A 10-year-old girl being dragged a distance when her skirt got entangled in a car full of boys trying to eve-tease her older sister and friend is the story that nightmares are made of. The severely injured and traumatised girl is in hospital and almost 12 days after the shocking incident, the police have slowly moved into action after intense pressure from activists and the media. They have registered charges of eve-teasing, that peculiar Indian expression for physically intimidating women, and of driving without a licence. But there the matter stands. We have heard such stories so many times and each time the offenders either get off, scot-free or lightly, thanks to the police falling down on their job. No wonder then that people just don’t trust the police and often prefer to keep quiet rather than report a crime.
There is no getting away from the fact that politicisation and criminalisation of the police force is growing in all states. We all know that political interference often prevents the police from doing an honest job as many high-profile cases show. Unscrupulous politicians and bureaucrats are not above using the police as instruments of criminality. Having said that, one cannot wish away political executive control over the police in a democratic system. But the challenge is to see that this is done legitimately and for the public good. We have had several commissions, among them the Padmanabhiah Committee on police reforms, to review and come up with suggestions on police reform. But as with most commissions, its findings are gathering dust. Of course, no revolutionary recommendations were made. Even so, basic things like improving the status and living conditions of the constabulary, instituting a new code of conduct, putting in place an in-house vigilance system and reviewing the records of arrests made were suggested. The criminal justice system is so inefficient that the police are encouraged to cut corners when dealing with crime. The famous encounter killings of gangsters in Mumbai is an example. What we really need is a mechanism to police the police. The US has a civilian complaint review board that is empowered to receive, investigate, hear, make findings and recommend action on complaints against police officers. We could think of something similar here.
Policing has to involve the very society that it touches. People must feel confident that when they approach the police, every effort will be made to see that justice is done. Sadly, the opposite sentiment is prevalent here.