Tuesday, 1 January 2013

A Crying Need For Police Reform – A Few Suggestions

The recent incident in Delhi of a gruesome rape leading to murder of a young 23 year old girl has once again highlighted the urgent need to revamp and reform India’s police forces. The Indian Police was set up by the British on the lines of the Royal Irish Constabulary, a semi-military force meant to suppress the local population at the behest of the colonial masters. It’s time the police forces are re-structured.

The problem

India’s police constables and havildars, the public face of the police force, are corrupt. The Sub-Inspectors and Circle Inspectors to whom they report are also corrupt. There are a number of IPS officers, India’s smartest and brightest, who are intelligent and civil and honest, but when was the last time a citizen walked into a police station and was met by an IPS officer? When I say the low-ranking policemen are corrupt, I don’t just mean they are lazy or unmotivated or indifferent. They are all that, but I mean corrupt as in bribe-taking corrupt. Most policemen take bribes and the pickings are usually far in excess of their salaries. Bribes are taken for not enforcing the law or for letting someone off the hook or not torturing a suspect or to do their jobs. Since most policemen are busy augmenting their incomes, they do not have the time or will to serve the public. Also, any attempt to change the status quo is met with a lot of resistance since change has a negative impact on the policeman’s wallet.

On top of such bribe taking, most low ranking policemen espouse values that do not belong to the 21st century. They do not think it is a good idea for teenagers to date or party or for adults to display their affections in public. They think it’s wrong for women to wear western outfits, but see nothing wrong in a Bollywood dance with its interesting gyrations.

Possible Solutions

Here are a few suggestions for reforming India’s police forces.

1. Currently anyone with a higher secondary school certificate can apply to be a police constable. Let’s make it mandatory for an individual to have a college degree before joining the police.

2. Encourage immigrants to join the police. Even in cities like Mumbai and Delhi which have large numbers of immigrants from other parts of India, very few immigrants (or their children) enter the police in the lower ranks. A concerted effort has to be made to induct Indians from other parts of India to join various state forces. A more cosmopolitan force will be more humane.

3. Create a civilian component in the police force. A number of functions currently being carried out by policemen can be done by civilians. One of the most important police functions is the recording of FIRs. Everyone knows how difficult and painful it is to go to a police station and record an FIR. Currently, FIRs are taken down by constables in an indecipherable handwriting, usually in the local language and recorded in a well-thumbed register. This has to change. We need to set up FIR recording centres, which are not controlled or run by policemen, where civilians can take down reports of offences and pass them to the relevant police stations. It should also be possible to report an offence by phone. Every state should have an central FIR station, modelled on the lines of a call centre, where hundreds of civilian employees take down details of complaints over the phone and process them. At least 50% of those civilians should be women.

4. Every FIR must go into a central database and should be in English as well as the regional language. Civilian employees should monitor the progress of the investigation from a central control room. If no progress is made within a reasonable time, the responsible police station should receive a rocket.

5. Time-sheets for policemen. Every policeman at the end of his shift should enter a timesheet setting out his activities for the day. How did he spend his working hours? Was he helping the public or swatting flies or shaking down traffic offenders for a few hundreds?

6. Policing is a process. Break it up. From noting down an FIR to investigating an offence to charging an accused of an offence to producing him or her in court, everything is a process, which can be broken up and delegated. A number of these functions can be performed by the civilian component. For example, the time sheet filled in by constables should be handed over to a civilian employee for data entry every day. Armed/trained police should mainly be involved in patrolling, investigation and controlling mobs.

7. Setting priorities for the police. It’s easier to go for soft targets, like rounding up teenagers holding hands, than to fight organised crime. Priorities for the police must not be decided by the police. Rather, it must be decided by the Home Ministry and publicised. If police conduct a number of raids on late night parties but do not arrest the dadas who collect hafta from street hawkers, someone must have a fair amount of explaining to do.

8. Should the police force in each town or district report to locally elected representatives such as corporators or municipal councillors? This may work, but we need to consider that many local politicians are quite corrupt and they could get into cahoots with the policemen who report to them. Should we create a post of Police Sheriff and hold elections for this post? Communities will get the sort of policing they want. This could however result in a perpetuation of local values. Khap panchayats might rule! A better alternative would be to merely provide for greater transparency in the workings of the police. We could publicise details of crimes reported to the police, action taken by the police and the end result on a public database.


windwheel said...

The Indian Police Service was re-organized after Independence. However, rather than becoming more democratic and accountable, India's elected leaders greatly expanded its Intelligence gathering and Para-Military functions. Furthermore, the tendency to elevate the I.P.S to a level of equality or even superiority to the 'Civilian' I.A.S increased in many States since 1970. By the mid 80's, it was routine for C.M's to use the Police to bug the conversations of Opposition leaders. Thus, the argument that everything is the fault of the British fails to hold water.
Your proposals are interesting but are they a step in the right direction?
1) Graduate policemen- at present at least some cops are fit enough to chase crooks. Graduate Babu policemen won't even do that much. To earn back the cost of their University education (which would be worthless in any case) they will simply increase 'hafta' collection.
2) 'Immigrant policemen'- yes, yes the great Dawood Ibrahim was the son of one such, a Konkani Muslim- that worked out extremely well. In London, the senior most 'Asian' policeman has been convicted of extorting money from his own community. 'Immigrant' or 'minority' policemen are likely to work with immigrant or minority criminal gangs. This poses a greater risk because these people can use Terrorism at the behest of foreign Agencies.
3) India has a huge problem of bogus f.i.rs causing career criminals to take anticipatory bail or even arrange to be locked up on a false charge when they plan a murder or dacoity.
The problem with the getting transparency and accountability in this area is that there is such a high signal to noise ratio. 'Civil Society' activists add to the problem by constantly putting forward bogus atrocity stories.
Rajendra Prasad wrote a book about the Champaran struggle in which, with sly humour, he took note of the fact that if all the claimed atrocities- rape, beating, ritual humiliation, etc- had actually occurred then the landlord's would have had to employ millions of goons- an uneconomic proposition.
Suppose the bestial perpetrators of the recent outrage had belonged to a noveau riche landed caste or else had political backing through their trade or student's union. Then, their lawyers/Godfathers would have played up some different angle- rape was actually committed by drunken police=men and 'our boys' tried to intervene and were caught. Some weeping old ladies would have been paraded for the T.V cameras. Some bandh or rasta rokho for the 'martyrs' in custody would have been arranged.

Is there a way forward? Of course there is. Reform the Criminal Justice system. But this begs the question, why didn't the lawyers who led the Independence struggle do the one thing they knew about when they came to power? The answer is that it was an open secret that the police used professional false witnesses- i.e. the Criminal Justice was British in appearance only. It was highly manipulable.
India, like Singapore got rid of the Jury system, post Independence, but whereas Singapore was prepared to drop the pretense of 'Human Rights', Indian politicians aren't prepared to grasp that nettle.
It may be that some sort of 'wikipedia' type voluntary cloud sourced solution exists whereby the sort of database you mention is created by the people, for the people.
The Servants of India Soc originally started up as precisely this sort of 'Knowledge based' countervailing power. However, fame-hungry Gandhi and his self-aggrandizing acolytes put paid to that. Why collect facts when spinning cotton and telling lies took less effort?
Speaking of the charka- I must now get back to my blog. Only by blogging can we save Bharatvarsha from the evil forces of Capitalism, Globalization, Consumerism and Commoditification of not just female sex but even sexy middle aged men like P.Chidambaram.

Anonymous said...

Something needs to be done. So far crowds have been unarmed, but how long before that starts changing?

Winnowed said...


Graduates can run and chase crooks. Look at army officers - they do their jobs.

Minority and immigrants doesn't mean just Muslims. In Mumbai, it would mean more South Indians, Gujaratis and UPites in the police force. And Muslims too. Why not? Dawood Ibrahim's dad was a good cop.

windwheel said...

Graduates can run and chase crooks- true. But that isn't what they are taught to do at University, is it? A better educated cop is not a less corrupt cop but one better able to disguise his transgressions or defeat investigation by a legalistic appeal to the rule book.
Another point is that, on many Indian campuses, Student Unions are both highly politicized and criminalized. The notion that a stint at University raises rather than lowers the moral character may well have been true at some remote period of Indian history- perhaps the age of Nalanda and Vikramshila- but it is not one that people of my generation recognize as having any truth value. A career in the Armed forces was preferred by many middle class families precisely because their sons could enter the Cadet training program straight from School- thus shielded from the demoralizing anarchy of the University campus.
The fact remains, so long as the Police force is corrupt, i.e. exhibits 'rent seeking'- raising the cost of entry only raises the amount extorted. Kotwalis where the premium payable to become an S.H.O is high, also have higher hafta rates and more not less criminalization and a greater not a lesser nexus between politicized Mafia dons and corrupt policemen. Add in Prohibition and the operation of 'Land sharks' arising out of irrational restrictions on the free operation of the property market and you get the sort of situation which condemned Ahmedabad to 'a perfect storm' of brazen illegality such as was witnessed during the post Godhra riots.
In any case, given that weaker and more vulnerable communities have less access to Higher Education and face more, not less, difficulty in gaining academic qualifications because of Institutional bias in Education, the move to Graduate only entry is scarcely compatible with the goal of increasing minority participation.
I have no doubt that Dawood Ibrahim's dad was 'a good cop'- that's what's frightening. There's a novel by Shoba De where the heroine is stalked by a crazy lesbian belonging to the Iyengar (Tamil Brahmin) community. Her dad is the I.G of police. Thus she is able to terrorize the poor heroine with impunity.
Clearly, her dad- presumably a University graduate- wasn't just a 'good cop' but a great cop and the daughter learnt from her father that one can get away with any crime. You may remember the Priyadarshini Mattoo case. Her slayer was a senior Police Officer's son.
In the case of Punjab during the 1990's, according to the Anthropologist Joyce Pettigrew (http://www.amazon.com/Sikhs-Punjab-Guerilla-Violence-Contemporary/dp/1856493563) factions within the Police were responsible for some of the worst violence. One 'Alam Sena' organized by a Muslim officer was particularly dreaded. He was bumped off by Jat policemen belonging to some other faction.
My point is that if the Police are being used for an essentially criminal purpose- e.g. to subvert democracy, to extort money, to conduct extra-judicial killings- then neither a Graduate degree, nor more 'sensitization', nor greater diversity in recruitment is going to solve the problem- on the contrary it will worsen it because such measures tend to reduce the countervailing power of Civil Society. Suppose all police officers belong to a particular community. Then their misdeeds will affect the standing of that community and so the community leaders will have an incentive to get the police to behave better. Similarly, so long as the Police Officer was less educated than the Magistrate (as was the case under the British) then they can't weasel their way out of things quite so easily by deploying the usual tricks of the 'Babu' class.
Let us look at the case of a Brahmin police officer who had his lover killed. He was highly educated. On being charged he immediately played the 'minority' card. Oh, we poor Brahmins are being persecuted by the wealthy Mahajans (the Minister was a Mahajans- sab unhi ki saazish hai, boo hoo.

windwheel said...

I appreciate the frustration you must feel and I share your anger at the incredibly insensitive comments made by certain officers- mind you, well educated ones from the IPS elite.
We both know there are good officers.Vibhuti Narain Rai, an IPS officer, did path-breaking work on riots and also published a book in Hindi- this did a lot to undo the Hindu misapprehension that Muslims tended to do better than Hindus (i.e killed more people) during riots.
But now we have this idiot Owaisi's speech on You Tube- all that good work will have gone for nothing. Why? The police failed to arrest the politician. Probably the real story is that Owaisi is trying to increase his powerbase to take on the (Muslim) gangster who almost killed him a couple of years ago. Police, no doubt, have been bribed by all parties to look the other way. What difference would it make if all the Police officers in that district were Buddhist females from Arunachal with PhD's in Subaltern Studies?
Unless there are incentives/penalties for Police officers to do the right thing, even a maverick officer with Dabbanng type martial arts skills will lack credibility.
My generation of Delhites had some foolish belief that once Kiran Bedi was put in charge, our horrendous culture of 'eve-teasing' would disappear. In Delhi, the IPS have more power than the IAS. Bedi was also a Media heroine. But did things improve? No they worsened.

windwheel said...

The fact is, one reason for the criminalization of politics from the Seventies onwards was that gangster politicians have a countervailing power over the Police which voters appreciated.
Civil Society Activists- R.T.I and P.I.L wallahs- are going down the same path of criminal conduct and reckless disregard for the truth now that power appears to be in their grasp.
This compounds rather than cures the problem.