//Ahimsa-won democracy rules through the lathi

Ahimsa-won democracy rules through the lathi

India’s police force today has assumed the character of goondas in uniform

D R Goyal Delhi

Justice and free play are challenged when confronted with opposition. Violent regimes invite violent opposition, but violence instead of being countered is escalated. Gandhi believed in dialogue with the opponent as the first step. When argument and reasoning failed, he called for mass action, but that too was non-violent.

A democracy won through such means has failed to keep its tryst. The case of the police is a case in point. In the colonial era, it was meant to keep the natives in check. Now it serves to keep the marginalised from spilling into the space meant for the new rulers.

The police lathicharge on protesting industrial workers in Gurgaon, which is just a few odd kilometers away from India’s capital, raised fundamental questions about whether the police forces are law enforcers or musclemen of big industrialists. Recently, the police lathicharged a students demonstration demanding students elections in their university. A democratically organised protest expressing a democratic right is met with repression and violence.

Similarly, the role of the police has repeatedly come up after each episode of communal violence in the country. In the anti-Sikh violence in 1984, apart from politicians who engineered the violence, the guilt also falls on the police force that either remained silent, or participated in the crimes. Gujarat 2002 was a marker in terms of impunity. Instead of protecting victims, the police wase on the side of the killers and arsonists. Some policemen refused to register FIRs; instead complainants were arrested on fabricated charges. Investigations were not properly conducted, so when cases came up before the court, the police did not help the prosecution.

The police which is so active against citizens is lethargic in relation to violence against women and children at best; at worst it itself engages in acts of violence against those
citizens it is meant to protect. It hounds and intimidates those at the receiving end of society, and wields its baton. The police hounds democratic dissenters and finds ways of intimidating them, killing them in "encounters", arresting people from their homes at night and giving rise to slogans such as "Indian state, police state".

Then there is the question of VIP security, which is assuming almost ludicrous proportions. A one-time security officer attached to Jawaharlal Nehru narrated Nehru’s response to a briefing on his security drill: "How can you protect me if the people whom I claim to represent cannot protect me?" That brings to mind the fact that the leaders who have been assassinated, Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh and Delhi MP Lalit Maken had fallen either to the bullets of those deployed for their security or in spite of them. The system has robbed the ordinary citizen of security without guaranteeing the safety of their representatives. VIP security becomes a wall between leaders and their constituency.

Women find the capital city unsafe as there are frequent reports of abductions and rapes and the police are seen to be either conniving with the heinous act or failing to do its duty. The defence offered on behalf of the force was inadequacy of numbers because a large part of the force in the capital is deployed for the security of VIPs and VVIPs. There is no dearth of reports in which policemen are accused of committing crimes ranging from theft to rape. That being the case, how will larger numbers make the citizens of democratic India safer?

One way out is to train the police again, from the lowest to the highest levels, to remind them of their duties and responsibilities in the world’s largest democracy. The country’s elite also need to be reminded that the police is not their private force. People of a democracy have to feel included, though not at the cost of vigilantism.