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The other mob

The violence during the reservation clashes in Rajasthan and elsewhere once again casts a shadow over the role of the police and paramilitary forces in such crises.

india Updated: Jun 07, 2007 02:33 IST

The violence during the reservation clashes in Rajasthan and elsewhere once again casts a shadow over the role of the police and paramilitary forces in such crises. On the one hand, the police seem to have resorted to firing at a dozen places, killing and injuring several protestors. On the other hand, there are disturbing reports of policemen being lynched by angry mobs, as happened to Dungar Singh Shekhawat of the Rajasthan Armed Constabulary and Babu Lal of Barmer District Police. The two constables armed with lathis were reportedly posted on ‘crowd control duty’ with dubious orders from superiors “to just keep a watch” when they were overpowered by thousands of advancing protestors.

By any stretch of imagination, it is ridiculous to expect a few policemen to control frenzied mobs, as seems to have happened in this case. From all accounts, the state police top brass were caught unawares by the scale of the protests — never mind if the rest of the country saw the storm brewing days in advance — and reacted clumsily. Not enough baton-wielding policemen who could resort to lathi-charging were deployed, and neither were water cannons — crucial to the layered crowd control methods used by police forces across the world. No wonder the Supreme Court has termed these incidents as a ‘national shame’ and pulled up the governments of Delhi, Rajasthan and Haryana for letting the protests spin out of control. These unfortunate incidents underline the need for training our police forces in modern methods of crowd control and management. A large majority of the police force appears to be ignorant of the rules of crowd control, and has no skills or training to deal with such crises. Riot control officials are seldom given modern defensive equipment to minimise injuries. All police manuals underline the principle of graduated and minimum use of force, the idea being to make the use of force follow a predetermined scale of priorities so that progressively stringent action could be taken. Thus a lathi-charge can be used only when other methods like tear-gas shells and water cannons fail.

In any case, had the police been armed with proper data and intelligence, it could have ensured that enough forces were deployed in key areas to deter crowds — however unruly — from turning violent. That, in turn, could have prevented police excesses on the ground.