According to Max Weber, the ‘state’ as an organisation can legitimately use physical force. The state has a monopoly in doing so and the police acts as the instrument of this physical force. In case of failure of other instruments of governance, it is the police that has to bear the burden. While the police acts as the primary point of contact between people and justice, it is often accused of breaking law and order instead of maintaining it.
In October 2018, the extrajudicial killing of an Apple store manager by the police in Lucknow prompted a demand for police reforms. This is just a recent example of outrage against police brutality but surely isn’t the first. Based on the statistics of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), by March 15, 2018, there were more than 1,680 recorded cases of custodial deaths.
Out of the registered cases, 19 were fake encounters. While NHRC’s calculation for the next 10 months is still in process, the last five years have witnessed a rise in custodial deaths as a result of police brutality. In fact, police brutality against the scheduled castes and scheduled tribe communities is not unusual.
The basic instrument which looks after the functioning of the Indian police is the Police Act of 1861. Most of the state legislations are based on this act and each state has the power to establish a police force of its own. However, it was only after the Supreme Court’s decision in 2006 that the states chose to have their own legislation for the functioning of the police department.
The centre to the problems associated with police brutality is the police reform process that has been talked about for years with no significant results. Time and again, various committees which include the National Police Commission, have been set up by the government to look into reform processes and have strongly encouraged urgent action.
It is noteworthy that superintendence and control of the police is a highly debatable issue. Based on a report on ‘Better Policing Series’ by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, ‘as per the police laws, both the Central and State police forces come under the superintendence and control of political executives. This has resulted in a lack of democratic functioning and appropriate direction. Police priorities are frequently altered based on the will of political executives. It seems that the police force has become a puppet in the hands of its political masters’. As per the data collected by the National Crime Records Bureau, jails in India are overcrowded by over 600%. While this raises serious questions on our governance, it also affects police work effectiveness by creating unnecessary pressure to fit prisoners in jail.
On November 28, 2018, Muktesh Chander, the Director General of Police (DGP) of Goa police went on record to give a statement that ‘defect in training’ is the reason behind police brutality. He further added that “short-tempered police personnel have a different concept of policing which needs to be changed”. There is no doubt about the fact that police services are among the most stressful jobs in the country, but does that justify atrocities carried out by the police department? Clearly, there are issues that contribute to police brutality, and addressing them seem to be the first step towards a better functioning of Indian police.
Some serious questions that need to be asked about police in India are: Why is the Indian police still functioning in the purview of an act that came into existence before Indian independence? Why have police reforms been ignored for so long? What should be the focus of these reforms? Why do political authorities have a strong hold over police? Being the primary agency of justice, isn’t it essential to sensitise police personnel towards the society?
First and foremost, there is a need to hire adequate manpower in the police department. There is a huge manpower shortage in the police department. The police-population ratio, currently at 192 policemen per lakh population, is less than what is recommended by the United Nations i.e. 222 policemen per lakh population. As a result, there is an overburdening of work which reduces the effectiveness and efficiency of the personnel. This leads to psychological distress which contributes to various crimes committed by the policemen.
Secondly, based on a report by Bureau of Police Record & Development, police housing facilities is an issue which adds on to this distress. ‘It currently faces a shortage to accommodate the increased police strength across the country. The BPR&D report shows that although there is 8.06% increment in the overall sanctioned strength of police force, the family accommodation has only been raised by 6.44% which means a chunk of police personnel do not have proper accommodation’.
Further, this report shows a huge gap between the allocated budget for police and its utilization. These funds are often underutilized demeaning the purpose for which they are granted. A better training process which includes aspects of stress management, human resource management, and social sensitization can help in furbishing the department’s behaviour.
A ray of hope towards controlling police brutality came with the Supreme Court’s slew of direction in 2018. Quoting a report from the Indian Express, ‘The Supreme Court laid down that the states shall send their proposals three months prior to the retirement of the incumbent DGP; that the UPSC shall prepare a panel of three officers suitable for elevation to the post of DGP; that the state shall appoint one of the persons from the panel only; that there would be no appointments of acting DGP; that a person appointed as DGP should continue to hold the post for a reasonable period “beyond the date of superannuation”; that the UPSC should as far as practicable impanel officers who have got clear two years of service, giving due weightage to merit and seniority; and that any legislation/rule framed by any of the states or the Central Government running counter to the direction shall remain in abeyance’.
These reforms need immediate focus of the centre and state governments. The current condition of the police force will not only impact the integrity of the nation but it will also compromise the security of the people, undermining the main purpose of the police department. The department needs to be transformed from a ruling authority to people’s legal recourse. Otherwise, the very organisation which exists to work for people will continue to work against them and carry out innumerable acts of brutality.