As first responders to internal security, police must be professional and honourable
‘Did no one kill those 42 men in Hashimpura?’ screamed a headline on March 23, a day after the local court acquitted all the 16 accused policemen of the 1987 incident for want of evidence. Of course, there were testimonies of the survivors and photographs submitted in the court (taken by a photo-journalist) of several policemen rounding up the men who eventually were found dead. But there was nothing to determine whether it was the same uniformed personnel who killed them. And if they did, on whose orders did they pull the trigger? What were the weapons used?
Despite the horror of the incident, which a retired IPS officer V.N Rai, then posted in the neighbouring district of Ghaziabad (he filed the first information report after the case) has called the biggest instance of custodial killing since Independence, neither the state police nor the political dispensation felt compelled to ensure sincere investigation and speedy delivery of justice. Probably, both were covering up for one another. Whatever may have been the compulsions, the ruling Congress party paid an electoral price. It has never won in Uttar Pradesh since then.
Just about two weeks after the Hashimpura verdict came the news of Andhra Pradesh police killing 20 tribal in the Tirupati Hills forest suspected to be red sandalwood smugglers. The crudity of the whole operation smacked of deliberate killing and not a genuine encounter carried out in self-defence, as claimed. It took just few days for the whole operation to unravel. The supposed smugglers were poor men in search of employment who were picked up from various places and killed by the Andhra Special Task Force (STF). Following intense pressure, including from the Tamil Nadu government (the victims were Tamilian), the Andhra government was forced to register a case of murder against ‘unknown’ STF personnel. How amazing that the STF does not know which of its men were involved in the massacre.
Around the same time, another incident of probably extra-judicial killing was reported from the recently formed Telengana state. The police had killed five suspected terrorists on the way to the court in self-defence. Apparently, the suspects, in a bid to escape, snatched a weapon from one of the accompanying policemen. An SIT enquiry has been ordered by the state government.
And then on April 17, a few personnel of the Jammu and Kashmir police, while trying to subdue the stone-pelting mob, chased an unarmed teenager into an alley and shot him. The boy later died in the hospital and the state government has announced arrest of the guilty policemen, including an officer. In a press statement, the Jammu and Kashmir police explained the killing by labelling it as violation of the standard operating procedure and not deliberate assault.
Clearly, there is something deeply rotten in the Indian police service, both officer and non-officer class. The rottenness is not limited to any time and place as these random incidents of past one month show, but has become intrinsic to its being and operations. Professionalism is not the word associated with police; politicking is; prejudice is; and worse, personal interest is. There is a reason why police reforms have not taken place after all these decades, despite judicial intervention. Because neither the police brass nor their political masters want them. One doesn’t want to lose its unaccountability and other its clout.
Even today, desperate people pay huge bribes to get a job in the service. Clearly, this bribe has to be paid off in the course of their service. As promotions are linked to ‘supposed’ performance, the easiest and the fastest way to perform is to knock-off some hapless souls and label them anti-national. The most worrisome part is that despite the omnipresent nature of the media and social media today, the police does not feel deterred from taking these short-cuts to supposed success. Where does this confidence that they will get away, comes from? Is it rooted in reality, do they eventually get away?
The police are the first responder in any internal security situation, from terrorism and insurgency to petty crimes. It is only when the police fails that the armed or central armed police or paramilitary are called in, failing which, the military. The military, no matter how much it itches to have its finger in all situations (internal or external), is the lender of the last resort and not the first.
But such is the state of the Indian police that it is bound to fail, either because of incompetence or mala fide behaviour. Whenever questions about their ability or intentions are asked, senior officer class immediately raise the totem of morale. It ignores the fact that criminality is a reflection of low self-esteem. When one loses the capacity to distinguish between right and wrong, how long before he turns against his own superiors.
An average Indian policeman undergoes no refresher’s training throughout his career. There is no upgradation of skills and dispelling of prejudices. And such a person is supposed to keep the internal edifice of the nation secure. Many experts lament the lack of modern equipment for the poor state of police. That is the easier part. The difficult part is to equip them with the right mental make-up. Before they are given the gun, give them honour.