22 March, 2013

The politicization of the Indian Police Force

(Image courtesy : manjul.com via Google)

There was a lot of brouhaha recently about a policeman being beaten up by a bunch of MLAs in Vidhan Sabha.  People expressed shock, they expressed their distress over the incident and the social networking sites were pretty much peppered with status updates which indicated the outrage that the general population felt over this incident.
Aside of what just happened, this incident has been on my mind over the past couple of days.  One question that repeatedly kept popping up in my mind was “Given the history of governance in our country,  given what our country is increasingly becoming,  why does this incident surprise people so much ?”.  Give it a thought.   Have not the politicians always considered the police force their personal servants and lackeys ?   This is yet another perfect example of a servant being punished by his master for what the master thought the servant had done wrong.  This incident was a more open one, it was blatant, it was unconcealed and flagrant.  It was wrong.  It was definitely wrong.  But was it surprising that this happened ?  Another question that many people kept asking (just as I kept asking myself) was “Why did the other policemen not rush to protect one of their own ?” Yet again, the answer is pretty much the same, isn’t it ?
Policing and politics are more closely related than we’ve bothered to understand.  They do kind of go hand in hand with each other.  Admittedly, in any given democracy, the ultimate responsibility of the public’s safety lies with the Home Ministry.  The police force is the liaison that actually implements the laws set out by the Home Ministry, at the street level.  As such, it becomes the combined responsibility of the ministers concerned and the police force to ensure, together, the safety of the citizens of the country.  For this to happen, there needs to be a sense of balance – balance in terms of responsibilities and balance in terms of accountability.  Somewhere along the way, the whole picture has got distorted beyond measure.
Politicians in India have increasingly considered and are considering the police force their personal servants or lackeys.  If the responsibilities of a police officer were to be graded today, simply listening to and doing as a politician asks a policeman to do, would be on top of the list of priorities.  Sadly enough, the list of responsibilities of a policeman starts and ends there.  Herein lies the issue.  Imagine a situation wherein the policeman refuses to acquiesce to the demands or orders of the politicians.  What do the politicians do ?  The policemen or women in question are either threatened into submission and if that does not work, there’s always a very convenient tool called transfer.  Either way, the message that goes out loud and clear is this “You are expected to do what I ask you to.  No questions asked”.      
I remember an incident a couple of years back when Mayawati wanted a special police force created to safeguard statues of herself and her cronies.  This, when crime is becoming increasingly rampant in the country and the police force increasingly ineffective. 
In our country, this is precisely what is happening – just about everywhere, I guess, given the fact that crime is rampant and more importantly the fact that politicians and their brood are never held responsible for their crimes.  The police force has increasingly been “politicized” and the political system has “eroded” policing.  They are no long two entities with respect for each other.  They are two entities – one dominant and the other that is expected to be submissive. 
It is a known fact that in any given society, the police force wields a wide range of powers and if sufficient checks or controls are not laid out or enforced when they need to be, there exists a genuine danger of misuse of power.  But ever more dangerous is that fact that the ability to control the police force starts being misused.  This then becomes a very handy tool to serve certain sections of the society – the rich and the powerful.   It then becomes a very limited and bigoted tool.  Other members of the society who, by law, are entitled to protection by the police force, become completely sidelined.  The police force pretty much exists to take care of the rich and the powerful and herein gets cemented the relationship of a servant and the master. 
Small wonder then that when API Sachin Suryavanshi stopped an MLAs car for over speeding, it was considered that be had broken a cardinal rule that exists and pervades the Indian society and government today – that of a servant questioning his master and actually having the cheek to pull his master up. 
The brutality that the common man in the Indian society faces has never been clearer.  A handful minority that is rich and powerful has turned India into pretty much a lawless, feudal society – one in which this minority section of the rich and famous have increasingly started viewing the police force as their own private army.
Satyameva Jayate ?  Indeed !!!

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