New report on policing in India shows recurring patterns of understaffing, lack of training, funds and equipment compounded by a lack of public trust
The CSDS – Common Cause Status of Policing in India Report 2019 with focus on police adequacy and working conditions is an excellent, nuanced, non-judgmental document which covers a wide range of issues which impact the criminal justice administration in India. As citizens, many of us have our perceptions about the police because in our daily (lived) experience, we interact with them only during crises or emergencies and often their performance does not match our expectations. However, we rarely try to find out the reasons for, and the circumstances under which they are on duty 24x7. Rather, on the days we celebrate with our family and friends- Holi, Diwali, Christmas and Eid, they are on duty and on the road to ensure that we are safe!
As Vipul Mudgal explains in 'The Context', India cannot be an economic superpower with prosperity for all its citizens if it is served by a criminal justice system which is severely undermined on account of multiple factors, severe human resource shortages, poor physical infrastructure, inadequate communication systems, indifferent attitude to training, procedural issues, interference in work and giving priority to the urgent, rather than the important. Not only are these factors discussed in the report, there is effort is to look at alternatives but the stepping stone for all this has to be based on robust empirical data. The report tells us that even though India is a global hub for IT, there are many police stations without access to wireless, computers, vehicles or even telephones. Hundreds of police stations are unable to provide clean drinking water or functional toilets to police personnel and it is common for many cops to report for a 14-hour workday.
A training institution recently conducted two multi-stakeholder consultations on addressing issues relating to violence against women and children where it became clear that even when training programs are offered, such is the pressure of work that officers are often not able to be in attendance. No wonder that the report shows that only 6 per cent of police officers have been to a training program in the last five years and this has an impact on how policemen view themselves and their environs. Training programs offer an opportunity to bond and share experiences and if it is a multi-stakeholder training program, the gains are even more significant.
The report is neatly structured into eight chapters, the first being on the adequacy of policemen across states. Based on data from BPRD and NCRB, the five major issues covered include staffing and recruitments, training, infrastructure, diversity, workload and functional autonomy. The next chapter is on the working conditions and here it relies on the policemen's own perception about their working and service conditions. It is a vicious cycle, inhuman duty hours can be directly attributed to the inability of the states to fill in the sanctioned strength of the police force, which in turn impacts their efficiency. The third chapter on resources and infrastructure looks at the availability of adequate and functional facilities and requisite skill-sets which form the backbone of policing. The fourth chapter on crime investigation looks at the abilities of the police to solve crimes. Apart from political interference, there are issues relating to the willingness of witnesses and victims to co-operate with the investigation process, as well as the tedium involved therein. The fifth chapter looks at policing from the gender lens. With a higher representation of women in the police force, the interface with the community is much better and more women come forward to report crimes against themselves. And yet, the representation is less than eight per cent.
The penultimate chapter analyses the attitude of the dominant majority in the police towards marginalised communities, both within the force and outside. Much greater sensitisation is called for on several issues: gender, human rights, juvenile delinquency, transgenders, migrants and minorities. The last chapter takes up issues which are often brushed under the carpet: police brutality, custodial violence, encounters and the reluctance to lodge first information reports. Some of the revelations are a cause of concern bordering on 'alarm'. In a normative sense, third-degree as a fair tool in the investigation is not acceptable but nearly a third of the respondents felt that it was okay, especially in the case of heinous crimes. In my view, this is again linked to inadequacy in training and the cult of machismo which Bollywood perpetrates and gets accepted and internalised. We have still not passed the Prevention of Torture Bill 2017 but the NHRC and SHRCs are taking suo-moto cognisance of many serious aberrations.
The report confirms the impression most of the one hundred and eighty officer trainees have reported from their one-week police attachment in their training districts. Your columnist has seen reports from districts ranging from Patiala in Punjab to Balurghat in West Bengal and Udham Singh Nagar in Uttarakhand. The refrain is the same, they are overworked and if not underpaid, at least under-recognised for their contribution.
Your columnist has long held the view that each police station should not only have its sanctioned strength, wireless sets, jeeps and motorcycles but also a gymnasium and a good cafeteria serving wholesome meals ( for policemen, visitors and those in custody). The officer in charge of a police station should also have a contingency fund to meet sundry situations. If a woman in the police uniform represents the state ( which she does ) she has to be adequately provided for and both her person and her profession should be held in the highest esteem.
Dr Sanjeev Chopra is the Director of LBSNAA and Honorary Curator, Valley of Words: Literature and Arts Festival, Dehradun. Views expressed are strictly personal