It is not surprising to read about the ill-treatment of rape victims at the hands of policemen. It does not require a social philosopher to make the observation that police in India lack the trust of the citizens or that the majority of citizens consider the force as a ‘necessary evil’. This is chiefly because the police’s mentality has not changed since 1947 and it also suits the class structure of our society.
So far, police reform commissions or judges of the Supreme Court have focused on the top of the police hierarchy, while the need of the hour is to restructure the basic organisational unit like the police station (PS) or thana. The police need the cooperation of citizens. This mutual dependence is a facilitating factor in the day-to-day interaction and interface between them and citizens. Unfortunately, this social contract is disintegrating. Academic studies of police stations reveal that the police are themselves to blame for their negative image.
First, a citizen is hesitant about visiting a police station to file a complaint against a law-breaker because the first information report, instead of being treated as a fundamental right of the complainant, is met with great hostility. It has been observed that in police stations, either the police discourage complainants or they file complaints against innocent people under the influence of local village or town influentials to teach a lesson to the complainant for crossing the limits of his low-caste status against high-caste individuals, who have the support of the police. Caste and class statuses determine police responses while dealing with law and order issues.
The atmosphere in thanas is highly ‘inhospitable’ for a law-abiding citizen whose dignity is violated by the abusive language used by policemen. The background of people managing thanas is cited as a reason for this. However, the more weighty reason is the sense of power or authority wielded by them. It is a hangover of the colonial police culture where the police were expected to inspire great awe and fear among the colonised people.
It is simplistic to mention that Indian Police Service officials are unaware of this. They cannot avoid their responsibility of making the police behave as protectors of the rule of law in a democracy.
If the story of harassed and humiliated citizens is one side of the picture, the other dimension is that the police leadership is always pleading for modernisation and reform to make it ‘accountable’ to the citizens. However, when put on the defensive, the police present a list of complaints that affect their morale. But it is a flimsy argument that creating more battalions will improve their efficiency.
CP Bhambhri taught politics at Jawaharlal Nehru University