Midweek Musings: Is the Indian Police Unconvicted Criminals in Uniforms?

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Legal luminary Justice AN Mulla had launched a crusade against corruption prevalent in the Indian police. He had described the police in India as ‘unconvicted criminals in uniform.’ Ashoka opens our eyes to the many instances of deep rooted corruption in the Indian police. The corrupt men in uniform are elevated to positions of power with impunity. Police reforms are the crying need of the hour, he opines.

‘There is not a single lawless group in the whole of the country whose record of crime comes anywhere near the record of that single organised unit which is known as the Indian Police Force.’

These sombering words of wisdom did not emerge from any disgruntled citizen but an individual who would be expected to have a first-hand knowledge of how the criminal justice system works and therefore his pronouncement made in 1961 carry an air of authority.

Pandit Anand Narain Mulla was in every sense of the word a true polymath. His contribution to Urdu literature established him as the foremost Urdu poet of this century. After all who can forget the couplet: “Dil qaidi ka behlane ko, Darbaan badalte jatte hain.

But it was in the capacity of a distinguished high court judge with the Allahabad High Court he made this observation. Justice Mulla was known for his acerbic wit, which he used to excellent effect in emphasising a point. Along with Justice Krishna Iyer and Akbar Allahabadi, he ranks as the foremost literary figures to have adorned the hallowed portals of Indian judiciary. Fiercely protective of Urdu, he once made a remark: “Urdu is my mother tongue! I can give up my religion but not my mother tongue.”

No sooner was he elevated to the Bench, he launched a crusade against corruption prevalent in the Indian police. It was he who had described the police in India as ‘unconvicted  criminals in uniform.’

And more than half a century after his not so flattering adumbration, there would be very few who would disagree with him.

The police in this country has been constantly ranked alongside the politicians as the most corrupt and distrusted institution and worse still we witness no reassuring signs of any impetus for improvement.

A democratic polity cannot survive very long if the trustworthiness of the keepers of law is compromised. We are in that perilous state now and if we do not rise above the torpor of learned helplessness and force the authorities to bring about a change, the consequences could be truly catastrophic.

We have all had unsavoury dealings with the police force; and many of us, myself included, would not like to treat the police personnel any better than bubonic plague.

Only a few minutes ago, my octogenarian recently widowed aunt who needed a passport to join her son in Australia was harassed by a policeman, who demanded a bribe to send a favourable report. I have reported the matter to his superiors but am under no illusions whatsoever that the errant constable would be taken to task.

That of course is a minor illustration of the crimes the police in India indulge in. On a personal note, I should like to illustrate my own experiences, which make me an unavowed adversary of the police in India.

More than 20 years ago, while on a visit to India, I discovered that an unsavoury character was encroaching on a piece of land that belonged to the two widows in the family – my aged mother and my very aged grandmother both of whom were in no position to exercise any influence to bring about a change. I visited the police station and approached a Deputy Superintendent called Sugriv Giri. He shamelessly asked me for a Rs. 25,000 bribe, which infuriated me no end. I telephoned the DIG Police Karambir Singh and my travails were attended to. Additionally, I lodged a written complaint to the DG Police in Uttar Pradesh, which is on record. Despite several reminders over several years I was not accorded the basic courtesy of an acknowledgement. More disconcerting was the information that this unworthy corrupt officer was promoted from the PPS to IPS cadre despite charges of corruption. My acquaintances in the UP Police advised me that while he was recognised as a corrupt and thoroughly incompetent officer, he had ingratiated himself to the powers that be and the latest is that he retired last year with full promotion. By the way my complaint is still on the records and can be accessed by anyone through an RTI enquiry.

Would anyone blame me if in the light of my experience I continue to hold the UP Police in utmost contempt and derision! The matters are certainly not helped when a police officer from Maharashtra cadre Yashasvi Yadav, who was facing serious charges is brought over to UP by his school friend Akhilesh Yadav in an irregular manner and placed in a lucrative SSP position at Kanpur where he was caught red-handed vandalising, brutalising and terrorising medical practitioners. For the record, Akhilesh despite heaps of evidence supports this goonish aberration of humankind.

If this has been the state of affairs in UP, most states have fared no better. Having fought and legally demolished the Delhi Police in a courtroom (the judge VK Dhuliya dealt with them in a savage manner for their transgressions, which included planting evidence on being denied monetary gratification), I am on record having stated that the police force in our national capital is irremediable and perhaps the only realistic solution is to disband the Delhi Police altogether and constitute a new force from the scratch. Those who have followed the National Human Rights Commission rulings against them over the last 20 years would in all probability concur with my view.

The flawed legacy of that police force dates back to one of its earlier Commissioners viz., Pritam Singh Bhinder. A comprehensively discredited policeman who was flayed by the Shah Commission for his nefarious activities during the Emergency, he was made Police Commissioner as soon as Indira Gandhi returned to power.

With the possible exception of Ajai Raj Sharma, none of the Commissioners in recent years have added distinction to their position. We had Radhey Shyam Gupta under whom the Delhi Police were found to have incarcerated a man for first degree murder for several weeks. The only problem was that the supposedly deceased person turned out alive! Gupta refused to resign. It was again under Gupta that an ACP called Tyagi was sentenced to death for custodial killing. While on an appeal this sentence was commuted, if the early Wikipedia entry (now removed presumably by the Delhi Police) is to be believed Gupta had described Tyagi as a model police officer.

I distinctly recall when motorist Rodney King was beaten up by the LA police – I was in the US at the time. The conservative police chief of LA viz., Darryl Gates was a personal friend of the then president George Bush Sr. That could not save him. He was made to resign screaming and kicking. And even the conservative commentators like George Will called for his head asking him to take moral responsibility.

Contrast this to Gupta’s conduct. But in his defence it has to be said that his predecessors in Delhi Police have always projected themselves as metaphorical demigods above all notions of accountability. Maxwell Perera is a media favourite. He retired as a Joint Commissioner Delhi Police nearly 15 years ago. I have penned several columns on this man, who always belligerently claims that Delhi Police force is the best in the world.

Let us examine some of Perera’s positions. In a television interview with Rahul Kanwal he was confronted by the academic Madhu Kishwar, who reminded him that she had visited him in his office to ask him to do something about the extortion practiced by the Delhi Police over street vendors. According to Kishwar, Perera dismissed her stating that street vendors were ‘vermin’. This man was asked once on the CNN-IBN whether Neeraj Kumar the then Police Commissioner should resign following the Nirbhaya rape. Perera had the temerity to state that as Kumar had not raped the girl, he did not see why his resignation was called for. In an interview with Arnab Goswami, this man claimed that it was a part of policeman’s duty to polish his superior’s shoes!

Can a police force with this mindset ever be expected to serve the people who are the ultimate masters! I recently met with a retired DGP of Madhya Pradesh at a party and expressed my concerns about the policing in India, which condones and encourages the most egregious human rights abuses and is not held accountable. His response was disingenuous.

He stated that it was the politicians who were responsible for this and I should not blame the police. I rejected that contention; my own belief is that upright police officers are never intimidated by political thuggery. I myself know several distinguished police officers like Dilip Trivedi, who have demonstrated this.

Now a senior citizen, I am trepidatious about the future of our progeny of this state of affairs is left unattended. It is very disconcerting also to note that people are being co-opted into the system perhaps to enjoy the powers and perks a police career confers either legit or otherwise. I know of several medical practitioners serving as police officers. One of them even held an MD in Dermatology from Chandigarh. One wonders what draws them this life where they are despised and feared rather than respected.

The time has come for all of us to push for police reforms with all the conviction at our command.

©Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad

Pix from Net.

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