Anyone who has had the misfortune of dealing with the police
in India will not be surprised by the findings in the latest report on the Status of Policing in India, produced jointly by Common Cause and the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. This is the second such joint report and it offers a potent explanation for the low credibility of the police
in public perception. The latest report, which surveys 12,000 police
persons across 22 states together with their family members, reveals that the forces work at about three-fourths of their capacity and harbour frightening prejudices against women, lower castes, and minorities. The disaggregated numbers are certainly worrying in a country where rapid social transformation demands a robust and sensitised police force.
To start with, there are simply not enough people to do the job — a surprising fact, given widespread unemployment. Vacancies abound at all ranks, but those in senior ranks are higher than those in the constabulary. Across the states, 70 police stations did not have wireless devices, 214 lacked telephone access, and 24 police stations had neither. India may be a global IT champion but police stations, on average, have just six computers and states like Bihar and Assam less than one. Computers may yet be considered relatively sophisticated tools; some 240 stations did not even have vehicles. Working conditions are also abysmal. The police work, on average, 14 hours a day and one in five women in the police said she lacked a separate toilet.
The inadequacy of physical infrastructure is matched by an abject failure on the part of the state to widen the social ambit of the police force or, indeed, treat the institution in the kind of arm’s-length relationship that fosters effective policing. In Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, for instance, there are as many as 60 and 53 per cent vacancies in positions reserved for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes, and women. The study also found that the Indian police system “reeks of bias against women working in the police, with about one in four male personnel demonstrating high bias against their female colleagues”. Worse, about one in four police persons in several states does not receive any kind of gender sensitisation training — an attitude that is reflected in the responses from a fifth of respondents that complaints of gender-based violence are false and motivated (which explains why most sexual assaults go unreported). Compounding these problems is the well-known suborning of the police by the political class. The frequent transfers of senior police persons who do not conform to a political leader’s demands have entered the realm of popular culture.
Poor infrastructure and inadequate training and social sensitisation have all served to accentuate the foundational defects of India’s police force. Unlike most functioning democracies, India’s police force does not have its genesis in the concept of public service. It is the creation of the British as an instrument of enforcement and oppression — and India’s leaders have chosen to embrace this aspect of policing to the exclusion of its role as a protector of citizens’ — all citizens’ — security, rights, and property. It should be the first line of defence in a country that prides itself on its democratic institutions. The fact that it is mostly the last tells its own story.