity, much of it derived from and shaped by what they have seen in films.

In the subsequent articles in this series, I will strip down and demystify the Indian police for you—what they are, what they ought to do and what they really do. Coming from one who served in the IPS for 34 years, this will be the most authentic ‘live dissection’ of the Indian police. Watch out for this space!

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Dr N C Asthana IPS (Retd)
Dr N C Asthana IPS (Retd)
Dr. N. C. Asthana, IPS (Retd) is a former DGP of Kerala and ADG BSF/CRPF. Of the 51 books that he has authored, 20 are on terrorism, counter-terrorism, defense, strategic studies, military science, and internal security, etc. They have been reviewed at very high levels in the world and are regularly cited for authority in the research works at some of the most prestigious professional institutions of the world such as the US Army Command & General Staff College and Frunze Military Academy, Russia. The views expressed are his own.


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