How communal, brutal, unfriendly, incompetent or corrupt are the police ?

While politicians-in-power-Police nexus appears to have become stronger over the years, the men and women in uniform are increasingly seen as oppressive agents of the state and anti-people

 Police personnel rough up a demonstrator during a protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in New Delhi  
Police personnel rough up a demonstrator during a protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in New Delhi

Rahul Gul

Are the men in uniform their masters’ instruments of oppression or are they ‘friends of society’; are they public servants who are there to uphold the law and order or are they vigilante groups doing the bidding of political masters?

Indian policemen find themselves in the dock in 2020 like never before. Better armed, better equipped, better paid and presumably better trained, the policemen, the most obvious representatives of the democratic state, continue to evoke fear and distrust among the people as in colonial times. An extensive survey conducted by Common Cause and Lokniti also reveals that the policemen are often unfair and act illegally, and that at least a section of them remain as communal as ever.

On May 22, 1987, 19 personnel of the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) of UP rounded up 42 Muslim youths from the Hashimpura mohalla (locality) of Meerut, took them to the outskirts of the city, shot them in cold blood and dumped their bodies in a nearby irrigation canal.

As many as 16 of the 19 accused policemen surrendered only in May 2000 –three of them died in the intervening period — and were enlarged on bail, before getting acquitted by a Tis Hazari court to which the case was transferred in 2002 from Ghaziabad by the Supreme Court. It was only on October 31, 2018 that Delhi High Court overturned the decision, convicting all 16 and sentencing them to life imprisonment.

32 years after the infamous incident, nothing much sems to have changed, with Uttar Pradesh police once again facing allegations of communal bias in targeting Muslims during the protests against the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill last month. While the state DGP, OP Singh, went on to state that they had ‘not fired a single shot’, the fact remains that of the 25-odd deaths reported across the nation in the aftermath of the anti-CAA protests, 18 were from Uttar Pradesh, with almost all the victims being Muslims hailing from the lower socio-economic strata.

A viral video showed the Meerut Superintendent of Police shouting at anti-CAA protestors to ‘go to Pakistan’; other videos caught policemen destroying property owned by Muslims and abusing them. Some policemen forced them to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’.

Police went on the rampage in Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) on December 15, the same evening when Delhi Police stormed into the campus of Jamia Milia Islamia University, leading to several students sustaining serious injuries. Following this, the area commandant of the Rapid Action Force (RAF) deployed during the operation went on to file an FIR against 1,000 unnamed AMU students on December 23, as confirmed by Aligarh SSP Aakash Kulhari to the media.

On January 5, Delhi Police watched a ‘nationalist’ mob of masked and armed men and women walk into the JNU campus and assault students and teachers. Police not only failed to respond to frantic calls for help from students and faculty of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) but actually remained mute spectators during the ruckus. Indeed, as per eyewitness reports, the police contingent present outside the campus gate actually facilitated the attackers’ escape.

Status of Policing in India Report 2019 (SPIR 2019) prepared by the NGO Common Cause and Lokniti programme of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), reveals that police personnel betray an inherent bias against minorities and marginalised sections of the society.

The survey involved interviews of 12,000 police personnel in 21 states and around 11,000 of their family members. It also incorporated official data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) and the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD).

As per SPIR 2019, about half of the police personnel reported that Muslims were ‘naturally prone’ towards committing violence. ‘Police personnel in four of the states surveyed, namely, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Bihar, had about two-third or more police personnel who held this view. Four out of five police personnel from Uttarakhand held this opinion,’ the report states.

‘Police personnel from Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh have the highest proportion of those believing that people from Dalit communities are highly likely to be naturally prone towards committing crimes,’ says the report.

Class-based prejudices

Class bias is an unfortunate reality in our country, with the ‘Death Penalty India Report’ of the National Law University, Delhi estimating that 74 per cent of prisoners who were sentenced to death were economically vulnerable,’ the report says.

The report says: ‘As per some of the recent reports, two-thirds of the prisoners in India are undertrials. Further, as reported in SPIR 2018, India’s undertrial population has a disproportionate number of people from marginalised sections and communities, such as Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis/ tribals, non-literate, poor, etc.

Citing a pattern of targeting Dalits and Adivasis, another report hinted at the continued victimisation of the communities by the police (NDMJ and NCDHR, 2018). It highlights that deeply entrenched prejudices play a dominant role in the exploitation of marginalised communities by the police, and points out that the delayed police investigation is a major reason for the large number of Dalits and Adivasis in prison.’

Caste-based prejudices

The prejudices do not spare the men and women in uniform themselves. Both communal and caste prejudices affect the policemen and policewomen themselves, the survey pointed out.

In the survey, all respondents were asked to what extent, according to them, do police personnel belonging to Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) get equal treatment compared to others.

‘Less than half of the respondents (45%) said that they are treated completely equally. A significant number of police personnel (less than one in every four) also held the opinion that SCs and STs in the police are either treated ‘rarely’ equally or ‘not equally at all’, says the report.

‘With regard to the treatment of tribal and non-tribal police personnel, about two-fifth of the tribal police personnel reported the treatment to be completely equal and one-fourth reported it to be somewhat equal,’ it says.

The fear of police

SPIR 2018 found that 14 per cent of the citizens are highly fearful of the police, and 30 per cent are somewhat fearful of the police. Further, it was found that people fearful of the police are less likely to report willingness to approach the police even if there is a need. Police personnel seem to recognise that common people nurture an inherent fear of the institution and hence, are reluctant to approach them.

The report says: ‘There were many who agreed that a common person is hesitant, in varying degrees, to contact the police. Out of this group, about 32 per cent, or one in three personnel, reported that the main reason behind this attitude is fear of the police. Also, 13 per cent reported lack of education as the main reason, and about nine per cent said that people are not aware of their rights.’

Cops favour extra-judicial killings

Many police personnel appeared inclined towards delivering justice themselves. Nearly 20 per cent said it was better to kill dangerous criminals than have a trial. Nearly 75 per cent opted for violence towards criminals and 37 per cent advocated punishment in place of legal trial for minor offences. Also, 40 per cent of police personnel felt that 16-18-year-olds in conflict with the law should be treated as adults while dealing with criminal cases,’ SPIR 2019 says.

In the case of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) vs State of Maharashtra, 2014, the Supreme Court issued guidelines, making it mandatory for a magistrate to investigate all encounter cases.

‘However, the phenomenon of police encounters continues, with 49 people being killed in Uttar Pradesh since March 2017, majority of who were Dalits, Muslims or OBCs,’ says the report.

‘Interestingly, about 36 per cent of the civil police also agreed with the statement that for minor offences, a minor punishment to the accused by the police is better than a legal trial,’ it adds.

Attitude towards mob violence

In recent years, numerous cases of mob violence against individuals (‘mob lynching’) on suspicions of cow-slaughter, kidnapping, etc. have been reported, and the police is known to have played an enabling role for the people engaging in such forms of violence. While more than one in every three police personnel believe it to be natural for a mob to punish the alleged culprit in a case of cow-slaughter (‘to a large extent’ and ‘somewhat’ combined), about two in every five believe so in other three cases of crimes,’ says the report.

‘While 28 per cent of seniors were found to believe the mob violence in case of cow slaughter to be more of ‘natural’, the proportion of subordinates were found to be 8 percentage points higher,’ it adds.

Registration of FIRs

Another chapter in the report looks at the opinions of personnel towards crime registration and the process to be followed in case of a complaint. It found that:

• Fifty-four per cent police personnel are of the opinion that an increase in the number of FIRs registered indicates an increase in crime in the area, as opposed to an increase in registration of complaints by the police. Senior officers are more likely to believe that it indicates an increase in registration of complaints by police

• Three-fifth of the civil police personnel believe that no matter how serious a crime, there should be a preliminary investigation before registering an FIR, as opposed to direct registration of FIR

• Three in five personnel believe that the number of crimes reported are less than the number of crimes committed in the society

• Two out of five personnel believe that common people are hesitant to approach the police even when there is a need

• Nineteen per cent personnel (nearly one out of five) would not advise their daughters to go alone to a police station, outside their jurisdiction, to report a crime

• Thirty seven per cent personnel feel that for minor offences, a small punishment should be handed out by the police rather than a legal trial

• One out of five police personnel feel that killing dangerous criminals is better than a legal trial

• Three out of four personnel feel that it is justified for the police to be violent towards criminals

• Four out of five personnel believe that there is nothing wrong in the police beating up criminals to extract confessions

SPIR 2018 identified the causes for under-reporting of crime, particularly for women victims, as the fear of social stigma, harassment and use of abusive language by the police.

A common complaint in India is that police refuse to lodge FIRs, presumably because of the mistaken notion that high crime rates would reflect poorly on its performance.

Preliminary investigation of serious cases

In the landmark case of Lalita Kumari vs Government of Uttar Pradesh, 2013, the Supreme Court held that if a victim’s statement discloses information about a cognisable offence, the registration of the FIR is mandatory. Yet, it is common for police personnel to refuse filing FIRs even in serious, cognisable cases,' says the report. It adds: ‘A 2017 Parliamentary panel headed by former Union Minister of Home Affairs, P Chidambaram doubted the government’s claim that about 78 per cent police stations in the country are registering 100 per cent FIRs. The survey examined the perception and level of awareness of police personnel about the process that ought to be followed in cases of serious crimes.’

‘When asked to choose between directly registering FIRs or conducting preliminary investigations for serious complaints, about three-fifth of the civil police reported that they agreed more with the statement that— “No matter how serious a complaint, there must be a preliminary investigation before registering an FIR”.

Only 37 per cent of the civil police personnel reported that they agreed more with the statement— “For all serious complaints, FIR must be directly registered”,’ says the report.

Working hours

The state government shall take effective steps to ensure that the average hours of duty of a police officer do not normally exceed eight hours a day; provided that in exceptional situations, the duty hours of a police officer may extend up to 12 hours or beyond” states section18, of Model Police Act 2006.

‘Although police fall in the state list, most of the state police Acts are influenced either by the archaic Indian Police Act of 1861 or the Model Police Act of 2006. The usage of terms like ‘exceptional situations’ and ‘always on duty’ has given the leeway to arbitrarily stretch the working hours of police personnel, as per the convenience of the seniors. The provisions regarding ‘weekly offs’ are applied in similar erratic and irrational ways,’ says the report.

It adds: ‘The seminal work on requirement for eight hour-shifts in police stations (2014) conducted by the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD) extensively highlights the gravity of this problem. Constable Ravindra Patil of Mumbai Police through his report ‘8 Hours Dream of Police’ has been persistently advocating for the eight hourly–shift system. Both these studies report that the irregular and long working hours not only affect physical health but also contribute to mental stress of the police, ultimately impacting the efficiency of the force.

In November 2018, about 400 police constables in Patna protested the death of a fellow constable who was denied leave despite being sick. Eventually, 175 police officers (167 constables and eight officers) were dismissed from service, while 27 Havaldars and constables were put under suspension (Hindustan Times, November 2018). 50,000 constables in Karnataka had applied for mass leave on 6 June 2016 to register their protest against long working hours, wage inequality across ranks and the strict disciplinary actions they typically face (The NewsMinute, May 2016),' says the report.

It adds, 'Consistent with the Western literature on stress, the literature on police stress in India also broadly identifies two types of stressors — operational stressors — arising from the nature of work, and organisational stressors — arising from the work environment.'

'Numerous survey-based quantitative studies across various states have generally identified the organisational factors like excessive workload, and relation with those working in a senior position as prime factors contributing to stress.

This negatively impacts the psychological well-being of the personnel and further contributes to plummeting levels of job satisfaction among the police force. Studies also show that police personnel deal with such stressors by adopting maladaptive coping mechanisms such as denial and alcoholism,’ says the report, SPIR 2019.

Average working hours of police

The report says, ‘The Indian police in nearly all states are excessively over-overworked, with an average police personnel working for 14 hours a day. The most reported (mode) frequency of actual working hours was 12 hours, with about a quarter of the police reporting it. On the other hand, about 16 per cent of the police personnel reported working around the clock for 24 hours.’

‘Only 13 per cent of the police reported working for up to eight hours on an average, considered the global standard for workers’ shifts, while about 81 percent of the police personnel work for more than eight hours in a day. One in two police personnel reported not getting any stipulated holiday or rest day in a week. Conversely, only 25 per cent reported that they get one weekly off, a standard suggested in the Model Police Act,’ it adds.

‘Maharashtra is the only state in which more than 80 per cent police personnel reported getting at least one day off. On the other hand, in States like Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Himachal Pradesh, 90 per cent of the police personnel reported not getting any weekly off at all,’ it says.

Effect of the workload

As many as three-fourth of the police agreed with the statement—“the workload is making it difficult for me to do my job well”. About 40 per cent of the overall respondents ‘completely agreed’ with this statement, while 36 per cent ‘somewhat agreed’ with the statement. Civil police personnel are much more likely to agree with the statement,’ says the report, adding, ‘Workload also seems to be taking a toll on the personal lives of the police, with a huge proportion of 84 per cent police personnel agreeing with the statement, “I am not able to devote enough time to my family due to policing duties”.

The police personnel were also forthcoming in acknowledging the adverse impact of workload on their physical and mental health. Nearly three-fourths agreed with the statement, “My workload is affecting my physical and mental health conditions”,’ the report says.

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