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Khaki stained: Why India can't trust its cops

Two policemen have been dismissed in Haryana for allegedly raping a woman, who later committed suicide at the office of a senior police officer because her complaint was not lodged.

The policemen are not the first one to bring disrepute to their uniform: nearly 63,000 complaints were filed against policemen across the country in 2006 and the figure has increased in the last two years.

The policeman is one of most hated government authority in the common man’s opinion and the indictment of police officials in corruption, murder, rape, fake encounter, intimidation and variety of other crimes has the solidified the popular belief that a cop is no good.

Is their no hope for the police in India? Are Indian policemen villains of the system or its victims? CNN-IBN’s Senior Editor Sagarika Ghose asked this on Face The Nation . The panel comprised Pinaki Mishra, lawyer for Dr Rajesh Talwar, the dentist accused of murdering his teenage daughter, Maja Daruwala, director of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, and Amod Kant, former director general of police, Arunachal Pradesh, and secretary of Prayas, a voluntary group for destitute children.

“It is very, very difficult to defend the police. Even in the best of times the police remain a target. In any dispute or complaint from the public, there are two always sides and one side is bound to complain against the police. The police is the only agency of the government which has to always defend itself,” said Kant.

“If a constable rapes he is a brute but he may also be a constable who would sacrifice his life. The total number of policemen who become martyrs far exceeds the number in any other force. The hardship and sacrifices a policeman has to make is unparalleled.”

A policeman was beheaded in Rajasthan during Gurjar protests in Sikandra, Rajasthan, on May 23, 2008. The next day protesters attacked a police station and the police had to fire on them in self-defence. The headlines were on the police firing but little was said about the police being attacked. Does this show that the popular perception is that it’s okay to attack the police?
The police have every right to use force if a mob is attacking property or people but that action has to be justified and in proportion, said Daruwala. “There is a balance in everything and the law too requires the police to be balanced. The police, because they are the coercive arm of the state, are watched much more closely.”

“The point is not whether an individual policeman is a victim or villain, but that the perception of people is that the police are inefficient, abusive and violent. The public has no longer any confidence in the police and I blame the police leadership, politicians and our system of governance for this. We have not tried to reform the police system from the old colonial model and in fact have made it a mix of feudal and colonial. We will never get a good police like this—never,” said Daruwala.

System error?

The fault is in the system, agreed Mishra. His client, Dr Talwar, is accused of murdering his daughter Arushi and domestic help Hemraj. The UP Police were investigating the murders but their blunders forced Chief Minister Mayawati to transfers the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

“The gentleman heading the CBI team in probing the murders is a UP cadre police officer. How come he is able to work efficiently in the CBI and not in the state? My sympathies are with the UP police in some measure because they were so ill equipped to investigate the case. They didn’t even have sniffer dogs—in some measure the police are doing a very hard job in very trying circumstances. Police reforms are long overdue,” said Mishra.

But police reforms are a job nobody wants to do. “No one who matters wants to change the police. Anyone who exercises power and authority doesn’t want the police to change. They want to use the police as an instrument. Any policeman can perform and work if he is given an opportunity,” said Kant.

The police must be given credit where credit is due and blame where blame is due, said Daruwala. “The politicians want a police they can control but that must be done sensibly,” she said.

Kant agreed that police must be punished for their sins but said the police need to be protected from outside “influences” if they were to do their job. “Rule of law applies to everybody in the country but the police is supposed to enforce it. You have to insulate the police from outside influences,” he said.

SMS poll result on Anger against police: Are policemen victims not villains? No: 74 per cent, Yes: 26 per cent.