Delhi Needs Police Reforms, But Did Arvind Kejriwal’s Dharna Raise the Right Questions?

Posted on January 24, 2014 in Politics

By John A Raju:

The man who came to the Colosseum of Indian politics, fashioning himself as the gladiator who could fight and win over the lions of corruption is facing a bit of heat over his latest bout. The dharna has ended with what the gladiator claims is a victory. But what are the issues he has raised and how valid are his concerns? Is Kejriwal’s method of fighting for Delhi’s rights a sign of innovation or inexperience? Should the police force come under the Delhi government’s control or remain under the Union government, or do we need something else?

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The Delhi government’s apparent frustrations with the police machinery under it began with the alleged gang rape & robbery of a 51 year old Danish woman on 14 January near Connaught place. Kejriwal immediately stressed the need of fast track courts to try rape perpetrators quickly and the necessity of bringing the Delhi Police under its jurisdiction, where currently it is under the Union government’s purview. The Jan 13 incident of Neha Yadav being immolated by her in-laws on account of non-payment of dowry and the subsequent refusal of the local SHO (Station House Officer) to arrest the in-laws, despite repeated insistence from Rakhi Birla, gives justification to AAP’s demands for independence of the Delhi Police from central control. On the other hand, the refusal of the police department to go after the African community in Malviya Nagar on the orders of minister Somnath Bharti cannot just be dismissed as dereliction of duty or insubordination to a minister.

To instruct a police force to target an entire community without adequate proof, whatever be the concerns raised by the locals, is unjustifiable. It is one thing to give orders to investigate specific individuals or gangs who are under suspicion for drug or prostitution racketeering but quite another to round up and raid an entire community, labeling them as criminals. This is anti democratic. By protecting Bharti and labeling those who opposed it as pimps and crime defenders, the AAP is behaving like any other party, in protecting one of its own instead of evaluating the morality of the action. Stereotyping the African community as criminals, organizing a midnight raid upon them and violating their privacy & integrity is simply unacceptable from a government upon which we were pinning the hopes of a new dawn. I am not saying that there may be no criminals among them, but to harass them and to call for action against the SHO who demanded valid justifications before following orders is indeed intolerable. The first two instances can be justifiably termed as dereliction of duty on the part of the police, but in the third case the SHO cannot be faulted for upholding the constitutional principles.

After delivering bold & piercing dialogues that the Republic Day isn’t about the parades and uniforms but about the democratic rights of the citizens, AAP eventually called off the dharna claiming they have won. I don’t see the victory in sending the concerned SHOs on leave. Army Gen. Bikram Singh’s warning that they won’t be responsible for damages to Rs. 8000 crores worth defence equipment to be exhibited on Republic Day has had more to do with the withdrawal of the dharna than any ceding of demands by the central government. In my opinion, the elected leader of the government procrastinating his duties and sitting for dharnas isn’t really appealing. True, the request for bringing the Police department under its control is a wholly justified one and Kejriwal is better placed to put forward these demands than the erstwhile Sheila Dikshit, who would have had limits raising voices against her own party. However, leaving the Janata Darbar meeting midway on its first meeting itself and failing to make subsequent arrangements on account of the dharna point to a dereliction of duty on the part of the CM too. Furthermore, I feel it isn’t right to hold an elected Parliament body to ransom on the streets of the Capital, in the name of democracy. Showmanship can only get you so far in the political world.

Also, the demand of suspension or a mere transfer of the concerned police-in-charge serves no grand purpose. We need more concrete reforms in the Police Department. Rather than holding the police accountable to the whims of political heads, we must give them some more independence, at the same time making them accountable to the people. The Police should be able to become defenders of the people upholding their integrity & democratic rights instead of being rolled about in the political football field. This independence to do what they feel is right could even inspire more strong headed youngsters into the depleted force. Of course legal provisions must be made to ensure that this freedom isn’t misused. We have only 120 policemen per one lakh population whereas the global average is 270 per lakh. We need more policemen and we need more strong, righteous & approachable protectors for our citizens, not mere stooges of party leaders.

The much needed reforms in the police department could even give rise to a multitude of real gladiators to fight the lions, rather than the fake one in a million that come about once in a while. As the dharna of Kejriwal teeters off to a disappointing victory, we also need to bring to light the need for long overdue reforms in the police department. A more independent and vibrant police force free of the shackles of political parties is a need of the hour that should not be overlooked.

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