Incidents at JNU have cast a shadow on the integrity of the police force. It’s high time Delhi Police restores credibility. It owes allegiance not to the Government but to the rule of law
The modern police force (some would call this an oxymoron) is often assumed to have been around for centuries. India, with its colonial backdrop, got its own police force from what the British had left. However, even in democracies that are centuries older, the modern police force is a relatively recent concept. In the US, for example, policing was primarily profit-based. Meaning, it was a privately-funded system and was often a luxury only for the rich and the powerful. Slowly, this model changed from an individually-funded luxury to more of a collective good where a larger number of people pooled in money to pay for the protection of their town/city.
In the northern part of the US, this requirement for a police force was primarily driven by economic factors, ie, to keep the property and assets of a community safe. In the southern part, however, policing was driven by a different motivation. The focus of the police was on “protection” and “preservation” of the slavery system and on “enforcing segregation.” As the Time magazine put it eloquently, in the US, throughout the 19th century, the definition of public order, which a police officer was entrusted to maintain, depended on who was asking. This policing system in the later part of the 19th century was driven by political parties, where the police captains and sergeants for each precinct were usually picked by the local political party ward leader. This police would then target forces that challenged the prevailing political establishment.
Fast forward to 2019 and to the Indian police force, events of the past month show just how little can change over a period of time. This past week, we saw one of the most troubling episodes in police history at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). On January 5, a mob of masked men and women entered the JNU campus armed with machetes, hammers and rods and attacked the students and teachers there. At least 23 people were injured, including faculty members and students.
The one image that stood out was of a “helpless” police force standing outside the gates of the university campus even as violence and damage raged inside JNU. As per reports, WhatsApp alerts where sent to the Delhi police, raising an alarm that a large gathering had entered JNU with weapons and sticks and were attacking the students. These alerts were sent around 3 pm. However, until 7:45 pm, additional forces failed to enter JNU to stop the violence and get a grip of the situation.
In fact, as per a Delhi Police report, starting from 2:30 pm, the police control room received more than 50 calls about masked miscreants entering the university campus and beating up students. This was not the only curious element in the sequence of events. As the attacks took place, an entire stretch of the road of up to one kilometre in front of JNU became pitch dark. Why were the streetlights switched off or missing? And how did this happen? As a former police officer and a bearer of common sense, I feel the first thing the police should have done was to somehow get the lights working in the area where the worst attack was taking place. One doesn’t need police training to know that there is less likelihood of crime and violence when people think they can be identified. Yet, we do not know what caused this curious case of missing lights. The Delhi police’s image was further dented due to photographs that showed people armed with rods and sticks walking right in front of them.
In Uttar Pradesh, too, there have been certain horror stories that have emerged over the past month regarding the conduct of the police. As per eye witness accounts and newspaper reports, it is estimated that more than 5,500 detention and 1,100 arrests took place across the State while various groups protested against the BJP Government’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). In fact, the Allahabad High Court took suo motu cognisance of the matter and sought a reply from the State Government over the incidents of police brutality against the protesters. More and more stories of lawless and police-backed gundaraj are emerging in the Yogi-ruled State. The stories we hear, however, are limited, to a large extent, by internet blockade that seems to be the go-to weapon of the BJP.
Both the JNU incident and the episodes in Uttar Pradesh are a shocking indictment of the police in our country. We are no longer talking about modernising the police force or improving investigation. All those improvements can only be built on a police force that has integrity, which the ruling Government has eroded. What we are witnessing now is how the police force is being directed, instructed or nudged to overlook certain incidents from certain pockets of people and amplify certain incidents from another. The discourse has been set by the ruling Government with phrases like tukde-tukde gang or labelling every critic as anti-national.
Why the BJP is setting the nation aflame? It has nothing to talk about other than these imagined rivalries between Indians. The fear and hatred that pits one Indian against another is created by the BJP, propagated by certain stooges of the ruling dispensation and then implemented on the ground by various agencies, be it the police force or the tax authorities or any other tool that the BJP can get its hand on. The Government can’t have us focus on the fact that its rule has been an unmitigated disaster. Unemployment is at its highest in 45 years, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth is low and consumer spending, too, is down. Which is why these incidents keep happening under its rule.
A study conducted by three political scientists of the Yale University had said that the BJP benefits every time there is a riot or religious discord. It has, therefore, decided to return to its tried and tested method. The police, however, must realise that they owe allegiance to the rule of law and to the Constitution. They know this already but may be the police needs reminding that public order is not what is defined by the BJP. If they allow it to be, then it might as well be the knell of democracy.
(Writer: Ajoy Kumar; Courtesy: The Pioneer)