In recent weeks, as India has been convulsed with protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, the country has witnessed several instances of the police failing the citizens they are supposed to protect – and shaming themselves in the process. Yet again, the police has demonstrated deep-seated bias against religious minorities and pandered to the whims of political masters at the cost of ensuring fairness in handling these situations.

At Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia on December 15 and in Aligarh Muslim University that evening, the police let loose the oppressive power of state on the students, attacking them in libraries, toilets and even in girl’s hostels. In Jawaharlal Nehru University a fortnight later, the police was a passive bystander as goons to run riot on campus, assaulting students and vandalising property.

The extent to which the police has compromised with its neutrality and aligned itself to the ideology of Hindutva was amply displayed especially in Uttar Pradesh, where it appears to have taken the exhortations of Chief Minister Adityanath to extract “badla” or revenge on protesters literally and attacked minorities without remorse. The Uttar Pradesh police destroyed property belonging to minorities and filed cases even against people long dead.

The action of the police in Uttar Pradesh and Delhi has been recorded on several videos that have since gone viral on social media. These are perfect examples of how the police should not behave. The police seem to have forgotten that their task is to inculcate a sense of security in the population by ensuring the maintenance of law and order

Leadership crisis

There are many reasons for the public’s loss of trust in the police, starting with weak leadership. The Indian Police Service officers at the top have failed to transform the culture of the police from being a force – created by the British to control Indians – into a service that has as its priority the aim of creating a secure environment. Besides, many IPS officers have little connection with ground-level policing functioning and their training does little to equip them for this task.

Unfortunately, training has always remained a low priority. Policeman choose to be posted to training institutes only if they wants a home posting or escape to from an inconvenient political master.

A policeman aims his gun towards protestors during demonstrations against the Citizenship Amendment Act in Kanpur on December 20. Credit: AFP

The poor standards of training are apparent from the results of the 2016 IPS batch. When they took their exams in 2018, The Times of India reported, 119 out of 122 trainee officers failed in one or subject. Most members of the batch failed to clear the exams in internal security and law and order. Even the trainees who received awards had failed in some subjects.

The police leadership keeps crying hoarse about the need for reforms but it fails to initiate reforms within its own realm. The should begin by reforming the training regime of police personnel to include soft skills so as to make it a part of muscle memory. It is the aggressive and insulting behaviour of the police that demeans the public and makes them resentful of the men in uniform.

The lack of emphasis on modern investigative techniques during training explains the reluctance to adopt them – and India’s low conviction rates. In 2014, conviction rates stood at 45%, down from 64% in 1953. The forensic laboratory facilities even at the National Police Academy are not state of the art. No wonder that the police continues to rely on third-degree methods and extra-judicial killings to deal with crime.

Poor equipment

Drill, which inculcates discipline and physical fitness, gets very little attention in Police training. Half the respect for the uniform is lost at the sight of a physically unfit policeman. In addition, supervising officers are lax about ensuring readiness of arms and equipment. That was evident in August, when all the 22 guns involved in the farewell salute at the funeral of former Bihar Chief Minister Jagannath Mishra failed to fire. The previous year, a policeman in Uttar Pradesh mimicked the sounds of shots, shouting “thain thain” at a suspect in the hope of concealing the fact that he lacked a weapon.

Not only does the leadership of India’s police service lack professionalism, they also lack moral courage to stand up to the diktats of ruling politicians. This attitude percolates down the line to lowest functionary, who does not hesitate to use political connections to manage postings and transfers.

The sooner these flaws are fixed, the more secure Indians will feel.

Sanjiv Krishan Sood retired from the Border Security force as additional director general.