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Reform Them , Don’t Flog Them – Arti Khosla In Statesman


Reform them, don’t flog them

6 May 2013

In curbing social evils and crime society has a role to play. Let us play our role and not blame the police alone, writes aarti khosla

The events of the past few days have left many of us traumatised. How can human beings behave in such a depraved manner? The brutal rape of a five-year-old child left one numb with shock. The repeated onslaughts of this nature on young girls have become daily news. You pick up any newspaper and the incidents of rape are being reported from different parts of the country giving an impression of a nation of rapists on the prowl.

The anger generated by such incidents is therefore understandable, especially the anger against police for not doing their job well, for not registering the FIR on time and for offering bribe to the parents of the five-year-old to keep their mouth shut. Instead of helping the victims they only add to their misery. And when the protestors take to the street we see images of lathi-wielding champions of law beating them. No one is spared ~ the women, children, the old, the infirm.

The recent pictures of such atrocious behaviour by our policemen from Taran Taran in Punjab to Aligarh in UP to Delhi no doubt leave little sympathy for the men in uniform. But the protests of the nature unleashed on the policemen are also disturbing in a way. So was the effort of some political parties to upstage each other in making their protests louder than the others. First they all assembled at the hospital where the victim was initially admitted. The slogan shouting by activists of Aam Admi party, the BJP, and the Congress created such a mayhem that the emergency services of the hospital had to be closed. The victim was shifted to AIIMS. The protestors did not spare this hospital too and assembled in large number outside the hospital shouting and creating traffic snarls disrupting the movement of patients and ambulance services. The demonstrations were held outside the police headquarters, the residences of Prime Minister and chairperson of UPA. A few metro stations had also to be closed to prevent people from adding to the number of protestors. Who suffered in the bargain? The common man.

It is true our police have failed the Indian citizenry time and again. The people have their genuine grievances against the department. Instead of coming to the help of people against crime they are known to harass the victims of crime. Bribes are demanded even for registering the first information report. The investigations are often tardy and slow. The poorer the complainant, fewer the chances of redressal of his complaint. See the cases of missing children. The number is so alarming in the national capital. And what is the police record for tracing these children? In 2012 alone nearly 5,000 children went missing in Delhi. Only 50 per cent of the number was traced. From those missing in 2011 more than 1,200 are yet to be recovered. Some have been missing for the past four to five years and the parents are under pressure to withdraw the complaint.

For our police the anxiety is not the missing children and what must have happened to them but to improve their statistics of pending cases. This is the rub of the problem. Do not register FIRs as far possible. More FIRs in a thana the more is the headache in investigating the crime and perhaps the efficiency of a thana in charge is judged from the lesser number of complaints with him than the number of cases solved. It is also an accepted fact that bribe is rampant among our constabulary. It is so even at the higher echelons of the police force. It is common knowledge that there is a determined price for a posting in a place. The more ‘lucrative’ a thana the higher is the price.

All this, however, does not justify the way people have gone about humiliating, jeering and booing the policemen during these protests. We saw two contrasting images on several TV channels of citizens’ response to the police force. There were the citizens of Boston clapping and cheering the policemen after they had apprehended the second culprit in the Marathon bomb blast in Boston and here in Delhi our people were giving bangles and money to the policemen, trying to remove their name badges and caps, pushing police barriers and insulting them no end. The provocation was so strong that one of the officers resorted to slapping a woman protestor in full view of TV cameras thus compounding his sins. By making police the butt of our jokes we are not reforming them but demoralising them thus making them further ineffective. The fear of police is a big deterrent in controlling crimes and once this fear is eroded there is total lawlessness. The protestors in Delhi and elsewhere have contributed a great deal to the erosion of this trust between the public and police.

What needs to be done to restore the trust of the people in our police force? We talk of police reforms. Many Committees and Commissions have gone into the subject. Way back in 1979 National Police Commission was set up to suggest police reforms. They produced eight reports and a model police Act too. Nothing was implemented. The subject of police reforms was activated in 1996 when a Public Interest Litigation was filed in the Supreme Court on this issue. The Riberio Committee set up by the Supreme Court studied the problem once again and gave its recommendations. The matter remained where it was till one more committee (Padmanabhaiah Committee) was set up. They gave their report in 2000 with a new model police bill. It was in 2006 that SC disposed of the matter by directing the government that police reforms must be carried out.

Seven years down the line we are where we were in 1979. To my mind it is not the big ticket reforms which will improve the working of police in our country. It is the basic attitude that needs to be changed. Our police have to actually feel and act according to the slogan they loudly proclaim on their vehicles and police posts: Aap ki aur sadaiv aap ke sath i.e yours and always with you.

Registering crime is their job and investigating the same is their duty. The important statistics for judging the competency or otherwise of a head constable or an SHO should be how many cases he has solved rather than the number of cases pending with him. One way to reduce the incidence of crime in his area could be his interaction with the people in his neighbourhood to keep an eye on the bad characters. The elderly and the activists in the area should be consulted on regular basis for their inputs to keep a neighbourhood safe and peaceful.

The police in USA again provides an example of how interaction with people can help in prevention of crime. The police chief of New York, Ray Kelly, has recently revealed how his police department regularly consults the local leaders of Muslim neighbourhoods. According to him this police-citizen interaction has been very helpful. Since people of New York know that their police chief is doing an excellent job in securing them they have high respect for him. Contrast this with the contempt citizens of Delhi showed for the police chief during the agitation. The main reason for this lack of respect for heads of our institutions is that they have failed to provide the kind of leadership which can motivate and inspire their personnel in the force. They themselves are not motivated enough to think of public good. It is their own agenda they follow in whatever positions they are. Seniority, the next promotion and place of posting, and finally a job after retirement. Who has the time for caring for their subordinates and their welfare which is one key to motivate them.

One has also to look at the procedure and qualifications for the recruitment of our constables. As it is many of them look semi-literate and uncouth in their uniforms. Physical fitness must be the criteria for the initial recruitment but it has to be a continuous test for further promotions and postings. Many of our policemen even at a very senior level look potbellied and obese with ill-fitting uniforms. Smartness does attract admiration and thereby respect. Attention needs to be paid to this aspect. Finally, unless we are rid of the bane of corruption in the force things will hardly improve. Corruption is, however, all pervasive and we have become a sick society with scams tumbling out of cupboards of all and sundry everyday. Till we are able to arrest this devil of greed in our governing elite there is not much hope for things to improve. After all, good governance requires good people. Today we find evil has overtaken us and we have become worse than animals in inflicting brutalities on fellow human beings not sparing even innocent children. All this is very sad indeed but let us not be despondent. There are enough good people in our country. Are we not a land of Swami Vivekananda, Gandhi, Baba Ambedkar, Sardar Patel, Bhagat Singh and many more. In curbing social evils and crime society has a role to play. Let us play our role and not blame the police alone. They might have failed us but let us reform them and not flog them.

The author is former Additional Secretary, Government Of India

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