Private Security, Police and the Poor

security guard

I recall an incident, when a young girl was kidnapped from an upper middle-class colony in South Delhi. Police were immediately deployed at the scene and within a matter of a few days, the girl was rescued and restored to her parents. News of this case stirred up the fears of residents and consequently the Resident’s Welfare Association, in a span of a week, ensured that CCTV cameras were installed at key places, barricades set up and guards posted at all entry and exit points. It took a single case of kidnapping to jolt the residents into action. The action they took – hire private security guards & install surveillance equipment.

In most urban gated communities, security is managed by private companies who deploy guards and install security infrastructure. It is an easy and affordable solution to the problem of security. Business persons, VIPs, large industrial complexes, banks and many others make use of the benefits of personal private security, and as a result of this increasing demand, the private security industry in India is growing in huge numbers. According to a report, the Private Security industry in India is expected to become a Rs. 80,000 crore industry by 2020, employing more than 130 lakh personnel by 2020[1]. The government’s plan to create 100 citizen friendly smart cities, the growing number of VIPS (and VVIPS!), and the increase in crime rates are principal reasons for the explosion of the private security industry in India.

In contrast to this is India’s weakening police force. India has one of the lowest police-population ratios in the world with one policemen for 663 persons[2]. Based on data derived from the Bureau of Police Research and Development, there are 19.89 lakh police officers in the country[3], with an average of 3 police for 20,828 VIPs across the country[4]. On the other hand, the private security industry employs about 70 lakh persons across the country[5]. This comparison can only make one think of how many people and places are outside law enforcement’s protection. While private security firms grow at an exponential rate, the number of people (who depend on State police protection) who are left unprotected by law is increasing in greater proportion.

A vivid example of those unprotected by law are the 1.84 crore plus bonded labourers in the country[6]. Bonded labourers are mostly the poorest of the poor – uneducated, jobless and unware of basic rights; they are exploited through traffickers with a promise of a better life. The most identifiable method used by traffickers to trap labourers in bondage is to give an advance to the labourer with the initial expectation that the debt would be cleared through hard labour. However, most bonded labourers remain stuck in a web of lies, abuse, false promises, and restrictions (including the restriction of freedom of movement). Such people live outside the protection of the law, invisible to most of the society, destined to live and die in hard forced labour.

During a rescue operation of bonded labourers, local police and district administration officials are present to ensure that the labourers are rescued and the offender is booked. During this time, NGO workers must often explain to the police and district administration the laws and the procedures for releasing bonded labourers. A lack of knowledge of the law, lack of training in procedures and many times a lack of will to enforce the laws is a primary problem. Given this reality, it is unimaginable to think of how the government can, with a broken and outnumbered police force, protect lakhs of poor who are largely invisible and live outside basic protection of the law, and who, in any measure cannot afford private security for protection. Private security agencies only fill the gap of a weak police force for those who can afford it. Industries, banks, office complexes, warehouses, commercial sites, VIPs, etc., pay for the services of private security agencies. But what about common people? How can the poorest of the poor afford basic protection? What about bonded labourers? The government’s mandate is to provide protection and access to justice for every citizen and to this end invest in building a stronger police force that protect the masses and not only the elites.

We must be grateful to the police who acted swiftly in restoring the little girl to her parents. We must be grateful for the technology and services available to keep us safe. But we will fail our citizens if security is given only to those who can afford it. And therefore, it is important and necessary that the government prioritises developing our police force with skills, knowledge and the will to protect every citizen, including those who cannot afford protection, including the invisible and the most vulnerable. For India to develop in the fullest sense, our police matter because every citizen matters!

Arun D Kadambavanam works in International Justice Mission, New Delhi. International Justice Mission (IJM) works alongside local authorities to rescue victims of exploitation, bring criminals to justice, restore survivors to safety and strength, and help local law enforcement build a safe future that lasts. Arun lives in New Delhi, works with an amazing team and is passionate about seeking justice for the poor!


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