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Is police really a necessary evil?

N Dilip Kumar and Shantonu Sen throw light on the tremendous powers of the Police and their immense responsibilities

Is police really a necessary evil?

Arrests of five dissenting intellectuals and activists on a charge of alleged conspiracy to assassinate the Prime Minister, the arrest of a woman for denouncing BJP as fascist on a flight, questionable arrests of kins in dowry-related matters under the SC Atrocity Act, etc., raise issues regarding Indian Police. In these arrests and many more such incidents, the police appear weak and susceptible to the diktats of the powerful whereas domineering against the weak. The result is severe castigation from the society. Yet, their presence is felt only in their absence; they are indispensable. Is police really the necessary evil?

People are indeed worried – about their safety in their homes, about murders, daylight robberies, kidnapping for ransom, narcotics and drug addiction, the crime against women and children, the economic crimes, and of late the cyber crimes. Corruption is one of those things India cannot live with but knows no way to live without. They are concerned with the breaking down of law and order, and lawlessness – a result of the criminalisation of political processes, unabashed use of violence to achieve political ends, use of police to stifle the democratic rights of dissent and settle scores with political opponents, lynch-justice by vigilantes in matters such as cow-slaughtering, etc. They are also scared of the caste, communal, and religious conflicts, indiscreetly engineered by the politicians for selfish ends. Although the society pillories police for everything going bad, everyone looks up only to police for relief even though there are other stakeholders – the government, judiciary, jails, and the society itself, who all need to play effective roles. Do they?

Firstly, the society, which expects the police to be omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient; demands better response time and higher rates of detection and conviction. It clubs all police success stories as routine duty and dubs failures from a mild unprofessional to the extreme mixed-up-with-criminals charge. Insists upon fairness, yet turns Nelson's eye if police use third degree to extract confessions when anyone's personal interests are involved. Resents if the law is applied where there is a conflict of interest, and accuse police of high-handedness, if force is used to prevent untoward incidents when people violate the law blatantly in public demonstrations. People readily evade taxes, indulge in corruption and other invisible and economic crimes with impunity, but expect the police to keep the society crime-free. They do not associate and cooperate with police but demand their efficiency.

Moreover, society is not concerned with the diminishing respect of values. Criminologists say that the not-so-conducive socio-cultural, socio-economic, socio-psychological conditions have a direct impact on the development of social deviance at the initial stage and later in the form of criminal behaviour. Further, offenders are motivated by the economic reasons due to the dominance of materialistic culture in the highly mobile, restless, and modern industrial societies. Such factors have affected our social fabric, and there is a destruction of all human values: moral, ethical, and spiritual. When religions and other such institutions have failed to influence and reform the modern materialistic man, what can police alone do? Indeed, they too come from the same social milieu and have the same values and ethics as the society.

Now, the jails, which are to ensure that punishment is meant to deter potential crime and also reform criminals. But, when jails serve as incubating centres to enhance criminal propensities for newcomers, breed gang formations, and confer special privileges to white-collar criminals, reformation and deterrence are a far cry. Most emerge as hardened criminals.

Then, the judicial system is very much conscious of the fact that it is only swiftness and certainty of punishment that can deter criminals. But, a stickler to winding procedures, the overburdened courts, which accept patently false depositions and deliberate obstructions without any qualms, provide neither. It has become a tool, however unwilling, in the hands of manipulative people who misuse the system by overusing its intricate procedures. A rape victim suffers a living death while the perpetrator enjoys his liberty as the legal process goes on for ages. A number of anti-social and political elements who should have been found in the confines of jails are enjoying the security of black cats at a great public expense. The cumbersome and expensive judicial procedures, in the words of Justice Krishna Iyer, have led to the 'crucifixion of justice'; resulting intolerance of police violence, lynch justice and people's courts. Thanks to the judicial drags, deterrence of crime by the law is nowhere in sight. Crime is bound to increase.

It is primarily for the government to ensure that each of the components of the Criminal Justice System functions effectively in order to achieve the objective of prevention and detection of crime. Instead of having a wholesome approach, there is always a knee-jerk reaction, or there is a great time lag. Often fifty-year-old delayed plans and strategies are implemented to meet the day's requirements. Judiciary and Jails are far below their required manpower and resources. Police leadership is still heading organisations which are facing a crisis of obsolescence to face the modern-day situations. While criminals have formed syndicates and are equipped with the latest technology, and are in cybercrime, police stand at a distant second. Instead of resolving the problems, those in power only compound them with their diktats. As the National Police Commission categorically concluded, all political parties use their authority regarding promotions and transfers to compel the force to serve their interests. As a result, the number of officers who trim their professional sails to the winds blowing in from the Capitals is alarmingly increasing each day, converting police into an Establishment Protection Agency, and thus promoting selective amnesia in law enforcement.

Although there is a collective failure, the police are singularly blamed and placed in a nutcracker-like situation. The policeman only tries to extricate himself to protect his own image and placement. Whenever there is pressure, he flatters with quick makeshift results, or/and finds shortcut methods as a panacea. Uses third degree, padding of evidence, concoction; avoiding registration of FIRs and fudging figures to give a false sense of security. To compound it all he defends his rudeness with frustration and stress factors.

Yes, endless working hours, negative job entrustment, hazardous duties, inadequate resources, the pressure to achieve results in the face of increasing incidences of crime and terrorism, and lack of recreation are but a few factors that add up to his stress and frustration. Psychologists say that imbalance in the devotion to the trinity of employment, family, and oneself also cause strain and stress. Sociologists say that the frequent criticism by the media, public and politicians and other professional frustrations make them shell-bound in a strong group subculture, in which each member very strongly defends the other even in cases of misdeeds and violations of law, and rationalises them. Some of them emotionally 'burn out' and become recluses, while some 'burst out' and become aggressive. Use of filthy and abusive language, inhuman treatment to arrested persons, discourteous behaviour with the public, etc., are all manifestations of their state of mind.

One thing is sure that the police cannot be made responsible for everything going bad. Yet, power without responsibility is irresponsibility. The tremendous powers, especially the power to arrest and to lock-up vested with police, cast on them an immense responsibility of exercising them with civility and restraint. Also, they cannot always crib, and be a crying baby waiting for someone to come and help them. They cannot abdicate their responsibility to make excuses all the time; they need to upgrade their performance, within the available resources and parameters. Indeed, it is possible if their think-tank works harder and if they commit themselves more to the social cause, instead of simply performing a paid-duty, or working as agents of those in power. The 'Will' shall provide them several ways. They can redeem their pride and their image. In place of 'a necessary evil', society needs a 'necessary friend' in our democracy. What and how of this question must now concern us!

(Dr N Dilip Kumar is former Member, Public Grievances Commission, Delhi and Shantonu Sen is former Joint Director of CBI. The views expressed are strictly personal)

N Dilip Kumar and Shantonu Sen

N Dilip Kumar and Shantonu Sen

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