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16 September, 2011

Demoralized police force is a security threat, says AHRC

The recent bomb blast near the Delhi High Court has once again revived the debate regarding crime control and law and order in India. Acts of violence in all forms must be condemned. In that, the very reason why the ordinary people in India refuse to cooperate with their local police is due to the same nature of violence that has become synonymous with policing in India. Without drastic changes brought in, to 'humanize' the police, as required to meet the policing standards of a modern democracy, the security scenario in India would remain the same and probably go from bad to worse. The police without the cooperation of the local population could maintain neither law nor order.

It is indeed just not that the local police resort to violence always at their own volition. The police officers in India lack everything they require to discharge duty, according to the standards expected from a state agency working in a democratic framework. From recruitment to retirement the police in the country are expected to discharge duties for which they are thoroughly ill equipped. It is a sad daily reality that every average Indian might have witnessed on the country's streets had they observed the working conditions of a police officer.

In most cases the officers are expected to discharge a job that no one in the world could ever do. For instance, what could a police officer responsible for traffic control do if the roads are filled with persons driving vehicles who obtained their licences by merely paying bribes?; what could a traffic police officer do if the junction at which the officer is posted has no traffic lights and the road conditions are terrible due to corruption in road construction?; how can a police officer investigate a crime other than by torturing a suspect and obtaining a confession when the officer is not trained in scientific crime investigation?; what else could a police officer do other than demanding and accepting bribes when the officer is not provided a house in the city where the officer is posted and forced to rent a house that would almost cost half of the officer's salary?; how can police stations function when the telephones and vehicles at the station do not work?; what morality will such a force have when they are expected to protect political masters who enjoy fruits of corruption?

If anyone of the above conditions is true - in fact all of them are - every Indian police officer has a right to remain demoralized and be what she/he is today. Expecting them to be the guardians of the life and security of the people is the worst that an administration could demand and a population to expect.

When was the last time the working conditions - including recruitment, training and deployment - of the police officers in the country was made the subject of a serious debate in the country's legislative houses? Since independence, the country's government, state or central, have not spent enough time to improve the state of policing in India.

Police is probably one of the most important state agencies of the country that still do not have a sensible national policy for improvement. Indeed, policing is a state subject in India. This means it would require considerable effort by the Union Government to encourage the state governments to have a look at their police force to find means to realign it to fit the requirements of a democracy.

Of equal importance is the role of the Indian civil society, including the country's media, to keep a focus upon the conditions of the police and to hear their concerns. In that there is no sense for the civil society to push the government to ratify the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), which the government for understandable reasons is delaying to undertake. The ratification of CAT without having a comprehensive national policing policy to improve the state of policing makes no sense. In fact in the neighbouring countries like Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh, which have all ratified the CAT without a sensible policy to improve the state of policing in these jurisdictions are examples from which both the government, and the civil society in India can draw learning.

India today is facing serious threats to its internal security. A considerable proportion of it stems out from threats posed by armed militant, secessionist or terrorist groups. What these groups have is an ideology, destructive it may be, which probably draws unconditional cooperation from their cadres operating within and outside the country. Pitched in a battle with such a force are the unfortunate and thoroughly demoralised police in the country, which receives support neither from the government nor from the public. Expecting this force to meet the threat and to become the guarantee for the life and security of the people is like forcing the dragonfly to lift boulders.

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