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Tumour in uniform

The Human Rights Watch is correct in pointing out that despite India’s economic growth, its police force remains stuck in time, writes Waquar Ahmed.

india Updated: Aug 11, 2009 23:20 IST

Police brutality is among the most ‘normal’ aspects of Indian society. Open thrashing and blows, especially against socio-economically weak victims are taken for granted with hardly anyone raising an eyebrow. Isn’t it time, as we become socially and economically more progressive and want to be seen as such, that creating a more humane police force becomes a priority?

Police brutality is ‘normalised’ in virtually every space of our lives, particularly the place inhabited by the poor, the lower caste or the religious minority. Some have criticised the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire as being ‘poverty porn’. But few can dispute the police brutality depicted in the movie. So why this apathy? Is it because police brutality does not touch the lives of those in positions of power, the elite?

One might argue that the police force has to witness much violence in society, face danger, whether in the form of armed robbery or a terrorist attack. My complaint is not against a real encounter between those threatening the lives of others and the police. My concern is about the protestor on the streets, exercising his or her rights being brutally beaten up by the police simply because it’s the easiest thing to do. My concern is about the accused, yet to be convicted of his crime, who is beaten up by the police. My concern is about police brutality in lock-ups to extract ‘confessions’. We know that this is illegal, yet we have learnt to accept it as normal.

My concern is about that jhapad — the slap across the face — that a policeman considers his right, especially if the bearer of the face happens to appear poor.

The Human Rights Watch is correct in pointing out that despite India’s economic growth, its police force remains stuck in time. The Indian Police Force was developed by the British Raj to protect its imperialist interests. Those recruited were the product of a deeply feudal and casteist society. Unfortunately, the police force evolved as one that was designed to protect the interest of the powerful and relive feudalism within and through a bureaucratic structure. As India progresses, let us also challenge the remnants of exploitation, feudalism and brutality within our police force.

Waquar Ahmed is a professor at Mount Holyoke College, Massachussetts, US. The views expressed by the author are personal.