Is India a police state? Or becoming one

Amir Ullah Khan and Sriram B

Police forces in India primarily function under the colonial Police Act of 1861. The Act of 1861 was a law enacted to make a formidable police force that would quell any repeat of one of the first wars of Indian Independence. Today, more than 160 years after that Act, and 75 years after the Indian Republic, “We the people” have failed to give ourselves Police that is obligated to work for ‘Us, the taxpayers’.

The Police that we think are to protect us, the citizens and the taxpayers, lay their allegiance by law to power, and not the citizen who funds them. With the police in Delhi, UP and even in Tamil Nadu, failing to protect common citizens and often seen as being responsible or encounter deaths, custodial killings and torture, it is not surprising that most analyst now think India has indeed become a Police State

MS Education Academy

The Indian Police is not arguably obligated to serve the citizen. This is the preamble to the mother of almost all state police acts of India “Whereas it is expedient to reorganise the police and to make it a more efficient instrument for the prevention and detection of crime”. It is an instrument to quell crime (in the time-place-and-language of the day of the consecration of this all-pervading Act, crime meant a colonial subject’s disobedience to the imperial masters, for freedom). The Police are obligated to quell individual and group freedom in acting as a cog in the wheel of those in power. According to the Act under which police functions, the Police is not really obligated to work under the constitution. After all, it predates the constitution by over 75 years.

A police state, in principle, is where the protection force works not for the people but for a power that is beyond the people and has no responsibility to the citizens of the state. The litmus test of police allegiance starts from the time of the emergency in independent India. During that decade, the force, an executive function of the government, showed not their allegiance to the constitution or the people. They implemented what the legislature dictated. As taught in high school, the Indian democracy is not a balanced three-legged table of the legislature, the executive and the judiciary, with equal power and checks and balances that stands on the will of the people. It is according to many skeptics, a limping one-legged table with two straws of an executive and a judiciary that usually does a fine-balancing-act of ‘whatever it takes’ so that the government/nation does not collapse. The courts themselves have called the forces and security agencies the ‘caged parrots of the legislative masters’.

The average citizens do not know their Police nor the law of the land. The Police force owes no allegiance to the local people, only to their line bosses or the legislators that sit in the state capitals. They are recruited from a central pool, devoid of human local connections or understanding of the local customs and culture of where they function. The panchayats or the mayors yield no authority on them. Basically a police person can work in a town where he has no local connections, and get transferred and move away to another town on transfer and promotion.

Add to that, the constitution (Article 311) provides all employees of the centre and the state, a rock solid protection, which has been subverted by the legislature to subjugate or take hand-in-glove all of the executive. The article reads “No person who is a member of a civil service of the Union or an all-India service or a civil service of a State or holds a civil post under the Union or a State shall be dismissed or removed by an authority subordinate to that by which he was appointed.” Meaning, the towns and cities where they function have no authority to question or dismiss them. They can function at their masters’ pleasure, and the courts will protect them. What are the odds of anyone having heard of police personnel being fired?

The post corona world saw police atrocity at its worst. Curfews were imposed arbitrarily and people going out for medicine or walking back home were mercilessly thrashed, all seen on videos everywhere. Nothing was more telling than the brutal death of a father son duo in Tamil Nadu, who by keeping their cell phone shop open for an additional 15 minutes earned the wrath of angry policemen. Much of this also has to do with the average Indian and her mentality that believes in swift punishment by the police.  The due process of the law is seen as too long winded and open to all sorts of interventions.

In Hyderabad, the encounter by the police where they shot dead four rape accused men in December 2019 was widely celebrated and is now totally forgotten. The police force has been given public legitimacy for all their excesses. The ‘India: Annual Report on Torture’ documents the large number of deaths that happen in police custody; 1731 in 2019 and 1966 in 2018.

What about the conscience of the Police themselves? Have they ever spoken up saying the charter(s) they function are not in the democratic spirit? Or are they by law required to not comment on the government’s policy, even when it is a subversion of democracy? The British themselves have twice-or-more in the last 60 years amended their Police acts, and here we are a sovereign republic still temporally shackled in the imperialist mindset to oppress our own citizens not being able to reform a 160 year old colonial law. Using archaic ideas of sedition, treason and defamation and modern draconian provisions of what constitutes anti national acts, India’s police force now is a dreaded institution. One that evokes fear and suspicion, not trust and confidence. If India is not a police state already, it is well on its way to becoming one

Amir Ullah Khan and Sriram B are researchers at the Centre for Research on Infrastructure Development and Policy

Subscribe us on The Siasat Daily - Google News
Back to top button