Blame the damn cops for everything
They Say when you don't have words of your own, use somebody else's. Since i don't have much to say, here's a great article By Anshul Chaturvedi (Courtesy: Times of India).
"India's status as the world's largest democracy is undermined by a police force that thinks it is above the law," says Brad Adams, Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, in a recent report.
I think India's status as a democracy - irrespective of size - is firstly undermined by a political class that thinks it is above the law, by an administrative machinery that thinks it is above the law, and - going by how upset they are at being asked to divulge their financial assets - a judiciary that thinks it is above the law, too. The cops are way, way down the line. And, oh, incidentally, along the way, they get shot, too. None of the others run that risk.
We have made a culture out of branding men in uniform. The local police, the central paramilitary forces, and whenever we get a chance, the army. And anybody who thinks otherwise risks being promptly branded a right-winger or a closet BJP sympathizer (some blog commentators seem to be in an endless pursuit of hidden clues to expose all writers as such!).
Anyways, leaving that aside, I am not in the least saying that whatever the police do is right. I am also not in the least denying that the degree of corruption at the grassroots in the local police across the country is simply unacceptable, with perhaps the traffic cops ahead of the rest by a fair margin. I also think our reaction as a society to many things the police do is a combination of mixed reactions and double standards - as in the case of police 'encounters'.
What I am saying is that we seem to look at our police forces the way the Sri Lankan population looked at the IPKF - a force which worked with one hand tied behind its back, did some things wrong and many things right, was handicapped by policy and structural drawbacks, fought pitched battles against well entrenched opposition, and, at the end of the day, earned no body's sympathy.
Officers who were heroes and took immense personal risks when the anti-Khalistani battle was being fought in the fields and towns of Punjab were sidelined, shunted or locked up when peace was established. Some spent time in jails, some committed suicide. It was reduced to a pathetic Congress vs Akali issue. We will be fools to forget the difference between Operation Bluestar and Operation Black Thunder, the difference between letting loose tanks to handle internal security and letting a coordinated Centre-State policing operation sort out complex issues.
Punjab was won back from a period of endless violence by the police - brutally, yes, but if anyone had any other way to do it, I don't remember hearing much about it in those years, when everyone would shut the doors at night, and CRPF gypsies with an LMG on top and thick wooden panels as improvised bullet-proofing would be the only vehicles for endless miles on the lonely Punjab roads. The local police - a very high proportion of which was Sikh - fought a bloody battle for years. The price they paid ranged from attacks on the then DGP Ribeiro, to dozens of officers killed, to the long night when militants in a coordinated manner selectively killed 40-odd relatives of policemen, across villages. Yet, the force displayed the spine to keep the fight going. The fact that the Punjab Police is today back to being a relatively easy, not-too-averse-to-financial-perks sort of mindset does not change the reality of the bloody mess from which Punjab came back to what it is today. And how.
In J&K, a lot has gone wrong. But what went wrong in J&K didn't go wrong because the men in uniform went to set Kashmir alight. Once it went wrong, they were sent in to salvage it, and the familiar cycle of operations in insurgency-hit areas played itself it out. There is no hundred per cent clean, sanitised, and friendly way to handle situations once they reach those levels when AK-47s are in free circulation. No country in the world has been able to do that. Questions will arise, action will need to be taken, and if men cross the lines they shouldn't, action will need to be taken against them too. But there is more to the issue and the Forces than the headline-grabbling episodes of misbehaviour.
The CRPF seems to have been getting tagged as some sort of a bunch of deranged mavericks in hormonal overdrive, and faces the bulk of the current flak in Kashmir. "Send the CRPF back" is currently a very popular sentiment. However, not too long back, it was "send the BSF back". Come to think of it, hasn't it been "send the Army back" for some time? Ergo, send them all back? And it will be peace and harmony - courtesy the Lashkar?
Now, while the men in the CRPF are no better or no worse temperamentally than those in any similar force, the branding has been quick. And the horrendous PR machinery of the uniformed forces means that there is hardly any counter-move. But when two uniformed men are killed in the heart of Srinagar this Saturday, that is fair game. Coincidentally, they reflect the way men in khaki, across faiths and across their taglines, are fair game so often - the CRPF's BB Ghosh and the state police's Mohammed Shafi Bhat were the two men shot sans provocation, to make a point. In 24 hours, their names have no recall value for anyone. There will be no bandh or rally. There will be no write-ups in the local press expressing anything. This is just information. New road inaugurated by Minister. Flights cancelled due to bad weather. Two jawans killed in militant attacks. What's the difference?
And the same CRPF which is supposedly a bunch of maniacs in J&K is the first lot sent ahead to clear the way when West Bengal needs to reclaim "liberated territory" from the Maoists. The CRPF alone has lost 40-odd men killed in the interiors of the country - Chattisgarh and Jharkhand - this year alone. It's bizarre. The numbers of men killed just don't seem to register on us in terms of magnitude. The massacre of 36 policemen including the district SP of Rajnandgaon less than a month back is just a blip on our radar screens - we're probably back to watching Rakhi's swyamwaar with much greater focus.
As they say, the policeman's lot is not a happy one. The Indian policeman's lot is generally a miserable one, more so, if he isn't the sort who wants to stash himself with notes and believes in the old-fashioned world of duty unto death. Pity him.
So when Human Rights Watch says that the Indian police culture breeds brutality, it is no surprise. Yes, it does. It, however, despite the system and the culture, breed better things too - if only we would stop to give the devil his collective due.
If our status as the world's largest democracy is under threat, Mr Adams, I really don't think the neighbourhood cop is the first guy I think of as being responsible for that, at least not yet. He has a long way to catch up, so far as that list goes."
- Anshul Chaturvedi