I recently came across an eloquent piece by a young Indian Police Service officer lamenting that the police is looked at with disdain by the common public. The young officer must be commended for her frank admission of the fact, because the acceptance of a deficiency is the first step towards taking corrective action.
The question is, why does this perennial distrust of the police continue even 70 years after independence? Another important question is, how can this distrust be removed and what can the leadership do to rectify this situation and win over the masses?
The police’s mandate in any country is to inculcate a sense of security amongst the population. The police should inspire confidence and awe with its deeds, and not terrorise the people. This doesn’t happen because the police does not conduct itself as a professional organisation, and its behaviour with public is not as it should be. The police is instead looked upon as a tool of oppression and exploitation, especially by the poor and disempowered. Common citizens, therefore, feels better off if they don’t have to interact with the police.
The response that common people get from police, when they approach them with a grievance, is generally indifferent if not outright abrasive. There are umpteen instances of police misbehaviour, especially with the worse off who may be unaware of their rights.
Such behaviour, coupled with the fact that lower police functionaries who come in direct contact with people often resort to extorting bribes, makes people contemptuous. The corruption effects the masses directly and leads to a dilution in the police’s moral authority. A recent case that came to light in Uttar Pradesh is an example of this. A person who has paid money for a posting is naturally intent on pleasing his political master so as to prevent his transfer before he has made good use of his “investment”. He would be least bothered with the mundane matter of ensuring law and order in his jurisdiction.
The cultural evolution of the Indian police since the colonial period doesn’t envisage the police as a service. They continue to behave like a force, which the British had raised to serve the purpose of perpetuating their rule by suppressing the “native Indian”. The police’s mindset hasn’t changed, and even the powers that be are not interested in changing the status quo. The police is a ready tool in the hands of politicians in furthering their agenda, and IPS leaders are more than willing to ensure that the agenda is implemented.
The police leadership happily engages in shadow boxing with their political masters for police reforms and blames them for all ills of policing. They do not look inwards to reform systems that are within their authority.
Actual reforms that police leaders should focus on are within their jurisdiction. Bringing about behavioural change amongst policemen is the most important of them. This can be done by making the recruitment process totally transparent. Personnel recruited to the police must have an aptitude for policing, which can be ascertained by associating psychologists with the recruitment boards.
It must be ensured that people with criminal or communal mindsets are not able to enter the police. The focus should also be on modernising police training. Aggressive training methodologies should give way to more people-oriented training. Developing soft skills is the most important of the required training reforms.
The living and working conditions of policemen must also be improved. The absence of proper facilities, especially in remote areas, gives rise to frustration among policemen, which they take out on the public. A large number of vacancies in the police and their deployment for non-essential functions aggravates the problem further by overburdening them. This is within the IPS leaders’ powers to fix, without needing approval from political masters.
The handling of recent anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests by the Delhi and Uttar Pradesh police forces has been far from professional. The leadership, failing to anticipate the extent of dissatisfaction, unleashed the repressive power of the state on protesting masses, giving rise to further massive protests all over India that are still going on. Prima facie, the police acted in a manner that displayed a bias against minorities. A recent report also suggests that every second policemen suffers from a distinct bias against minorities. The police leadership must ensure that their political and religious beliefs do not come in the way of their professional responsibilities.
That police reforms are essential is beyond question. Police leadership reforms, however, are more important. They must lead the police, instead of managing things from one crisis to another. Leadership reforms have to start right from selecting leaders with aptitude, and go on to imparting proper training and giving them exposure to day-to-day policing issues. Instead of focusing on these issues, police leaders make all-out efforts to get away to non-policing desk jobs rather than learning the ropes through hard work. This must stop.
I hope the younger generation of IPS officers has it in them to stand up to the system and initiate reforms from within. Until that happens, the desire of the young blogger IPS officer for a “little appreciation” may remain a dream.
Sanjiv Krishan Sood retired as Additional Director General, Border Security Force. He tweets at @sood_2.