Monday, August 1, 2005

Police to meet you

Police to meet you
By Narendra Luther

My choice of the subject for this column is generally by current events. Any thing that stands out during the month preceding the week when I sit down to strike the keyboard of my computer becomes the topic for the next issue. This time there I had a dilemma. Two topics were competing for my attention. One is the deep, larger national malaise represented by the deluge of Mumbai. The other is the conduct of the police which was dramatized by the IG of Ranchi who as of now is absconding. Since last month I wrote about the falling standards of IAS, I selected the police so that the picture of our two premier all -India services is complete. If they are not good enough, nothing else in the administrative machinery of the nation can work.

Security – the primary need

State comes into being to make life possible, so said the great philosopher, Aristotle. Life is made possible on the basis of security – what is generally referred to as law and order. The basic function – indeed the raison dệtre of the State (read Government) is provision of law and order. Every thing else is secondary. No welfare state is possible in the absence of law and order. State has to ensure for its citizens conditions of civilized existence. That is the responsibility of the police – to ensure compliance with basic laws, to keep anti-social elements under control and to control civil unrest. In that, if resort to force becomes necessary, it should observe the doctrine of the use of minimum force.

Only a few glaring instances underline the behaviour of the police generally. The 1984 riots against the Sikhs have been highlighted recently on the release of the Nanavati Commission Report, its discussion in parliament and the attendant demonstrations in the streets. The police failed miserably to protect innocent Sikh families by playing a brazenly partisan role. Indeed the charge is that it connived with the rioters. That is the lowest ebb to which men in uniform charged with the responsibility of providing security to citizens could fall. Its conduct during the Gujarat riots of 2002 was no different and drew nation wide condemnation.

The recent brutal attack on unarmed civilians in Gurgaon was, thanks to the electronic media, seen by the entire nation – indeed the whole world. No doubt the initial provocation was provided by the physical assault by the workers on policemen. But the doctrine of minimum force enjoins controlling the mob, not attacking it mercilessly. It was fortunate that the police were not armed with anything more lethal than lathis. If they had firearms, it would have been another Jallianwala Bagh. They were not at war with the striking workers. Their job was to ensure that the workers exercised their right within legal bounds. But they went after them in full fury to teach them a lesson. The use of excessive force at individual level is quite common and generally goes unreported. Gurgaon highlighted a deeper malady.

The Rs. 35000 - wallah

Analyst blames the lower cadres of the police with lack of education and proper training. There is a system of training in all states but the fault lies with the raw human material that gets recruited. It is common knowledge that the recruits pay heavy amounts for their selection. In a case of misbehaviour with me, an inquiry was conducted against an Assistant Sub Inspector of police posted at a Raj Bhavan. The inquiry officer asked him brusquely, ‘Are you a 25000- wallah or 35000- wallah?’ The delinquent officer replied meekly, ‘35000-wallah, Sir’. The Raj Bhavan officer who was present there asked the inquiry officer to be enlightened about the argot. The latter said, ‘This man has paid Rs. 35000 as bribe for recruitment. That is why he is not so good. That is why he has behaved the way he has. The better types pay only Rs. 25000. A recruit from that category would probably have behaved better.’ That was the end of inquiry. Of course the ASI was pulled up formally. The incident points out the root cause of the malaise. Bribes are paid not only for recruitment but also for posting in what is called ‘fetching areas’ - where one can make money. Ministers allegedly collect money for good posting for their petty officials. What will training do to such persons?

Cases of moral turpitude abound and are reported every other day. A woman going by bus late in the evening is in grave danger of being raped by the guardians of law- or their accomplices. Uniform seems to gives them a special privilege to do wrong.

Some will say naively that the recruitment should not be done by officials but by the Public Service Commissions. Thy should be reminded of the cases of a former chairman of the Punjab Public Service Commission, and of the Maharashtra Public Service Commission who even made it to the Union PSC before being apprehended.

One expects better from the higher cadres, particularly the members of IPS. They do things with greater finesse. Remember the case of the Haryana DIG who went into hiding and came out only when he failed to get an anticipatory bail. He is behind the bars. So is a former officer of UP allegedly involved in the murder of Madhumita, the poetess. The arrest of no less a person than the former Commissioner of Police of Mumbai for his alleged involvement in the Telgi Stamp scam is another instance of disgraceful conduct at the highest level. The most recent case is that of the IG of Ranchi who was looking into the case of misconduct of his deputy. He was accused of raping a woman, which he vehemently denied. When confronted with a strip of a film showing him in a compromising position with that woman, he explained brazenly the difference between rape and consensual sex between adults, which is not culpable!

The sanctity of uniform

Senior officers are the role models of junior officials and the lower cadres. When a person dons a uniform he should be proud that he has taken on some of the divine attributes. He becomes the human version of the tiune Hindu gods – Brahma, the creator, Vishnu the protector, and Siva, the destroyer. He creates goodness, protects the week, and destroys the evildoers. He has to be selected carefully; moral values need to be ingrained in him during training. The uniform should transform him into a superman if not a god. A police station should become a sanctuary for any one in danger or fear. People should feel safe and protected there. It is the threshold that leads people to that temple of justice – the court.

That was the dream when our ancestors fought for swaraj. When we meet a man in uniform, we should not be afraid of him, but be able to say genuinely – if you permit me a pun – ‘Police to meet you’!