Analysis

Pink, Akira and ten years of police reform

Pushkar Raj

Pink and Akira, two recent Bollywood hit films, depict an ugly reality of the police in India. It seems much has not changed in the country for the last ten years since the Supreme Court in Prakash Singh case ordered in September 2006 that the police must be made functionally autonomous and accountable by enacting new police laws.

After 1947, the Indian police have continued to be governed by police laws framed in 1861 retaining its colonial character. Intriguingly, after gaining independence while democratic laws have been legislated, their instrument of implementation- the police -have continued to be authoritarian. This conflict plays out in a citizen’s life every day which is convincingly presented in Pink and Akira.

In Pink, the police hound and frame three young women under false charge of prostitution at the behest of a political master. The case is illegally registered; backdating the FIR, and women are arrested without following service rules. In the film, the police act under the influence of the politician and his henchmen flouting law, a routine event in the country, cynically accepted without much indignation.

Political interference in policing is rampant. Whether it is intimidating and arresting political opponents, firing on protesting citizens, fixing human rights activists or being inactive while mob kills selective ethnic or religious minorities, the  police are ready to crawl where they are asked to bend by politicians. Prakash Singh, a former Director General of Police, highlighted this before the Supreme Court which after deliberating over a plethora of documentary evidence for ten years expressed its disappointment at the situation and ordered the Centre and the state governments to professionalise the police service and transform it from a rotten politicised force.

Politicised police is dangerous for a democratic society. Political patronage and interference in policing promote a culture of impunity and encounter killings, deftly portrayed in Akira.

In the film, the police rob huge amount of cash from an injured person and kill him. They also execute a few potential witnesses in cold blood and pass them off as “encounters”. The film’s encounter scene has an uncanny resemblance with the recent killing of eight SIMI “under-trial” activists in Bhopal where senior police officials are heard on phone instructing policemen on the ground to “eliminate” the escapees (The Hindustan Times, 4 November, 2016).

Encounter killings in India are endemic. In a press statement, National Human Rights Commission said in October 2016 that there were 206 cases of encounter killings in last twelve months. The majority of these deaths were questionable as reports of human rights organisations and independent citizens’ fact-finding reports suggest. Needless to say, culprits go unpunished. Hashimpura massacre is one of the few examples.  

The Indian police are plagued by a serious structural malaise. An average policeman does not know his Indian Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure and Indian Evidence Act well. He does not get a chance to develop and refresh his professional skills in service. He learns hands on and makes terrible mistakes that have serious repercussions on justice delivery. The conviction rate, according to National Crime Research Bureau, was 45.1 per cent in the country in 2014, while the conviction rate in crime against women was merely 21.3 per cent.  In other words, in 55 per cent cases either people were wrongly framed or they got away without punishment after committing a crime, thereby adding injustice in an already unjust society. What is the use of having strict laws on crime against women when nationwide about 78 per cent accused get away with their crime?

The Indian police is in such a pathetic state because there is no investment in basic infrastructure and human resource in policing. The police continue to lack basic amenities and support for performing their duties. For example, a right to information application revealed that 23 police stations in Jammu and Kashmir lack drinking water facility while 14 are without a toilet (The Indian Express, 14 October). Average police personnel are overworked and low paid. Consequently, they become like the havaldar of Akira who counts on his share of booty to solemnise his daughter’s marriage.

The Supreme Court judgment tried to address some of these structural issues in policing. However, 17 states that have passed new laws and have diluted police powers considerably. The Centre has also not implemented the Supreme Court’s order in Delhi and Union Territories. If it had, Delhi Police would not be able to act in such a partisan manner, without facing tough accountability at different levels.

Clearly the establishment-the political elite-does not have an interest in reforming the police because control over it suits them. But their convenience is against the interest of the society. While the common man experiences persecution and injustice, our police are getting dehumanised and brutalised.

The police leadership must impress upon the political leadership that they can neither have job satisfaction, nor pride in service if they keep dragging resource starved mass of demoralised men who are set up to indulge in serious service aberrations. The home ministry 2016-17 budget is merely 30.2 per cent of defense ministry allocation while they have more or less same number of men to cater to. Even out of these Rs. 77,923 crore of home ministry budget, allocation for police modernisation is a paltry 11 percent.  The police leadership must insist on greater resources for the internal security services from the political leadership to inject some oxygen into a listless body that the Indian police have become.  

The leadership of social movements may also consider adding the issue of changes in policing structures in their demand for legal justice, besides social and economic justice, which is a major need, rights and demand of the poor, Dalits and minorities across the country. They should impress upon parties like AAP that they should commit to systemic changes in policing in the country rather than political control over it. A start can be made with coming elections in Punjab, where the party has a strong support.

Pink and Akira present to us a distressing reality of policing in our society. It depends on us whether we continue to live with it or endeavour to change it. For a young nation on the path of so many changes, it is not a big task.  

Dr. Pushkar Raj of the Australian Centre for Education & Training was National General Secretary, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). He may be copntacted at  pushkar.raj@acet-global.com 

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 December 2016 on page no. 11

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