For those of us who got to see the movie Pipli Live, Badaun district and the village where two girls were gangraped by men from an ‘upper caste’ may seem like a real-life replay. If a movie is scripted on, it may well be called ‘UP Ablaze’.
India has over 6.38 lakh villages, and Uttar Pradesh alone accounts for 1.07 lakh. In fact, nearly two-third of India still lives in its villages. But when did we last hear a serious debate on rural management and its most critical component, policing, other than talking about panchayati raj?
This is why the poor continue to suffer. And women suffer the most, as they do not even have secure toilets. This is the state of affairs even after 65 years of India’s independence, while on the other end we have witnessed scams of crores and still have over Rs. 500 billion as black money stashed in foreign banks.
As it is a state subject of legislation, each state is responsible for its own policing, including rural policing. Barring a few states, rural policing is highly deficient and most ill-equipped.
Let’s look at the Badaun case under reference, where the two sisters were gangraped and then hanged by a tree. The rapists were reportedly aided by cops stationed in the village, that is, just one head constable and a constable. There was no system of recording events and reports. The cops were just present there, with no resources, no commitment and no clear message. They were obviously siding with the landlords and upper castes for their own sustenance, as is true widely in such leftbehind areas.
How should India police its villages other than the Naxal-affected ones? Here are some basic ideas for consideration.
INVOLVE THE YOUTH OF THE VILLAGE AS ‘RURAL CADET POLICE’
All able-bodied youth, girls and boys aged 18 and above, be given training in civil defence, and given security duties rotationally, according to the need. Requirement assessment can be done by the local police. All these students doing duties could be part of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGs) or the security apparatus of home guards and civil defence. This way, they can earn an honorarium too. This investment is a win-win situation. It will groom grassroots leadership, and also create a rural leadership for the future, unlike today.
This set-up can be part of the job profile of the district administration, which includes the district magistrate, superintendent of police, education officer and other panchayat officials. Teachers could also be involved besides retired personnel. Link these people to the ‘watch and ward team’ for aid and advice.
GRAM NYAYALAYAS (VILLAGE COURTS) FOR GRASSROOTS JUSTICE
This is on the basis of law commission recommendation for fast-track justice of rural matters, civil or criminal. Rural people going to district headquarters far away costs them time and money.
Set up district groups of elected representatives of zila parishads, and get them to do ‘town halls’ (public meetings) to hear and analyse the situation. Issues can be socio-economic, about education, employment, amenities, crime, sanitation and health. It provides transparency and accountability to the system.
These are just a few ideas to begin with. Once you have the youth involved and a system that has proper interface, prevention and early detection begins.
Let me share an experience of my early days in policing in West Delhi. Besides urban areas, it then had 116 villages which were prone to crime at night by former ‘criminal’ tribes. These criminals would come during moonless nights, rape women and steal whatever they could and escape by a train. We barely had policemen to keep a check.
I called a meeting of all pradhans of the villages, and told them that I was willing to give all I had, but I needed their young men to join us in night patrolling. They agreed. I along with a few cops remained on night patrol five nights a week. The youth were armed with sticks, torches and whistles; and took turns. We used to fire light pistols from different corners of the area to light up the entire village.
The criminals changed their route. And, after the village patrol system started, there was not even a single crime reported. Villagers heaved a sigh of big relief, as did the police.
Where there are trust and willingness, solutions come. Nothing is beyond repair.
The country needs a rural policing plan right from the village level to the district level to the state, and finally a national plan. By doing this, we can take our villages towards larger security and growth.
Most of all, we can then protect the vulnerable sections of society, including women, children and the poor. We have the resources, but we only need to systemise and synergise, and have to be sensitive.
(Writer is a former Indian Police Service officer, now a civil society activist ; views are personal)