By Shantanu Mukharji
In a bizarre and most inhuman act displaying utter disregard for an animal and the law, a BJP legislator of Uttarakhand mercilessly beat a police horse causing multiple fractures to his leg. The horse, Shaktiman is a handsome mount of the Uttarakhand police force, hitherto actively participating in police ceremonies and passing-out parades.
The incident occurred on 14 March in Dehradun when BJP protesters were agitating against the Uttarakhand chief minister on some political issue. The blatant misconduct and lawless act by the MLA in full public view is a direct assault on the custodians of law and order trying to maintain tranquility. Shaktiman is very much a part of the police force and is trained in crowd control. The sad incident that occurred despite the presence of fellow policemen reveals how hapless or possibly politicised the police is when taken on by unruly politicians.
The police remained passive bystanders as the MLA repeatedly hit the leg of the poor animal. Better sense did not prevail on any of the fellow agitators to stop the enraged MLA. It is hoped that the police leadership will hold those cops, who witnessed this cruelty without actively intervening, accountable.
Similarly, the party leadership or the Speaker of the state Assembly are morally liable to admonish the MLA for this brazen misdeed. If both go unpunished and are even deemed as going unreprimanded, it will give the wrong signal to the public. A direct attack on the guardians of law must not be condoned. After all, it is an assault on the seat of authority.
Incidentally, the Uttarakhand governor is a retired member of the Indian Police Service (IPS) and has the experience of overseeing mounted police during the charges he held in various positions. It's high time he used his good offices to take the MLA to task and also order a probe into police inaction. There is an Act for the Prevention of Cruelty towards animals. And cruelty on animals is also an offence under the Indian Penal Code.
Such provisions of the law must be invoked to prevent the recurrence of similar incidents.
Police horses have, throughout history, proved to be very effective assets in maintaining peace and crowd control. The Kolkata Police and mounted police in several other metropolitan cities have been appropriating the services of the horses in good measure. Horse-riding instructions remain compulsory in police-training institutions as well as in the National Academy of Administration. Beating up a mount and that too so mercilessly shows how callous we are towards such a friendly animal! Such a mindset needs a drastic change.
In western countries, horses and dogs in the rolls of police and army have regular ranks and wear badges. They are given utmost care. US forces maintain canine units in war zones and the dogs are familiar with the sounds of gunfire and bombs. In Afghanistan and Iraq , canines did excellent jobs. Our mounts and dogs also excel in their duties in different, hazardous parts of the country. Instead of recognising their role, some senseless people who are expected to be responsible elected representatives of the masses, resort to such heinous and unpardonable acts as in the case of 14-year-old Shaktiman.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his tenure has addressed directors-general of police twice in two years, recently at the Rann of Kutch and earlier in Guwahati. The PM's address was substantial and specific. The police inertia as noticed in Dehradun proves that the police generally remains a passive force and rarely rises to the occasion to meet the challenges. We saw this recently during the Jat agitation in Haryana where police watched haplessly as the 'free-for-all' unfolded and the army had to be called in. We have the brightest of police officers at the helm yet their performance often falls short of expectations. The police force must overcome any constraints and appear more proactive so that it does not fail in situations that warrant action.
The author is a retired IPS officer. Views are personal.