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The mistrust with a gatekeeper

It is a cliché to say that India is the only country where people do not feel secure when they see the police, but get anxious of their presence. Lack of trust in the institution leaves the law abiding honest citizen at the mercy of the wrongdoer. The question asked since ages is “why?”

A child watching cartoons witnesses a world where there is good and evil. He sees the wrong this world has, from thieves to criminals to their fictional parallel villains and supervillains. Then there are those who deliver justice and set a moral example at an impressionable age of justice, rectifying the wrong and why a person must have sound morals. They work against the bad guy, hero-villain, which is condensed to chor-police in real life. Stepping into adulthood this myth is shattered. The criminals always infamously get their way out of the crime. Whereas the righteous run pillar to post to avail justice with often futile attempts. Before approaching the lawyer and the court, a plebeian first approaches the police. Then the person is exposed to horrors of this institution. There is no timely arrival of the PCR. In the police station the infrastructure is abysmal. There is no one to attend the victim. Moreover there is no legal reassurance to the victim of justice being delivered. Then there is other side of the story, corruption and bribery. This is no secret that the police machinery is infested with this plague.. The officers ask for bribe to register complaint from the complainant or ask for it from the accused to evade it. This is a routine affair which people face everyday. There are further instances of stonewalling the proceedings, laxity in collection of the evidence. Utter disregard to code of conduct with the parties. Police harassment goes on a step further when vulnerable people are handled. Atrocities against minorities and Dalits go unreported. Threats and intimidations are not heard and warded off as frivolous, people are also intimidated by the police itself citing the powerful position of the opposing party. Then there is fudging of statements received and manipulation to forward a false narrative. All of this makes the legal recourse a cumbersome, intimidating and an alienating process for the common man.

The problem

There is a plethora of reasons over where the problem lies in this system. We have all the stakeholders to blame in the prevailing scenario. The foremost being police. From the time of recruitment there is no weightage to right training of the appointees. There is absolutely no advocacy of correct ethics in the officers. Ethics although internal, requires to be motivated into the society regularly. System needs a continuous push to reward the honest and hardworking officers. At the same time it needs a prompt and resolute setup to punish those who do not work properly. Systems where rewards are there for positive input, with punishments for offences incentivizes people to be on the right side of the law. In the fictitious graph jotting accountability of an officer and their interaction with the citizens the common observation is that those who are involved in interaction with the complainant, as well as the accused are junior level officers. With all the experience of me and my fellow colleagues in our police interaction, there is a shared opinion over the conduct of junior police officers. They handle the complainant passively. Try every bit to evade taking a complaint, or registering an FIR. Problem is worse if you live in rural areas. Justice is a farce when you experience its redemption.

On the other hand are the innocent naive people. In any society there will be a mixed bag of people. People have less or no knowledge about the legal remedy available to them. The police always seems a body of intimidation. Criminal nexus, political sympathizers and powerful people are infamous to bend laws and coerce witnesses in their own interests. 1999 Delhi Hit and Run case is a classic example to witness intimidation. Even well educated citizens lack a sound legal knowledge. Financial constrains exacerbate the crisis further. People are shrugged off citing their own fault. Pretext of mutual welfare is often used to avoid work. When there is a genuine case, Police often look for an opportunity to close the case by manipulating one party to give a hefty bribe. Further if these encumbrances are tackled there are numerous other challenges with respect to investigation of the crime. In the proceedings tedious arguments take place. Granting of bail is another impediment where police exercises unfettered power. In recent times due to coronavirus the access to courts is restricted. Making things difficult is discretion and ambiguity over the covid conduct. Violation of the protocols are being dealt with a heavy hand. No one has been spared of witnessing such instances in the last one year. Ironically the legal apparatus feels as intimidating as the dreaded criminal on the street.

The solution

All the stakeholders are here to blame. Police is a necessary EVIL. Necessary needs no explanation and evil needs no exposure. We all need to build ourselves to learn to work with them. Firstly, our police system needs reforms. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Cops feel like they have unchecked powers. To intimidate the citizenry, threaten grave consequences over petty issues. Lurking for opportunities to misguide the gullible with aggression and glib talk. Laxity in filing complaints and investigation is also an ever impending issue. Going to another extreme is custodial violence and sometimes death. Lately there has been an uprise of incidents where encounter culture is hailed and celebrated. As a law abiding society, the procedure to get justice via sound means has been relegated to a mockery. Abuse of power needs an urgent correction. 1993 Vohra committee report says “ Network of mafia is virtually running a parallel government and it was futile to expect any decisive action”. This report highlighted a close nexus between criminals politicians and government functionaries. Next thing to address is accountability and answerability of the officers. Police being a state subject (under Police Act of 1861) is often a point of contention ( Case in Delhi). There is also another side of the coin. The police is already overburdened with existing cases. There is lack of staff, also we often hear that women police officers are not there which makes it difficult to handle women related offences. The requisite remedy in staffing is urgent. 100000:137 citizen-police ratio. That is not all, there is lack of infrastructure. Work culture is also not up to the mark. In 1996 Prakash Singh filed a petition seeking to change things to make it more accountable and responsive. Other 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. Yet there is no action towards change.

As a citizen we need to be made to accept certain things. What needs to be stressed upon is legal knowledge in the citizenry. Knowing about ones rights and tackling the crooks with utmost rigor. In case a junior police officer refuses to register a complaint and starts to intimidate you or raises his tone, don’t think twice, cry scream and shout to enter into SHO’s cabin. Be assertive in your pleadings. Police officers are public servants, not goons in a uniform. In case even if that doesn’t work call 112/100. Citing my personal experience it is the best thing to do. Even if this does not work, mail your complaint to ACP, DCP and Commissioner of police along with the grievance of refusal to register an FIR. The police can not intimidate you into submission. They hold no authority to refuse to perform their duty. In case you have committed a non cognizable offence then police can not arrest you. And if the offence is cognizable then as well they are bound to present you to the Magistrate within 48 hours of arrest. Custodial violence is itself a crime. Sections 330, 331 & 348 of IPC; Sections 25 & 26 of the Indian Evidence Act; Section 76 of CrPC and Section 29 of the Police Act, 1861 were enacted to curb the tendency of policemen to resort to torture to extract confessions. There is no power in this country which can rip off innocent of their lawful rights. Educate the youth about the same. It is high time that we know about laws in a country where they are a fundamental tool. In case you find the legal recourse intimidating, talk to a lawyer. The police is only afraid of one person, that is the Judge. Who is the one answering the Judge? No points for guessing, it is the lawyer.

Everything is not bad in the Police Department. In this Covid period there have been incidents where police have proven to be saviors and messiahs in the hour of need. There are a lot of honest and hard working officers who really want to see peoples welfare. But some dirty fish pollute the whole pond. Let us hope for a more coherent reform where the dirty fish will be identified, traced and remedied.

“ If corruption is rewarded, and honesty becomes a self sacrifice then you know that the society is doomed”

By Purujit Mongia, 3rd year Student of Faculty of Law, University of Delhi.

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