Everyday violence is all around us – all pervasive and yet invisible. Invisible because we live in a society where low-level endemic day to day violence is normalized that we have developed blind spots that stop us from seeing what is sometimes right below our noses – sometimes, often in our own homes. To highlight this, an organization recently held an exhibition of paintings illustrating several instances of everyday violence in a prominent Delhi mall. The choice
of a mall, where people come to shop , eat out or spend an evening out with their families and not to admire paintings was deliberate – it was to highlight to “ people like us”, India’s rich and upwardly mobile population with disposable incomes about the culture of violence that surrounds them hand in glove with a culture of impunity and general apathy. The many hundred visitors at the exhibition and the pointed questions asked of the artist, including some heart searching by some of the visitors about how they could do their bit to contribute to a society that is governed by the Rule of Law where perpetrators of violence are deterred because of speedy and effective punishments.
But the police and other law enforcement agencies are generally considered inept by most people unless prodded by political bosses. Let alone investigate a crime thoroughly, in many instances the police will often decline to lodge a FIR, which at the very least, forces them to acknowledge that a crime has occurred under their jurisdiction. In recent incidents of mob lynching that have been widely reported, perpetrators have repeatedly said that they had to take the law into their own hands as the police were absent or unreliable. When a seven-year-old boy was murdered in the bathroom of a private school last year, police in a Delhi locality forced the conductor of a school bus to confess and closed the case. Weeks later a court-ordered investigation used previously ignored CCTV footage to reveal that the killer had been an older student.
But while bad press coverage makes it easy to blame the police for everything, the reality is more complex. A chat with the police makes the reasons for poor performance very clear. Firstly, there are too few of them. India’s ratio of policemen per 1,000 people is just 1.2, about half the level recommended by the UN. By the government’s own calculation the country has 600,000 fewer policemen than required . Although the general impression is that the police are lazy, police
tend to be overworked. A survey in 2014 unearthed that 90% of officers worked longer than eight hours a day, and 73% got no more than one day off per week. Recent introduction of eight-hour shifts in Kerala and Mumbai has radically improved morale.
The administrative edifice of the police has changed very little since the colonial era. Two-thirds of police are constables, usually with little training, obsolete equipment and no powers to arrest or investigate. At the top of the pyramid stand the 5,000 members of the Indian Police Service, hat before 1920 was staffed only by British officers. Selected by the UPSC, these elite officers rarely stay in a post more than two years, but enjoy housing, transport and other perks. Between them and the constables are officers in various state police forces who hold full responsibility for everyone junior but enjoy no influence over the elite IPS Officers.
A 2018 report released by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative measured obedience by Indian states with six orders on police reform issued by the Supreme Court in 2006. Not even one state had fully complied. No wonder that many Indians have concluded that politicians are unwilling to reform the police, because the force serves their interests very well. The police agree. According to a state police chief, the top three problems are poor communications inside the force, lack of manpower or resources—and interfering politicians.
Shantanu Dutta is a Former Air Force Doctor and is a development worker for the last 25 years.