Herald View: The truths of the Indian police today

The police answer more to non-state bigots than to an important pillar, perhaps the most important pillar, of democracy- the Supreme Court

Heavy police presence in Jahangirpuri
Heavy police presence in Jahangirpuri

Herald View

Lying politicians, crooked bankers, corrupt police officers, cheating journalists, double-dealing media barons, rotten and greedy entrepreneurs...” This was the lament of Western societies on the untrustworthiness of anyone in authority.

India today has all of these but could well add one element to this list that rarely failed Western societies but which has grossly let down Indian citizens in the current decade – the judiciary. It is the judiciary which has consistently been unfair and discriminatory to Indian citizens, farming out bizarre judgments like violence with a smile is no violence at all, which emboldens both the violent bigots and discriminatory police in getting away with breaking the law and endangering basic rights and freedoms of the people.

What otherwise explains the midnight swoop by the Assam Police on Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mewani for an innocuous tweet asking the Prime Minister to work towards peace and communal harmony and eschew Nathuram Godse, the assassin of the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi? That the Assam Police broke the law by not supplying Mewani a copy of the First Information Report (FIR) against him and took him into custody without seeking permission from the Speaker as is mandatory while arresting elected legislators is enough indication that the police in India today are a law unto themselves and fear no one, including the judiciary. For otherwise the Delhi police at the other end of the nation from Assam would not have ignored with impunity the Supreme Court’s order to halt the discriminatory demolition of Muslim homes and shops in Jahangirpuri. Hindu shops and temples were spared even as saffron organisations threatened retribution if the police tried to destroy these.

What does this tell us? That the police answer more to non-state bigots than to an important pillar, perhaps the most important pillar, of democracy? The Supreme Court has now said it will take a serious view of the demolitions that happened after their stay order was conveyed to the authorities. But while that brings some hope, there is no gainsaying the fact that the judiciary has essentially lost its teeth over the past eight years which has turned the police into monstrous liabilities to the nation-state.

But why blame the police alone? As French poet Jacques Prèvert had said during World War II, “When truth is no longer free, freedom is no longer real: the truths of the police are the truths of today.”

And the truth of the Assam or Delhi or even Uttar Pradesh police today is that they answer to only lying politicians and governments who choose not to represent all citizens uniformly, who do not abide by the Constitution and use democracy to subvert democracy. Hence Mewani’s truth came with a price – his freedom for that truth. And it was the police that executed that denial of truth and freedom to both him and the Jahangirpuri residents. On the flip side, when governments follow the rule of law, the police are compelled to act out their true roles in society - as watchdogs who help to make people safer and not the monsters many have become today. For example, despite the best efforts to communalise azaan (the Muslim call to prayers) in Maharashtra, police has ensured there will be no provocation within hundred metres of mosques and 15 minutes before and after azaan, thus frustrating all attempts at communal conflagration.

To quote David Lammy, British Shadow Secretary for Foreign Affairs, a good society is characterised not just by liberty but also mutual respect for all. When this respect breaks down, the police alone cannot put it back together. Society in general must and that means all arms of the government and We, The People.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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