So it’s happened again. Another woman was assaulted by cops who, as exemplified by the iconic Delhi Police
, are determined to be with you, for you, always, no matter how hard you try to avoid them. According to media reports
, this time
it’s a young girl whose crime was to be found drinking with a male friend inside a car. So the Sahibabad
police, which, like all supposedly overworked and understaffed police forces in India loves to do overtime as moral police, detained the hardened criminals and repeatedly slapped the woman around for good measure.
The police’s justification for picking them up was that they were in a compromising state. And their justification for assaulting the girl, a resident of Jafrabad in north-east Delhi
, was that she was drunk and abusive. Given these two factors, they had logically concluded that she was a sex worker. And sex workers, as we all know, deserve to be beaten up on sight.
This episode comes in the wake of a number of other such recent incidents: on 18 April, a girl protesting the rape of a five-year-old was slapped four times by an assistant commissioner of the Delhi Police and the whole incident was caught on camera; also in April, a 65-year-old grandmother protesting against police inaction in the case of her granddaughter’s rape was thrashed by cops in Aligarh; on 3 March, a 19-year-old Dalit girl was beaten up by cops in Tarn Taran when she went to them with a sexual harassment complaint; also in March, protesting female school teachers were brutally lathi-charged by the Patna police. The list goes on and on.
Last month, the Supreme Court came down severely
on the police’s excesses. “Even an animal won’t do what the police officers are doing every day in different parts of the country,” noted a disgusted apex court. Calling such behaviour “an insult to the country”, it went on to ask the Uttar Pradesh government
“Is your government left without shame?” On available evidence, the answer would be “yes”, for the Sahibabad police station does fall under the purview of the Uttar Pradesh government.
So, how do we humanize the animals in uniform such that they inspire respect and trust in the average citizen rather than fear and loathing? We all know the answer to this one: Police reforms, of course! And we’ve known this since when exactly?
A comprehensive review of the Indian police system noted that “the police force throughout the country is in a most unsatisfactory condition, that abuses are common everywhere, that this involves great injury to the people and discredit to the government, and that radical reforms are urgently necessary”. These lines are from the report prepared by the Indian Police
Commission of 1902-03. Oh well, we can’t expect things to change overnight, can we? It’s been only 110 years.
And so our cops continue to brutalize those they are meant to protect—the weak, the vulnerable, women, minorities, tribals, homosexuals and the poor.
In its landmark 2006 ruling in the Prakash Singh case, the apex court had directed the setting up of three state-level institutions to make the police accountable to the citizenry rather than the party in power: a State Security Commission
down policies and monitor performance, a Police Establishment Board to insulate postings and transfers from political interference, and a Police Complaints Authority
at the district and state level where any citizen can lodge a complaint if a cop misbehaves. Apart from these, the Union government was supposed to come up with a Model Police Act that would serve as a template for state governments across the country.
But you guessed it: while a few states have partially (and grudgingly) complied with the court directives, most have not, and the Model Police Bill is gathering dust in a forgotten corner of North Block.
Committee after committee—Gore Committee on Police Training
(1971-73), Ribeiro Committee on Police Reforms (1998), Padmanabhaiah Committee on Police Reforms (2000), Group of Ministers on National Security (2000-01), Malimath Committee on Reforms of Criminal Justice
System (2001-03), to name a few—has done all the research needed to be done and we know everything that we need to know about how to fix the rot in our policing system. The question is: Will we ever do it? Does anybody think India will implement police reforms by May 2113?
In a paper published in 1979, the Bureau of Police Research and Development warned of the “inherent danger of making the police a tool for subverting the process of law, promoting the growth of authoritarianism, and shaking the very foundations of democracy.” We crossed this point some 1,000km ago, in my opinion. So, good luck to our democracy.
In the meantime, young girls will continue to be slapped around by cops, moral policing will continue to trump civilized policing, and we will continue to editorialize about police excesses, calling for—what else—police reforms.