Who will police the police?

02:41 AM Jun 01, 2019 |

There was a time—it now seems so long ago—when there was no television, and print journalists covered city beats as a precursor to becoming political reporters. It was a long drawn out rite of passage in Delhi newspapers, with the young reporter spending maybe even ten years covering all the city beats, including university, crime, the municipal corporation and what have you before he or she was even allowed to get within sniffing distance of political beats.

It was also a time when professional journalists were editors and they kept a stern eye on the coverage, being exacting bosses who would refuse to tolerate plain laziness. It was also the age of irreverence, where reporters were encouraged not to accept the police version on any issue and work at exposing the loopholes.


No longer. Now, whatever the police says is accepted as the gospel truth and trotted out as being just that by the so-called national media. So by the time the loose ends in the police version come out, the people have already been presented with a fait accompli by the media that refuses to question or grill the police and their stories.


Two quick incidents, both in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, provide horrific instances of the above. One, the mowing down of poor labourers in the jungles by the Andhra cops. Not one or two, but 20 of the poorest of the poor killed at two different spots. The Delhi media reported it as the police said it, with the Tamil Nadu political parties pointing out that the killed were not red sandalwood smugglers as was being alleged by the police. And that the killings were in cold blood, and not in a gunfight as the Andhra police was insisting. Subsequently, reports suggest that at least seven of those killed had been taken out from a bus by the police, and killed along with the others. An eyewitness has reported that the police pulled out the men travelling alone on the bus and took them away.

There has not been a word against this by the Andhra Pradesh chief minister, Chandrababu Naidu, the Telangana CM, the Bharatiya Janata Party or for that matter, the Congress Party in these states. Silence. That has remained unbroken through the news of the second killing, of five Muslim youth by the Telangana Police.

In this version, the Muslim youth accused of setting up a terrorist organisation were being taken from Warangal jail to the courts for the hearing, one of them took away the gun of a policeman escorting them along with 16 others, and in the ensuing fracas, all were killed.

The photographs belie this as the men are propped up in vehicles, handcuffed or hands tied, with guns placed in their hands. This has led to a major uproar outside the media, with political parties like the CPI(M) joining the human rights activists, and the families of the victims in demanding a high-level judicial probe.

The police, everywhere in the world, somehow manage to portray all that is base and not correct in that particular society. In India, governments in power have turned away their eyes while the police in the states has wreaked havoc at times on innocent persons.

Massacres of the Hashimpura kind are not unknown, with custodial deaths, fake encounters, false arrests, torture all being part of Indian policing. Several committees have been set up, commissions instituted and forgotten, with their reports for revamping the police system thrown into garbage bins. A certain brutality is encouraged, and as in the two recent cases, is particularly vicious against the poor and the innocent.

The police suffer from the same ills as society, communalism and casteism, for instance. And clearly, the training is too inadequate to knock these out of the average recruit, who then rules through his police station, over the deprived and the helpless. Unlike the Army that manages to instil a certain level of professionalism that takes over caste and religious considerations in the exercise of duty, the police constables are not trained to rise above these, and hence bring their own prejudices and biases into the line of duty. So there are instances when the police kill members of another caste or community, or worse, stand by as these people are being attacked, instead of protecting them. This has been seen over and over in almost every major incident of violence. They have been roundly criticised for their partisan role, but to no avail.

The silence from both, the Andhra and Telangana Governments on the above two incidents is a grave indicator that nothing has changed, and that the police wings of the two states clearly have political sanction. This has thus created fear in the people, and fear, as everyone knows, is never good for a healthy, vibrant democracy. In fact, it is negative, as it heightens insecurities and uncertainties that can become extremely counterproductive.

The police is of course sticking to its version. The silence of the big political players in these states is corroborative of this version. The usual noise is being made by the smaller parties, the victims’ families which are the worst affected, sections of the media and of course, the human rights activists. The perpetrators of this violence have factored these reactions into the game plan, knowing full well that while those killed will become statistics for the world at large within days, or already have, but the fear generated through the violence will be pervasive. It will remain with the communities and the people to whom the politicians and the police want to send out a message.

In short, mission accomplished. With some ‘collateral’ damage that can be contained, if not immediately, then with time.

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