The other day, the media reported two incidents from Delhi. In one, a foreign woman slapped a policeman after he refused to allow her to enter an auditorium where a book release function was being held. In the other, two traffic policemen were beaten up in Delhi by a group of people for stopping an underage person from driving a car. A traffic policeman lying on the road, with the group beating him and trying to trample over his supine body, presented a very sad and pitiable sight.
People Vs Uniformed Cops?
The number of incidents, in which police personnel are humiliated, abused and even beaten in public has been rising day by day. Politicians of course do it with brazenness and impunity. The Delhi Chief Minister does not hesitate in calling the policeman a “thulla.” The Samajwadi party’s supremo warns a senior police officer to mend his ways. “Sudhar jao” is a very mild form of threat. A minister in Akhilesh Yadav’s government had threatened to strip “any SHO of his uniform in 24 hours… if he doesn’t listen to us.” Another minister in the same government warned policemen not to remain on their seats in his presence.
Two years ago, a Maharashtra police officer was assaulted by legislators in the Assembly premises. A few years ago, a Shiromani Akali Dal leader in Amritsar shot dead a Punjab police officer who had protested against his daughter being harassed by the politician and his friends. Similar reports have come from other states. These are only few of such incidents which have happened in the recent past.
Politicians do not hesitate to disgrace and ill treat policemen in public. In many cases, it is done deliberately. The policeman has always been regarded by ordinary citizens as a symbol of authority. By humiliating him in public, it is easy to disrobe him of his authority and appropriate it yourself. It becomes an easy means to add to your illegitimate power. It also enables the politician to function as a middleman to peddle his influence with the police and help some people in getting relief in cases in which they are involved. It reduces police capability to deal effectively with violations of law in which the politician and his cronies indulge.
What the politicians do does not leave the public untouched. They also get emboldened and start misbehaving with the policemen. There have been many incidents where the members of public have often prevented police personnel from carrying out their duties by surrounding and beating them.
Assaults on police personnel are becoming quite commonplace. This is happening despite there being fairly stringent provisions in law against such behavior. According to Section 332 IPC, anyone voluntarily causing hurt to a public servant to deter him from doing his duty is punishable with imprisonment for a term up to three years or with fine or both. If the hurt is grievous, the punishment, as per Section 333, can extend to ten years.
Data indicating number of such cases prosecuted by the police and their trial results is not available. However, the spurt in such incidents shows that the police are not using such provisions of law effectively, particularly when the accused happen to be connected closely or even remotely to the party in power. In other cases, the deterrent effect is mitigated by the enormous time taken by our courts in deciding cases. All this leads to creating a climate of lawlessness, which further encourages people to take law in their own hands.
Are we Being Fair?
We in India do not have faith in policemen, particularly those of lower ranks. An argument is often made that the lower ranks by their performance and behavior have not succeeded in dislodging distrust from the public and legislators’ mind. The argument may be valid, but what have we done to change the system and its culture that contribute to producing this type of performance?
We have not shown a proper understanding of the role of policeman in society and the conditions in which that role is being performed. He has a poor image that leads to a low status, which in turn perpetuates that image. The vicious circle keeps on widening the existing chasm between the police and the community. This environment produces two results. One, it contributes to encouraging assaults on policemen. Two, genuine sacrifices made by police personnel while performing their duty do not receive adequate recognition. On an average, about 850 policemen are losing their lives every year in line of duty. A policeman is a symbol of law and state authority and when he dies at the hands of a criminal or gets beaten by lumpen elements, a part of our system of rule of law gets badly damaged. Every such incident leads to the erosion of state authority and that is what must not be allowed to happen as easily and as frequently as it is happening now.
Assaults on police personnel lower not only their morale, but also lessen their ability to handle confrontations with public with professional calm and competence. The incident where a traffic policeman in Delhi was shown throwing a brick at a woman rankled many in the public, but most of the peer group of that constable felt that what happened was regrettable, but could be explained as a response to a fairly abusive and aggressive offender, who had clearly violated traffic laws and who later turned out to be liar too.
It is generally said that the public think very poorly of the policeman on the street. This is true, but it is also true that an average policeman has an equally poor opinion of the community he serves. What is needed is to find ways and means of removing this distrust and bringing the two closer to each other.
By G P Joshi
The writer is a retired police officer. He is also the author of two books: (1) ‘Policing in India- Some Unpleasant Essays’ and (2) ‘Police Organisation in India- Some Basic Information.’ The second one is under print.