The police force is in the news again, and – not surprisingly – for all the wrong reasons.
There’s the shift (camouflaged as a promotion) of Mumbai Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik a few days ago. He needed to be shifted, that’s for sure, but it was done for the wrong reason and at the wrong time.
The timing first: even if the decision to transfer him was taken a while ago (the Maharashtra government line), it was craven of the government to do so soon after Raj Thackeray’s massive rally. Young Thackeray obviously saw it as his victory; but so did everyone else. What was the signal sent by the government? That if you have a show of strength, the government will buckle under and follow your bidding.As for the reason for Patnaik’s transfer: he was obviously shifted because of his ‘mis-handling’ of the 11 August riots. But did he really handle them badly? If you see the criticism about Patnaik’s so-called soft approach, most of it comes from known Hindutva supporters. Would they have lauded the Police Commissioner if 20 rioters had been shot dead instead of just two? Would they have made him a hero if 200 people had been killed instead of 20? When the Police Commissioner in the 1992-93 riots in Mumbai shot dead 200 people, did that make him a meritorious officer?
A riot is a riot is a riot. It shouldn’t be seen as a Hindu riot or a Muslim riot; which means violent rioters should be treated with a firm hand irrespective of their cause or their faith. The police have a gradation system when it comes to riots: when to use lathis, when to use tear gas, when to use bullets…This manual must be used scrupulously in every violent situation.
Why don’t our police use water cannons as they do in other countries? The answer to that is simple: there probably isn’t enough water under the pressure required for water cannons in our cities! What about rubber bullets? I was in a television debate the other day with a retired senior police officer. I asked him why people were shot dead by the police in a riot rather than just wounded: after all, the rioters were not enemy personnel, but our own (misguided) people. Besides, in most riots, the protesters, even if they turned violent, were generally unarmed.
Shouldn’t the police then use their guns as a last resort, and even then to shoot below the waist, so no vital organs were damaged? If I am not wrong, that is the general rule in civilised countries. The police officer’s reply was revealing: “Have you seen a constable when he is required to fire? He is shivering! He is scared stiff! He has no training when it comes to using guns!”
That, of course, is the crux of the matter. The policeman is not trained. You become a cop by greasing a lot of palms; once you are in, you try and recover that ‘Admission Fee’. That becomes your only focus; besides which police training is rudimentary.
Look at some of the other cases which are in the news now:
- Two police officers have recently been released on bail after being in prison for planting drugs on a night-club owner
- Four Railway Protection Force constables have been suspended for throwing a man out of a moving train because he refused their bribe demands
- A Delhi court pulled up police in the Geetika Sharma case for leaking to the media explicit details of her sexual history.
These are examples taken at random in the past week: all over the country our law-enforcers act as the worst kind of law-breakers, and this happens day in, day out. Yet no one does anything about this. No marches are held to protest this perversion of roles and the resultant chaos in society. No home minister works on a Grand Design to change things. The old phrase ‘physician, heal thyself’ really applies here, but which policeman, which politician, however senior, however courageous and honest, is interested in taking on the job of police reforms?