The boast of the J&K DIG’s son that his father was a “real king” because the “last time he put [on] his shoes himself was almost 15 years ago” has drawn angry reactions from many quarters. This incident is painful because it projects a bleak reality that has to be accepted.
This reality has two aspects. First, the J&K DIG is one of many “kings” in the police forces of the country. Only two years ago, a PIL heard in the Punjab and Haryana High Court alleged that an officer of the rank of inspector general of police of the vigilance department was using as many as 31 police constables and head constables as “servants”. On receiving a notice from the high court, the Punjab government reportedly conducted an inquiry and then suspended the officer. The orderly system still exists and is often misused.
Second, the conditions under which the police constabulary work and live in this country are harsh, humiliating and oppressive. Their salaries are low. They do not have fixed hours of work. Their job is risky and stressful. Family accommodation is not available to the majority of them. They are constantly on the move and have little to look forward to in terms of career advancement. While delivering the fourth Nani Palkhiwala Memorial lecture in Mumbai on October 5, 2009, P.C. Chidambaram, then Union home minister, said that the police constable “who works for 12 to 14 hours a day throughout the year is the most abused” part of the machinery. “Everyone believes that he can be bullied, or cajoled or bribed… he is the most reviled public servant.” He further said that the “self-esteem of the average policeman is very low. and this average police constable is a frontline force for internal security.”
The lower ranks of the police complain that their self-esteem is affected by the behaviour of their senior officers. There are two main grievances. One, policemen posted as orderlies at the residence of senior officers are often required to attend to the personal demands of the seniors and their family members. Two, seniors generally treat junior police officials in a rough, rude manner. Add to this the fact that the general public also looks down on the police constable as a lowly creature. We have not given the policeman the status that befits his role in society. Recently, there have been reports that policemen from the lower ranks have been abused and assaulted by politicians and the public.
A policeman with low esteem cannot be professionally efficient or community friendly. As observed by the National Police Commission (NPC), the manner in which police personnel at lower levels behave towards the public is largely conditioned by the manner in which they are treated by their own senior officers. In its fifth report, the NPC observed: “No amount of exhortation from the higher ranks calling for courteous behaviour towards the public would carry conviction with the subordinates if, in day to day police work, these subordinates are treated with scant courtesy and consideration by the supervisory levels within the police force.”
The managerial philosophy of the police is based on distrust of the lower ranks. In pre-Independence days, the “native” policemen were not to be trusted. The Police Act of 1861 used the words “inferior officers” for those occupying the lower ranks in the police. The phrase still exists in Section 7 of the Police Act, which is titled “Appointment, dismissal etc of inferior officers”. A distinction between seniors and juniors in a hierarchical force may be understandable, but to categorise a small minority of senior officers as superior and a large chunk of the force as inferior smacks of a set-up that is authoritarian and of values that are feudal. Such a police act could hardly be expected to build up a force that functions as a professional organisation.
Even after Independence, the mindset has not changed. We have retained the same style of management. The gulf between the senior officers and lower ranks is still very wide. As Ved Marwah, a retired senior police officer, has mentioned, “Unfortunately, elitism within the superior ranks has only widened the gap between the field policemen and the supervising officers. The two inhabit very different worlds. A culture of distrust of the subordinate officer has developed over the years. This needs to change if the police are to be an accountable and professional force.”
In India, we have given ourselves a democratic structure of governance but our values are highly feudal. So far as the police force is concerned, it is colonial in its structure, as well as values. It is one of the reasons why the police in this country have failed to develop a sense of self-esteem and professional pride.
The writer is a retired director of the Bureau of Police Research and Development and author of ‘Policing in India — Some Unpleasant Essays’
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