We have a brutal and oppressive police because British masters designed it as such
While Indian police are far from the fabled and friendly London constable, no election in Independent India has ever been contested on the issue of police reforms, writes a Rtd IPS officer
As the proverbial saying goes, the sun never set in the British empire. All the five continents of planet earth had significant areas governed by the British colonial rulers who created modern institutions of governance for their subjects. The institution of the police was one such tool the colonial rulers developed.
But it’s intriguing that the masters created different police for different people. This difference had cultural connotations. Different cultures were prescribed a different type of policing and the police force. So, India got the police force that it culturally deserved
The British did not fashion Indian Police after the Scotland Yard. The Bobby, the quintessential London police constable who is modelled as a true friend of the citizens, was the last thing in the mind of the masters when they conceived the Indian Police.
In India, our daily chorus of life were driven by the caste system, which made Indian society extremely undemocratic and where large number of its members were cursed to lead lives which were worse than animals. We therefore got a police force which had least respect for values like equality before the law.
It is worth noting that Indian Police was founded on the basis of laws enacted during the period 1860 – 61 and the sole purpose of its creation was to strengthen and prolong the existence of the Raj. To be fair to this institution, it served its masters well and helped them stay back and rule over us for the next nine decades. But in the process, the uniformed force inevitably developed anti-people traits. It became cruel, corrupt and complicit with the rulers.
A very pertinent question is why the new rulers in Independent India after 1947 didn’t make much serious endeavour to bring basic changes in the police, which is so important to the day to day life of the ordinary citizen of the country? Ironically, these were the leaders who had personal experience of police high handedness during the freedom struggle and were at the receiving end of police brutality. And yet they do not seem to have given any serious thought of changing their police.
It could be because the new masters also liked a pliant and complicit police which would be ever ready to do anything to please their masters. A chief minister possibly liked a SHO or thanedar who would willingly break the bones of his opponents to please him or who would ignore his supporters’ worst deviations. He would naturally love a police officer carrying out all his illegal orders without bothering his conscience.
It therefore would not have come as a surprise when, during the 70s, the police became an instrument in large scale riggings of elections. So, one should not be surprised that our rulers were never seriously interested in making the police people-friendly, professional or even law fearing.
But then why did the people at large never agitated for reforms in the institution which affected their lives the most? Not a single election after Independence has witnessed ‘Police Reforms’ as a major campaign issue. Nor did any political party raise police reforms in its manifesto
Present day Uttar Pradesh is a fine case study to understand how a government with a questionable agenda but with a complicit police force can play havoc. For the past two and a half years it has been drilled in the psyche of an average policeman that the best way to control crime is to subvert law and to show least respect to the constitution and laws of the land. You read every other day disturbing news of people being shot on their legs before police presenting them before a magistrate. Many ‘criminals’ are not so fortunate; they are killed in ‘encounters’ without seeing a courtroom. A number of hapless cattle traders were lynched and a least worried state with complicit police played havoc with the lives of its own citizens.
Recently when people demonstrated against CAA and proposed NRC, disproportionate force was used against them with lot of communal venom. UP police and specially its armed wing PAC had very often faced accusations of being communal in their dealings with Muslims, the largest minority of the state.
The behavioural issues of UP police needs a serious discourse encompassing policies relating to its recruitment, training, personnel management and its relationship with the society. This discourse may extend to other police organisations of the country as well.
One major problem area in this discourse will be the level of acceptance of the Indian society to the violence of the police. The killing of four men accused of a gruesome murder and rape of a veterinarian in Hyderabad in cold blood by Telangana Police was welcomed by people at large.
It highlighted the disturbing truth that police highhandedness often has had open and explicit support from the society at large. One should only recollect the infamous blinding of hardened criminals by police in Bhagalpur few decades back, when the whole town stood with the police as they wrongly or rightly realised that normal justice delivery mechanism had failed them as it was incapable of punishing dreaded rapists, murderers and extortionists.
The acceptance of violence as an instrument of justice delivery is injurious to the healthy growth of a secular democracy. More recently we have witnessed worse cases of mob violence in the hands of cow vigilante groups. Similarly, we find increasing number of cases of police dispensing justice by shooting ‘criminals’, specially in Uttar Pradesh. Total apathy and in many cases acceptance of violence and cruelty by larger segments of society is something that laws alone will not be able to change. It is when people lose faith in the normal justice delivery system, that they start looking at police as judges, jury and executioners. We should remember the Latin maxim that it is not the severity but the certainty of punishment which deters crime. Reforms in justice delivery system are equally essential for police reforms.
The recent traits of brutality, communal bias, scant respect for the laws and procedures and complicity displayed by Indian police simply underline the necessity to undertake massive reforms in the institution created back in the 1860s by colonial masters.
(The author is a former Indian Police Service officer of the UP cadre )