“Every cow needs to be protected! So perhaps one constable for every 10 cows!!”
In the past couple of years, there has been a significant rise in violent incidents and unrest in the country. The root causes of these vary from left-wing extremism, the violence in Kashmir, the rise of cow-vigilantism and rampant crime in states such as Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, West Bengal, or Maharashtra. Is this growing number of clashes, protest and violence a direct outcome of the failure of the rule of law and those entrusted with enacting it?
In a conversation with Hardnews, Dr. Arvind Verma, an IPS officer of the 1977 batch, and Associate Professor in Criminal Justice at Indiana University Bloomington, talks about the complete disregard of the rule of law in India, the beef ban and the logistics of implementation and the crisis in Kashmir from the perspective of the police, which is at the center of massive politicisation.
Why are the police failing to maintain the rule of law in India?
Police are only one of the institutions engaged in maintaining the rule of law. The political leadership, civilian bureaucracy, judiciary, media and even the people bear responsibility. There is a general disregard for the rule of law by every section of the country and society and police alone, without support cannot uphold it.
Why do the police succumb to a delinquent political order?
Not all, but some officers do succumb to illegal and partisan political behaviour. Politicisation of the police that started from the early fifties has now made this an established factor of police culture.
Why are they not able to curb left-wing extremism? Is there something unique about these forms of terror that make it difficult to stop or predict them?
Left-wing extremism is prevalent in the central regions of the country that provide many logistical advantages to these extremists. The forested terrain, lack of roads and communications and a captive population that is undoubtedly alienated from the government are important factors behind their rise. The extremists have not been able to operate in any urban well-connected regions because of the same reasons. The police have also been hampered by lack of resources, poor training and diffused leadership coming from state and central officers.
I think a major reason is the failure to implement basic policing norms in this the region. The police are not only engaged in combating extremism but also enforcing the law, acting against law-breakers and providing various service functions. All these have been relegated to the background in preference to armed assaults on the extremists and their supporters. It has become a vicious cycle- the police need people’s support to combat extremism but this cooperation will only come if police play a role in providing justice, rule of law, due process and legitimacy of governance to the affected people.
Can the Kashmir problem be contained by imaginative policing?
Yes! My argument as described above is applicable to most of the insurgent-affected regions of the world. North-Ireland, Kosovo, Tripura, [even Punjab] and Uttaranchal region where the Sikh insurgency was gaining ground were handled by such imaginative policing.
The question of the problem that cow vigilantes pose, the erosion of policing and its competition with these non-state actors.
Again, the political leadership is responsible for preventing police from acting against such vigilantes and letting the rule of law be broken for ideological objectives. It is a dangerous trend and unless checked will erode the credibility and legitimacy of the government and eventually the norms of democratic functioning.
India's problems of policing must be juxtaposed to a larger crisis of policing worldwide: how can societies police better to combat the rise of terror attacks?
All ideologues attempt to de-legitimise the rule of law and established institutions for this gives them control over dissatisfied sections of the society. Ultimately, every member of the society must feel involved, empowered and with a stake in the community. Perception of equal opportunities and protection of basic rights prevents the slide into alienation and growing grievances. Any democratic government must be of, by and for the people and this provides the strongest means to counter terrorism. Again, it cannot be the responsibility of the police alone. All institutions from schools, universities, industry, the local government must play their role to strengthen the perception of belonging and reducing alienation.
The police at one level finds it difficult to combat vigilantes and at the other, it is readily used to fire upon the farmers, can you explain this dichotomy
Vigilantes are supported by political actors while the farmers challenge their authority. Police are but a pawn in this game of power. But this has reached a dangerous level in the country where public servants, including the police, have begun to ‘anticipate’ what the politicians want and to act accordingly. Groups acting in the name of religion have acquired an aura that politicians are not willing to combat. Once they started to talk about the injustice being meted out to Hindus then they cannot now tame the cow genie which is going out of their hands. Police officers understand this and will not take action unless the political leadership speaks out, discards these groups and clamp down upon the religious card. Farmers indulging in violence clearly did not have this political support where they were beyond police action. However, appeasement politics has started and it is now expected that any group that can hold the government to ransom can get away with violence.
The police have been ineffective as a means of curbing communal or caste based riots in this country.
Not correct! There are more than 60 thousand riots recorded every year and of which the failures [where police are unable to protect] are only a few examples. But these are all ones where the political hand is clearly visible in preventing police action. Wherever and whenever the police leadership has acted independently [even in Gujarat] the riots were contained and action taken against the perpetrators.
What is the level of policing required to implement something like the Beef ban?
Every cow needs to be protected! So perhaps one constable for every 10 cows!! Laws that do not have widespread public support are almost impossible to implement. Liquor consumption; demanding and accepting dowry; caste and gender discrimination; encroachment of public land; exploitation of labour and so on are ones prohibited in law but impossible for police to enforce. This is seriously affecting the economy and millions of people including Hindus. I believe that once the present government has extracted political dividend it will let the underground economy in beef prevail.