Tuesday, June 04, 2013

The Enduring Shame of Khaki

Why Indian cops are the most brutal and brutalised lot in this so called feudal democracy.

Most of us have our favourite cop stories, ranging from the gruesome to the bizarre. Here goes my favourite cop story: back in the 1990s, my parents were staying in a town in one of the BIMARU states. They went back home after a few weeks of holidaying in Delhi and found the house ransacked by thieves. Virtually everything that could be carted away was taken, including the LPG cylinder and the stove. They went hesitantly to the local police station where the cop in charge was actually very polite with them but made it clear that my parents should forget about the whole thing. Typical of many Indians, they decided to fall back upon `connections'. They called up one of my cousin uncles who is a very senior cop. In less than 24 hours, the station house officer (SHO) paid a visit to our house and promised action in double quick time. He also sheepishly suggested that if my parents had disclosed their ‘connections’, he would have been spared a dressing down from his boss. In another 12 hours, the thieves were arrested and virtually all stolen items, including cassette tapes, recovered. My parents were astonished at the speed and efficiency with which the cops acted.

That tale just about sums up the state of Indian police and the nature of cops in this country. In many ways, they are a perverted version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Which face you get to see depends on ‘who’ you are. If you are an unknown girl in Punjab who goes to the cops to complains about harassment and lewd remarks, and if you don't ‘know’ anyone, chances are that the cops will beat you up instead of taking action against offenders. If you are the poor mother of a six -year-old girl in Aligarh who has been raped and killed, you will be thrashed brutally and in full public view if you have the effrontery of demanding justice. If your five-year-old daughter in a poor locality of Delhi goes missing, the cops will refuse to register an FIR despite the new anti rape law. Worse, after the girl has been discovered raped and brutalized, the cops will offer you Rs 2,000 to keep your mouth shut. And of course, if you are a member of the ruling class, you don't even have to pay a visit to the police station. The cops will come to you and pull out all stops and use the entire might of the state machinery to help you. No amount of breast beating and debating the desperate need for police reforms (see related story) will hide this ugly reality of Indian cops. Kiran Bedi can go on and on in television studios about the need to sensitize the men in uniform. And yet, an ACP rank officer of Delhi Police named Ahlawat nonchalantly slaps a 17 -year-old girl activist in full glare of TV cameras as if he is cuddling her.

What are the adjectives that instantly come to mind when you think about Indian cops? Overbearing, brutal, callous, insensitive, rude, corrupt and inhuman are just some of the more common adjectives that spring to mind when we think of cops. Sociologists and  pop psychologists will have us believe that the Indian cops come from within the society and that their often bestial behaviour reflects poorly on our society and the values that we project as a whole. The logic is: what can you expect from a cop who has been brought up as a child believing that Muslims are terrorists? Similarly, if caste discrimination is deep rooted and widespread across all sections of society, how can you expect a cop to treat a poor Dalit in a more humane manner? As sociology and psychology goes, that is all very fine. But justifying the absolutely rotten behaviour of the cops by blaming social ills will spell the death knell of Indian democracy. No nation can survive without the rule of law. And it may sound pedagogical and trite, but if those given the responsibility to uphold and protect the role of law brazenly flout it, we will breed anarchy at all levels. And it is systems and institutions that make the crucial difference. There are many friends from villages (see related story) who grow up and move along different career paths. One joins the army while the other, from an identical social and economic background becomes a cop. Just see the difference in the behaviour and nature of the two and just see how society treats the two in completely different ways. The army guy gets our respect while his friend the cop commands fear and contempt.

The tragedy is: there are thousands of cops who are brave and honest and who do a superb job of policing. Just look at the police constable Omble who sacrificed his life so that Ajbal Kasab could be caught alive during 26/11. There are numerous such unsung heroes and heroines in Indian police who perform their duties to the best of their abilities. But so rotten is the system that the media and the society gets a dozen examples of inhuman police behaviour for every one example of exemplary devotion to duty.

Once again: it may sound trite. But the only solution to this is accountability and absence of political interference. If Dr Manmohan Singh is indeed serious about the whole issue, the least he can do is intimate steps that will result in the summary sacking of ACP Ahlawat and the arrest of policemen who first refused to file an FIR and then tried to bribe the family members of the 5-year-old rape victim.

Source : IIPM Editorial, 2013.
An Initiative of IIPM, Malay Chaudhuri
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