The Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong, says in a statement:
There is no doubt that security to life and property is a fundamental right of every Indian. It is equally the duty of the state to protect it. The safety of a nation is directly proportionate to the collective notion of security of every citizen of that country. The single largest entity that is directly and immediately responsible for the security of the people in India, like in any other country, is the local police. However in India, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is of the opinion that it is this very executive organ of the state that forms the single largest impediment to the security of the country. (Picture courtesy: Magnifying Glass)
Organizations like the AHRC have repeatedly called upon the government of India that the government must bring the much-needed reforms to the current state of policing in the country. Indians who are aware about the state of affairs of the country's police would agree in one voice that the country's police today suffers from a series of problems, including but not limited to corruption; unwarranted political interference; widespread use of torture; nepotism of all forms; lack of infrastructure and training; absence of required cadre strength; and above all, deep demoralisation. Yet the country's governments, state and central, have been keeping reforming the police as one of its last priorities.
Police officers who are willing to speak privately agree that all of the above issues, collectively and individually, have damaged the police beyond repair at the moment, that unless a serious attempt is made to revive the police from this abysmal downward spiral the institution has been stooping into, no matter what is being done to improve the state of internal security of the country, its police service will not be able to cope up with the security requirement of the time and will remain the single largest stumbling block to the country's safety. These officers agree in one voice that in the modern state, India, there is no place for a police force, as it exists and functions today. In that, today's Indian police cannot rationally coexist with the requirements of a modern state and that of its people.
The cancer of demoralization that has advanced into the system is of such nature that many police officers do not think twice before using their uniform to sell themselves for private gain. The incident reported from Kerala state last week, where a Circle Inspector of Police, wearing a sarong, was found loading a lorry with contraband goods assisted by several of his constables, of which one was named Satypalan (vernacular for 'guardian of truth') is an example to this scenario. The local people secretly videographed the entire incident and leaked it to the media. It was only after the media exposure of the incident that the state government reacted against the corrupt and shameless officer. The general public had filed scores of complaints over the past several months against the officer, but until last week, the government had preferred to ignore the complaints. Even today, none of the complaints are investigated or acted upon. It is the video that pushed the administration to act, not other genuine complaints.
The AHRC has noted with concern that in India the government will take action against a police officer only if it has no other option to save its public image. Unfortunately in all cases the complainant who dares take a video of a corrupt police officer need not be so fortunate. The case reported from Tamil Nadu state in October this year is an example. In this incident, a shopkeeper videotaped a woman police Circle Inspector demanding and accepting Rs. 10,000 as bribe. Then the shopkeeper called the vigilance cell of the Tamil Nadu state police. The officer on call responded by arriving at the scene. All the while, the woman police officer was found pleading her guilt to the shopkeeper and asking him not to report the matter to anyone, in particular to the media. But as soon as the vigilance officer arrived with a team of police officers, the officer asked his colleague, who was caught on video accepting bribes, to leave the place. Then the officer assaulted the shopkeeper asking him how dare he video record the deeds of the police. The entire incident was recorded, and the police officer was aware that it was being recorded. Yet the fact that the officer did not hesitate to assault a citizen who dared to bring to light and report police corruption in full view of a video camera that the officer knew was recording his deeds as well as audio, shows the extent of the perception of immunity police officers enjoy in India. Unlike in the Kerala case, there was no action against police officers in Tamil Nadu.
A random search in the Internet will yield hundreds of results where police atrocities have been 'caught on tape' in India. Unless there is an immediate surge by the media by reportage and comments on the incident, in most cases there would not be any corrective action. In fact the state of affairs in the Indian police is far beyond the scope of correction by punishing a police officer here or there.
The entire institution requires an overhaul. Conservative estimates suggest that more than 40 per cent of the police officers in the country are unfit to serve; out of them 90 per cent are persons with criminal backgrounds. For instance, in Kerala, as many as 391 police personnel, including a Superintendent of Police, a Deputy Superintendent of Police, a Circle Inspector, 19 Sub-Inspectors and 55 Assistant Sub-Inspectors who are involved in criminal cases, are still working in the law and order wing of the police. None other than the Chief Minister of the state, Mr Oommen Chandy, revealed this. Replying to questions in the State Legislative Assembly on 10 October, the Chief Minister said that in the state police there are 536 police officers involved in criminal cases. This is however the tip of the iceberg. These are police officers against whom the police itself have registered cases. The number of officers who have managed to stay clear of any criminal charges despite involvement in crimes should be much higher than those facing prosecution. Above all, the most alarming scenario is that all the 536 police officers are still in service! Yet it is not a matter of concern in India.
It is an open secret today that for everything, from appointment to transfer and promotion, officers pay bribes to politicians, in the case of Manipur, even to the Chief Minister. The qualification to be appointed as a police officer in that state is not intellect, integrity or physical fitness, but the rate of bribe the candidate is willing to pay to the Chief Minister, his political party or to its nominee. The AHRC has confirmed information that today, the rate of bribe to be paid for appointment as a police constable in Manipur is Rs. 500,000 to Rs. 800,000 and for the post of Sub-Inspector of Police it is anything beyond Rs. 1,400,000. What is the guarantee that these police officers will not accept money or favours for 'looking the other way' when they come to know about a terrorist or disruptive activity? The security scenario in Manipur will drastically improve if corruption in the administration, in particular, the state police, is checked.
In countries where the government considers its police force to be a disciplined and serious state agency, worthy of the task it is entrusted to discharge, allegations against police officers will be taken seriously. Adequate measures will be put in place so that corruption within the police, if not ruled out, is kept at a minimum level possible. In these countries the public entertain a high standard of trust in their police and the police officers have a high degree of morale.
However, in India, a police officer is perceived as a criminal in uniform. Officers and policymakers alike believe that it is only through fear that law and order can be maintained. What is not acknowledged is the knowledge that fear alienates people from the police, and visible and widespread ineptitude and corruption among the rank and file of the police officers cut them into a poor show of uniformed officers willing to steal even from the beggars' bowl for whatever it is worth.
Often in every other crime reported in the country, there is a foul police officer or an entire team of them aiding the suspects. The AHRC is aware that in states like Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, police officers openly run brothels and engage in human trafficking. In the national capital, New Delhi, a substantial number of police officers run private businesses, including the plying of contact carriages in the city. Unfortunately the security of the country is largely dependent upon these police officers and the governments are in no mood to listen. What is alarming is the banality of it.