In India, public perception of the police is not very positive. They don’t appear to be citizen friendly – and there are obvious reasons for this. Pick up any newspaper and you’d find gruesome reports on police abuse in prisons. Incidents like custodial deaths happening at the hands of the police are common and we are all aware of the deep-rooted corruption in the system. All of this, and much more, has not only painted the force in a bad light but has also arguably led to more crimes in the society.
As a result, people are scared of going to the police. This, in turn, has normalised crime to an extent that we have accepted that we must live with it. We get scared when the police visits us, or when we get a call from the station – even if it’s for a simple official enquiry. This fear, in my opinion, can be traced to the foundation of the police force.
The police force in India was formed during the colonial period as an instrument of oppression – Britishers wanted to enforce their laws on Indians by hook or by crook. Our colonial masters would exploit their power to inflict extreme brutal measures on citizens through the police. One horrifying example of police atrocity in the British Raj was the infamous Jallianwala Bagh massacre in which thousands of unarmed people were brutally killed on the directions of General Reginald Dyer.
The general approach of the police, as is seen historically, has always been callous and reprobate. It appears that our police has not been able to overcome this colonial mindset entirely. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the police force in India seem to lack the desired empathy and are frequently alleged to have abused their power.
Also read: An Open Letter to the Police in India
India desperately need police reforms. It isn’t just a present-day demand but a long-standing necessity. Various commissions and committees have submitted their reports, but their recommendations were never implemented. Some of the prominent committees formed for the police reforms are Gore Committee on Police Training, the National Police Commission, the Ribeiro Committee on Police Reforms, the Padmanabhaiah Committee on Police Reforms and the Soli Sohrabjee Committee. All the recommendations have largely been left to gather dust.
The police in India comes under the state list and its structure, in almost all the states, is based on the same archaic colonial legislation i.e. the Police Act of 1861 with a few modifications. In the year 1996, Prakash Singh, who was a retired and a well-known police officer, filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking a replacement of the present police act by the new model Police Act as was proposed by the National Police Commission. The petitioners explained the fallacies and the shortcomings of the present Act and advocated a need for a change in the same.
The petition was a result of the failure of the government to comply with the recommendations given by the various committees over the years. The Supreme Court, in the year 2006, gave its verdict directing all the states and union territories to adhere to the new model. Since then, the apex court has recognised the need for police reforms in the country, and has, time from time to time checked whether the state administrations are complying with the new set of rules.
However, the most important element for any criminal justice system is the faith of the common man. As long as this trust is not eroded, the foundations of justice remains intact. The rule of law and the equal protection of law is to be secured to all the citizens, so as to not defeat the goals envisaged by the makers of our constitution. Thus we must realise the significance of police reforms as a measure to improve access to justice for every citizen of this country.
Anant Prakash Mishra is a third-year law student at the National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata (NUJS)
Featured image credit: Reuters