It cannot be denied that police are a rulers’ force and not a people’s force, something the reforms would have positively helped envisage.
The one thing we witnessed after the arrest of Arnab Goswami, the anchor-editor-owner of a news channel, was the speed with which many ministers of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government sprang to his defence. I am not even getting into the controversy regarding the Editors Guild, other media people saying he should be given bail and his rights because that involves jurisprudence and reforms, which is another subject. What is evident is these ministers called us ordinary citizens fascists, which is rich, considering they represent a party of extreme-right ideology and are supporters of fascism.
These ministers, specifically Home Minister Amit Shah, Smriti Irani and Prakash Javdekar, among others, urged the public to support this person, named as one of the three accused in a case that was previously shut during the BJP government in Maharashtra when Devendra Fadnavis was the Chief Minister, for reasons best known to the political party. Goswami has been named in a suicide note by an architect, Anvay Naik, who committed suicide. Interestingly, after Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide, Arnab and his Republic Channel were accused of baying for Police Commissioner Parambir Singh and on social media, petitions were signed to get the case transferred to the CBI. He also insisted Rhea Chakraborty be sent to prison.
What is disappointing is, none of these ministers demanded that the tripartite Maharashtra government implement police reforms immediately. There is no point blaming only the Congress party, which was accused of not wanting to make police independent. The fact is, the BJP is no different. No political party in India wants the police to be independent. Interestingly, during the BJP rule in Maharashtra, Singh was the ADG who was investigating the Elgar Parishad and Bhima-Koregaon riots case. Currently, 16 scholars, lawyers, activists and even ordinary people have been arrested in this matter. The allegations levelled by Singh and police range from emails showing conspiracy to kill the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to overthrowing the government. At a press conference, they revealed documents to the media, which were till then not even presented in court. Today, the Maha Vikas Aghadi has a Shiv Sena-Congress-Nationalist Congress Party in government. The masters may change, but politics doesn’t.
In fact, September 22 is commemorated as police reforms day, which was started 14 years ago. Even today, it is CMs who take the final call on basic transfers, appointments, postings and functioning of the police force. In fact, such is the importance of the home department, which only the NCP and has always bargained for this plum department, uncompromisingly. However, recently, when Home Minister Anil Deshmukh passed transfer orders, it irked the CM Uddhav Thackeray, who cancelled the transfers, a move criticised by Fadnavis.
It cannot be denied that police are a rulers’ force and not a people’s force, something the reforms would have positively helped envisage. Many within the force too are opposed to the reforms, so there is no point blaming only the politicians. The Supreme Court order had called for these reforms 14 years ago. When it comes to something as basic as filing a First Information Report, the fundamental right of a citizen, we still read reports that police have denied a person this right. Investigating a case after the FIR is filed, doing a thorough job and shutting the file without calling the accused for enquiry, basic mandatory duties of the police, are often not done. This has been the criticism even in the Naik suicide case. Moreover, all the FIRs have to be uploaded on the police website within 24 hours of registration, which is still not being done. Transparency is not really part of Indian governance, whichever may be the government.
A paper written by Sukhwinder Singh and Deepak Bharadwaj in the International Journal of Law says, “though police is a state subject, they have become a ‘subjects’ of Parliamentarians and legislators – with a high degree of politicization and allegiance towards the ruling party.” Reforms are needed for transparent NCRB reports; recently we saw that the NCRB had omitted suicide records. Singh and Bharadwaj further say reforms are needed because we have low conviction rates, currently at 46.9 per cent, 300 per cent rise in agrarian riots (beef lynching, to name specifically), which depicts weak law and order and most of all, vacancies which are still not filled. Our police face challenges, without a doubt. Right from a disconnect with the communities, major trust deficit, lack of criminal investigation, outdated arms and equipment, lack of organisation and lack of proper training. To cover up the high number of vacancies, they are trying to use technology in ground policing.
Trust deficit issues of the citizens with the police is not a new phenomenon. It has only been increasing with passage of time. Most of us want to stay away and if are forced to face them, prefer to use our ‘contacts’. Now, with the social media platforms like Twitter, WhatsApp and Facebook, citizens put out videos and complaints that are picked up by the media and police. But unless pursued, the public is still scared of approaching the police, for fear of being subjected to torture, even if they are the victim. Case in point – when survivors have to lodge sexual harassment cases.
There is a trust deficit of the judiciary with the police too. In fact, during the hearing on the custodial death of Khwaja Yunus, who was in the custody of Mumbai police, the public prosecutor had asked the Bombay high court bench to prevent us, the media, from covering the case. At that time, Justice Parkar had told the public prosecutor, whatever information that was made public was thanks to the media and the police had failed to bring out the truth. The judge then asked the PP to either tell the court if Yunus was alive or dead and present the evidence before the court. This was back in 2005 but obviously, things have not changed since then.
In fact, since the last six years, the trust deficit of the police with Muslims has increased and this was recorded in a DGP report. It clearly showed the writing on the wall, but does anybody care? From Maharashtra to Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Tamil Nadu, this trust deficit is evident. The report was prepared by Sanjeev Dayal of Maharashtra, Deoraj Nagar of UP and K Ramanujam of Tamil Nadu, all three DGPs. Their report also states how social media platforms are being used and manipulated to spread discontent.
In fact, once upon a time, Mumbai Police had a fine network of ‘khabris’ (informers). This fell flat after the Mumbai riots and police obviously did not get a whiff of the revenge deal, the bomb blasts of 1993. Thereafter, despite efforts of the police to revive this network, they could not get it back on track. Few policemen did have their own khabri network, but overall, the informers felt the police had let them down.
Police reforms are essential, as we have seen in leading countries how the criminal justice systems are changing and becoming more empathetic. Integral to this criminal justice is the police, the primary investigating agency. The declining conviction rate tells us thorough investigation is lacking. Many former IPS officers believe the policy document of the reforms may have been chewed up by rats by now, a dismal state of affairs. Instead of timing tweets simultaneously in support of an accused, if Union ministers were to push for police reforms, they would do a lot of good to this nation. But then obviously, the question is, do they really want to do any good?