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Police Brutality in India: Why? What can be Done?

Kaleem Kawaja for BeyondHeadlines

Police brutality towards the powerless segments of population in India has been a fact of life for many decades.  Even before 1947 when India became an independent nation, the zulum (brutality) of police towards the poor and powerless in the population has been a fact of life. Indeed Police has been roughing up as many powerless dalits, tribals, backward caste people, poor upper caste Hindus and Sikhs as Muslims.

Mushrooming of population:

Since 1947 the population has continued to mushroom in India.  One billion people now live in the land mass space in India where about 200 million lived at the dawn of independence.  The many cities, towns and villages are badly overcrowded and congested.  When travelling to India as you land at the airport in any major city, you get a feeling of shock at facing such massive multitudes.

Every possible public space, be it trains or buses or roads or markets or shopping centers or parks or movie-houses or schools & colleges, is choked with endless streams of people.  Since the Indira Gandhi sponsored Family Planning program that she tried to implement in 1974, and that rebounded on her and the Congress party in the 1977 general election, there is no credible family planning plan and the population is growing uncontrolled.

Today for instance the population of Uttar Pradesh state that I belong to, is about 200 million people. In terms of population it is among the ten most populous countries in the whole world.  Similarly the states of Bihar, Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh continue to have huge populations that have grown by about five folds in recent decades.

Police Brutality in India:  Why? What can be Done?

Mushrooming of crime and indiscipline:

Along with this mushrooming of population, the tussle among people for the increasingly limited resources and opportunities has multiplied many folds.  Thus public corruption, stealing or acquiring money by coercion, abusing political influence, religious sentiments etc. have grown many folds.  Along with that the number of criminals and volume of criminal activities in the public space has multiplied hugely.  Another phenomenon that did not exist about thirty years ago is terrorism.

Terrorism is an outgrowth of over-population, scarcity of resources and opportunities, indiscipline in the population, exploitation of the political process and religion, and laxity of government in governing the country on the basis of a set of principles. Today the society in India is many times more chaotic, undisciplined and ridden with crimes than about thirty years ago.

To make such a large, chaotic and anarchic society function, the ruling political elite constantly look towards the police force.  The police force itself has grown many folds in the last thirty years.

For instance in my home state of U.P., where about forty years ago the police force in each major district was headed by a Superintendent of Police (SP), now a couple of Deputy Inspector Generals (DIGs) divide the top police management. For the U.P.  state as a whole, instead of one Inspector General (IG) for the entire state now there are 8 IGs, 18 Deputy Inspector  Generals (DIGs), 4  Assistant Director Generals (DGs) and one Director General – the top police official in the state.

Despite the significant increase in police force and senior police officers, crime, terrorism and mayhem in the public arena have continued to grow and remain uncontrolled.  Unable to control this upsurge of mayhem in society and the inciting to violence by the unprincipled politicians, and unable to solve major crimes like riots and terrorist attacks, the police resorts to high handed measures. Thus police brutality has increased significantly over the last few decades.

Terrorist activities and bad law & order situation:

Look at the upsurge of Naxalite and Maoist terrorism in the states of Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Bengal in the last twenty years.  These movements resulting from government and social injustice to the tribal and dalit populations for decades have now formed regular militias that are well armed and frequently kill large number of policemen, paramilitary forces, government officials and wealthy people.  In Chattisgarh instead of paying attention to the problems of the tribal people, the ruling political party created a rival militia by the name of Salwa Judum to kill the tribal cadres of Maoists.

Well organized police operations and even paramilitary operations in these states have failed to diminish the widespread terrorist activities of these militias.  In the state of Chattisgarh, in 2010 these militias killed about 75 soldiers of the paramilitary force in an ambush, and just last week they killed about 20 senior politicians in another ambush. The government policies in handling the grievances and subsequent militancy of the tribal people has failed completely in these states with significant tribal populations.

Even in India’s major metropolitan cities like New Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, law and order situation is tentative at best.  Even in these major cities incidences of molestation  of women, rapes, crimes against women have mushroomed and the police is unable to bring them under control.  Frequent terrorist activities like bomb blasts in public places, religious congregations, religious shrines, major public events occur with regularity.  In very few instances culprits responsible for these activities are nabbed.

Police frustration feeds Police brutality:

The senior politicians and major political parties have become very unprincipled in governing the country and the states and cities.  They exploit divisions of religion, caste and ethnicity of the people and exploit the democratic polity of the nation to gain power.  Once in power they practice corruption, injustice, cronyism to favour a few at the expense of many and implement contradictory policies.  When big chaotic problems occur, instead of introspecting their governance and resolving their contradictory policies they pass the blame to the bureaucracy, government officials and their political rivals.

In the end the ruling politicians as well as the society at large is looking at the police force and senior police officers to bring the chaos under control and return the society to the lawful lifestyle that existed fifty years ago.  But as explained above the many variables and contradictions that have grown in the government and political process and the society over the years, are thwarting the efforts of the police force, which is a very frustrated cadre of government today.  Unable to solve crimes, unable to control the increase in crimes and unable to control the upsurge of mayhem and terrorism in society, the police force resorts to brutality and high handedness at various levels. Thus it appears that in the midst of contradictions and failures to govern, and inability to handle the pressures of the top political bosses,  police brutality has become a governing style.

If people from the minority religious communities, who think that police brutality is the result of communalism of the majority community, look at the broad picture of police brutality, they will find that while police force is not free of communal feelings, when it comes to brutality, police often distribute it across the board to all powerless segments of society.

What can be done:

Obviously police brutality in handling law and order breakdown situations is a most harmful phenomenon that will seriously harm the nation and will not be able to restore a law abiding society.  The solution of the problem lies not in just laying the entire blame at the feet of the police force and senior police officers.  Instead the first reform should be in the top political governance class who must be made to eschew highly opportunistic, contradictory and exploitative practices, politics and policies.  Only then the ruling politicians will be able to hold the feet of the police force to fire to eliminate brutality in solving crimes and law & order breakdown situations. I unequivocally condemn police brutality and injustice in controlling the law & order problems, but at the same time I believe that unless all rogue practices of all segments of government and polity are reformed and the total picture is corrected, the law & order situation is not likely to improve.

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