Rejuvenating the Police Force

Hardnews Bureau

The discourse on police reforms has picked up momentum in the past few years and has put the spotlight on a host of problems that plague the Indian police force, ranging from inadequate salaries to long working hours and the rampant corruption. While speaking to Hardnews, Dr. Beatrice Jauregui, an assistant professor at the Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies at the University of Toronto, delves deep into the problem and advocates recruiting policemen at the same rank to solve the crisis 

In UP, caste-based parties interpret police reform as packing the force with people belonging to their castes. What are its implications and how can this style of recruitment be checked institutionally?

The implications of biased recruitment of members of a particular social group to the police or, as a matter of fact, to any wing of the government are that there will not be a “fair and equal treatment before the law” of most or any members of the public who call on it for assistance. While some people are likely to receive favourable treatment, others may be neglected or even actively harassed. But this sort of recruitment and “packing of the force” is not unique to a single political party. 

It is very difficult to institutionally curb this practice because it has transitioned into becoming customary, in line with the broader forms of political manoeuvring and strategies to gain or hold on to the power to govern.

Why have successive governments been reluctant in introducing the recommendations of the Police Reforms Commissions?

Whoever happens to be ‘in charge’ generally conceives the police as their primary form of “muscle.” The institution becomes necessary to get certain things done. As many police themselves will say, including top leaders, the “political masters of the moment” want to keep the police “under their thumb” so that they can order them to act in ways that will promote their interests. There is little incentive to change things, and the law, as it stands, is generally on the side of said “political masters.” Also, most of the reforms recommended by the national and state police commissions do not have any force behind them, and even the directives from the 2006 Supreme Court decision run up against constitutional provisions that protect “public order” as a power of the state government in which the Centre may not interfere except in cases of extreme emergency.

What is the impact of majoritarian politics on policing?

As indicated in my responses to the previous two questions, majoritarianism is not necessarily the main problem with policing in much of UP (and is also a vague and diffusely applied term, like “political interference” in the bureaucracy which is often not very helpful in explaining a particular event or broader social problem). The problem is too messy and depends on which definition of majoritarianism is in use. Presumably, this refers to the discriminatory treatment meted out to social minorities like historically “lower” caste and, especially, Muslims who still generally fare worse than “general caste” Hindus. But the political history of UP, especially over the past quarter of a century since the rise of the SP and BSP, also upsets much common wisdom about communal conflict and majoritarianism in India.

What has been the impact of the fight against terror on police and how is it changing traditional policing?

Like everything else, this varies contextually. But in relation to the preceding question, insinuations of fighting terrorism may be euphemisms for discriminatory treatment of Muslims. This is not to diminish the real threats that are out there. However, how many police officers and political leaders are talking about things like Gau Raksha in terms of terrorism?

We get reports of severe paucity of funds at the operational level and it is seen as a major reason for the force being manipulated by big money and political influence. What is the gap in funding?

Most of the "political influence" in policing that I've observed relates either to local patronage networks and power plays that the police in a particular jurisdiction feel they must manage or try to manipulate themselves to realise an immediate gain; or it largely has to do with police officers vying for particular postings and trying to be transferred into or out of certain key positions to maximise whatever an individual conceives as his personal and professional goals.

As far as operational funds are concerned, police organisations are not especially transparent or forthcoming about budgets, except in a very superficial, “official" manner while reporting to Central bodies or maybe a citizen oversight group around which there is momentary public attention. From many years of on-the-ground observation, I can affirm that the average police station is severely under-resourced and even the seemingly most well-intentioned police officers find it difficult, if not impossible, to do their duty much of the time. In order to get their work done—whatever “interest” or “motivation” may be behind it—police generally have to rely on people outside the organisation to make any significant progress, both for material resources and for less tangible things like social influence (pahunch). Many officers argue that part of the state government’s/politician’s “scheme” to keep the police “under their thumb” means keeping them poor. One officer said of himself and his ilk: “Beggars can't be choosers.” Another used the metaphor of starving the hunting dog to describe the treatment meted out to the police by the state government, noting that when food is kept from the dog, it learns to obey its master’s orders to attack command so that it may receive the reward of scraps that may eventually be thrown its way. With only a few exceptions, the police are not the crorepatis here.

What is at the heart of police reform? What is that one thing in your reckoning that needs to be done to change Indian Police? 

It is difficult to identify one thing. But if we’re talking strictly about the police organisation itself (which, of course, cannot actually be divorced from the socio-cultural and political context in which it operates, but let's pretend for a moment that it can), one change that would have a significant impact would be to recruit all policemen at the same rank, whether constable or sub-inspector or some other designation. I know many of my interlocutors in the IPS and PPS will not like it. Getting rid of the colonial military structure of four recruitment levels and the distinction between rajpatrit and arajpatrit (gazetted and non-gazetted) police could be a huge step forward. Right now, there is class warfare and extreme alienation between gazetted officer classes and the masses lower on the pyramid. This is a key reason why we’re seeing a rise in calls for the formation of police unions, threats of strikes, etc., among constables in many states.