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.
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.
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.