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HomeCRIMEYeh Mera India: Police and the Common Man #2

Yeh Mera India: Police and the Common Man #2

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Police officers or modern-day maharajas?

Historically, irrespective of the era, rulers in India have basically been exploiters of the people. Irrespective of what their own sacred books on polity and conduct might have said for exalting the rulers in theory, in practice, the state existed for the ruler, not the ruled. All that talk of the king being benevolent or taxing the people in order to protect them from external aggression was for the books.

Historical origins of police as hatchet men of the exploiting rulers

The ruler acquired the State, not by any popular mandate or consensus; he acquired it by sheer force of arms or deceit. Having shed some blood in the process, they considered it almost a matter of ‘divine right’ that they should be amply compensated for their exertions. That provided them with a license to indulge in carnal pleasures of the lowliest kind and also amass wealth by fleecing the people.

The people were generally unable to revolt for the simple reason that other than rudimentary sticks, axes and agricultural implements, they did not have weaponry or the training to wield them. More importantly, they were not organized.

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Therefore, all that the ruler needed to keep his subjects under control and perpetual terror was a band of some hundreds or some thousands (depending upon the area and the population he wished to control) of reasonable trained armed men in his employ who preyed upon the people village-by-village.

These armed bands were the precursors of the army, which also generally doubled up as the police. They literally had the ‘license to torture or kill’, no questions ever asked.

How police behaviour crystallized into what it is

This bred a very characteristic behavioural pattern in them—uncontrolled, impertinent, aggressive, rude, abusive, arrogant, barbarous, and brutish—all those traits that characterize the behaviour of the police of even today. There is a simple Hindi word ‘uddanda’ meaning roughly the same. Ever wondered how this came about? In Sanskrit, the literal meaning of the word is ‘ud-danda’, that is, ‘one who has his stick (danda) raised above’. Now, who carried his ‘danda’ raised above? Well, none but the cops! Why? Because they did not have any uniforms and it was to distinguish them from ordinary folks who might also be carrying sticks.

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Now, since the cops were uncontrolled, impertinent, aggressive, rude, abusive, arrogant, barbarous, and brutish, and continued to remain so for centuries, gradually the word ‘uddanda’ itself came to acquire the meaning of such behavioural traits!   

Police as a coercive arm of the State continued in modern times

The dependence of the ruling dispensation on its army and police to continue its rule did not diminish one bit in modern times. A subtle difference was, however, introduced. Earlier, the wish of the Raja or the Badshah that protected and promoted his self-interests was the law. In modern times, they provided the veneer of law for their self-interests.

Thus, the State, pretending to ride a high moral horse, was able to argue that it was trying to protect larger interests of the State (now sold by the name of national interest) and anybody who was deemed to have harmed those interests would be punished by the law. Thus, the law, framed by the rulers themselves, became the ‘shield’ to oppress the people with the ‘agency’ of the police.

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Also Read:

Yeh Mera India: Police and the Common Man #1

Indian police- bow before the rich & bully the poor

After the traumatic experience of the Mutiny of 1857, the British took great care to ensure that the people are disarmed for all practical purposes so that the police may oppress them easily. That is why the Arms Act puts so many restrictions on even ordinary things—you cannot keep an iron-bound bamboo stick or a knife with a blade longer than a certain length.

They are such duffers that they proudly call themselves to be the ‘steel frame’. Little do they know that when Lloyd George had spoken of the ‘steel frame’, he meant it as an instrument of perpetuating the British Empire—he had no concern for India or Indians. Speaking in the House of Lords on February 26, 1924, Marquess Curzon of the Kedleston had clearly said, “The British Raj in India will fade away and disappear unless you have a sound Civil Service to support it.” In the same debate, Lord Olivier, the secretary of state for India, also said that it was impossible to associate the idea of the maintenance and perpetuity of British Civil Service in India with the ultimate idea of Indian nationalism and responsible government.

Independence made no difference

During the Constituent Assembly debates, Somnath Lahiri, the only communist member in the Constituent Assembly had famously argued in favour of reducing the powers of the State, “Does Sardar Patel want even more powers than the British government, an alien government, an autocratic government which is against the people-needs to protect itself? Certainly not. Sardar Patel has the support of the overwhelming masses of the people and, therefore, he can do with much less power to rule the country than an autocratic government would require. But, here we find that none of the existing provisions of the powers of the executive has been done away with; rather in some respects those powers are sought to be increased.”

Looking back in retrospect, we can only admire how prescient he was! He had very correctly foreseen that the government of the nascent nation of India also wanted to retain the same absolute powers over its citizens, which their colonial rulers had. Readers can instantly perceive that the real intentions of the government of any political dispensation in independent India have never been truly democratic and liberal—all of them have sought to enhance the power of the State at the expense of the people.

If the post-independence governments had any intention of ‘liberating’ the people from the hangover of the colonial era, they could have re-written the criminal major Acts along with the Constitution. Not doing that was a clever design.

What makes police officers behave like feudal lords?

Government officers in general and police officers, in particular, tend to be insensitive, cruel, unreasonable, and mechanistic. A retired IAS officer, Avay Shukla rightly points out that most IAS officers have very high levels of schadenfreude (pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune), and love nothing better than to see the proletariat squirm. It applies equally well to IPS officers also, if not more so.

While all sorts of government servants can make the life of the common man miserable, police have a special status because they can beat up people and harm them physically or make anybody grovel before them, irrespective of his station in life. No other wing of the government vests officers with this kind of power. This power gets into their heads. If they have had any reason to suffer from some sort of inferiority complex before they donned the uniform, their behaviour becomes all the worse. That is how these days you find that even well-placed people get very bad treatment at the hands of the police. It is not the cops’ version of socialism; it is their deep-rooted complexes coming to the fore.

Their desire to wield power like mini-maharajas is the main reason that police in India is still called a ‘Force’ and not a ‘Service’, which it ought to be.

Police officers are afraid that the moment the department is called a ‘service’, they would lose all their power to lord over people, make them beg before them, terrorize them, harass them in a thousand ways and even torture them or kill them in fake encounters or in the name of maintaining law and order.

Over the ages, police have done nothing, which could endear them to the people or make the people look up to them as saviours. The state of crime in the country need not be explained to anybody. It is not that the cops do not know this. They know this and that’s what makes them nervous. They know that other than their ‘threatening posture’, they have nothing else to show to the people. And that’s why they resist being named a ‘service’.

One of the easiest ways of earning the ‘fear’ of the people is to abuse your powers in general and your discretionary powers in particular. This ensures that people run around you in circles to placate you, thereby satisfying your perverse desire of being treated like a lord.

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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 56 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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