“Out of the night that covers me Black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be For my unconquerable soul.” -Invictus.
It is always tough to be a police officer; no matter what rank, what stars we wear on our collars. We are called the utility service—like water, air or electricity—whose need is only felt when it is absent. For a long time, I believed this to be true. But now I wonder, aren’t we more than that? Aren’t we the ones found standing at all the unnamed and unwanted places of the country, where most people would not dare not go, even if offered a place in heaven? Aren’t we the ones standing up for unidentified and unclaimed corpses preserving the last shred of dignity that human lives deserve?
Aren’t we the ones whose name each and everyone takes after, or sometimes even before God in the face of fear and trouble? Aren’t we the ones whose lives bounce from one tragedy to another on a routine basis while for most, a single incident would be devastating enough? Aren’t we the ones who spend the most sleepless nights on a national average basis of all the jobs and professions we know of? Aren’t we the ones who participate unfailingly in all the festivals, yet ironically, celebrate none? Am I trying to do poetic justice to the job? Well, it seems to be the need of the hour.
Of the numerous ways I have tried to define the police service, I have felt it may well be defined as service in which an officer doesn’t get the opportunity to feel their own emotions in its true expanse—fear, anger, joy, disgust, sadness, or whatever else one is capable of experiencing as humans, for the call of the duty often comes first and demands oneself to respond to a situation before one can react to their own emotions.
In such a situation, a police officer relies mostly on their innate sense of justice, their learnings from the training, and their immense faith in their superiors and the system to protect them and shield them from any subsequent malice. There is law, there are codes of conduct and there is a laid down procedure to judge the legality of police action, but can there be any metric to judge the propensity of how much more worse any situation could become before the police respond sternly? Can any postmortem analysis conclusively opine on what should be the trigger for the police to use force in a law and order situation? Can anyone guarantee that no policeman will lose their life or limb if no action is taken in a riotous situation?
Any civilised society needs to have faith in its police force, for it is that faith alone that gives courage to the police to act to protect the life and property of its citizens. Before we opine and scrutinise any police action, we must ask ourselves, which police officer or any person for that matter, wants to be in such dangerously flared up situations of independent choice apart from those trouble mongers who orchestrate it? In that case, shouldn’t the impetus of our law and law enforcement agencies be to identify and hold such persons to account without delay, to adequately deter such lawlessness through procedures established by law rather than to target the police agency whose very intention is to prevent and control such incidents?
There can be endless debates, discussions, and opinions about what would constitute proportionate force, what would be the right course of action, but there can be no qualms about the ‘mens rea’ or ‘intentions’ of any police personnel who respond to a law and order situation. It would be pertinent to mention that there have been numerous cases where seemingly ordinary law and order situations have left the police personnel on duty with a permanent scar, an amputated limb, disfigurements, or a vital organ failure, something which we do not even have an annual account of.
The recent happenings in the Tis Hazari court complex in Delhi and the subsequent protest by dissatisfied police officers, the growing incidents of police assault throughout the country, and the growing reluctance of the police to act tough in serious breach of peace situations are taking our country down a very dangerous path. A country where the protectors of law themselves start to feel unprotected, where brazen hatred, violence and repeated belligerence of any community towards the police, is tolerated, accepted, and not acted against, is sure to have serious ramifications.
While the ills of any over-action by police can be rectified by departmental accountability, rigorous training, better equipment, revamped communication systems, etc, there can be no cure for inaction, a situation where the protectors of our very society stop acting for the fear of the uncertain.
In a country where the wheels of justice are slow, the procedures complex and expensive, the fight often individual, and the outcome unpredictable, it is not unnatural for police officers to feel demoralised and apprehensive when faced with such scrutinies. In such scenarios, unfortunately, not responding to a situation would seem to be a more lucrative alternative than to act.
Let us not reduce ourselves into a society that creates such fundamental dilemmas in the minds of our own force—to act or not to act. For the khakhi that we adorn is not to protect ourselves but to protect the country, and as long as we continue to have faith in it and respect it, only so long are we protecting ourselves. Jai Hind!
Note: This article has been written by a serving IPS officer.