New police motto: Don’t shoot with gun, use camera instead

Bihar DGP Abhayanand’s novel prescription has sparked a debate. It should go beyond that

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Ajay Singh | September 12, 2012




DGPs and chiefs of central police organisations (CPOs) gather together every year for a conference organised by the Intelligence Bureau (IB), which safely passes off as an annual ritual marked by the usual rhetoric from the prime minister and the home minister. But this year’s conference, which was held on September 8-9, was an exception.

The unique feature was ironically not related to prime minister Manmohan Singh’s speech in which he painted a grim security scenario and cautioned against the misuse of social media as an instrument to stoke trouble. That the security scenario is turning grimmer has become a truism. However, contrary to the flamboyance and machismo that characterise such an event, the discourse in the conference evolved on a distinctly different theme which can be stated as “shoot with camera, not with weapon” while confronting an unruly gathering.

Needless to say, a section of top cops – who ironically develop an abiding faith in the Maoist maxim that “power flows through the barrel of a gun” – were quite appalled by nearly one-hour presentation of Bihar DGP Abhayanand who ardently argued that the police must shun the image of “lathait (musclemen)” of the powers-that-be and work within set parameters of law. Top guns of the police were certainly not amused, though this formulation did evoke sympathetic response among some officials.

There is no doubt that Abhayanand was at the receiving end of late for letting sympathisers of assassinated Ranvir Sena chief Brahmeshwar Mukhia run amok in Patna by indulging in riots and arson on a large scale in June. And there was a general impression that the police inaction in Patna was symbolic of total abdication of responsibility by the state, particularly the police.

Curiously enough, in his presentation before the top police officials of the country, Abhayanand not only justified what was perceived to be the police inaction but also argued that his decision conformed to the norms of professional policing of an evolved society. Quite significantly, Abhayanand’s method found full endorsement from his chief minister Nitish Kumar who felt that Bihar would have been pushed into chaos, had the police resorted to bravado and retaliated against the riotous mob in Patna.

But for trigger-happy cops in India, such a prescription is rank apostasy from traditional policing. Look at the heavy hand with which political agitations are being tackled, be it the anti-nuke protesters in Kudankulam of Tamil Nadu or the jal satyagrahis in Madhya Pradesh.  Even in the national capital, the use of excessive force against sympathizers of Baba Ramdev at Ramlila Maidan was yet another example of the police resorting to lawlessness with dealing with the crowd.

That Abhayanand’s proposition did challenge the established notion of policing became evident when the DG, CRPF asked him rather sarcastically that if such practices could be applied in the Maoist areas where the CRPF personnel were deployed. “These are two different scenarios,” Abhayanand is learnt to have explained. Apparently, the issue generated so much interest that the bureau of police research and development (BPRD) has agreed to do a research project on the presentation.  

In fact, this is the first time that a state police chief has raised this very pertinent question about the role of police – that too from a platform where the professional group of top officials were present. Abhayanand’s presentation clearly implied that contrary to the image of a policeman as a “law unto himself”, the police must consciously develop image of a law-abiding force irrespective of the denomination of political executives. His prescription seems quite pertinent in view of the fact nearly a dozen IPS officers in Gujarat have been facing trial for going beyond the legal parameters. Such cases abound in other parts of the country too.

Apparently the larger point raised by Abhayanand relates to the brutalization of the police in dealing with protests and agitations by common people. This brutalization came to fore earlier this year when farmers in Noida staged a demonstration to press their demand for a hike in compensation for the land acquired by the state government. The police resorted to indiscriminate firing and lathi-charge in Bhatta-Parsaul village, killing and maiming farmers and raping women. The incident took place barely 20 km away from the national capital and shook the conscience of the people, albeit for a brief period. Then the life became as usual and the shocking story was drowned in the subsequent din of the election. Bhatta-Prasaul has since faded away from the national memory.

Similarly, few would recall the cold-blooded killing of 40 Muslim youth from Maliana and Hashimpura localities of Meerut during the 1987 riots. About 50-odd able-bodied young men were picked up by jawans of the provincial armed constabulary (PAC) led by a commandant and shot at. The purpose of the exercise was to teach the community a lesson. An unrepentant PAC commandant found nothing wrong in killing the hapless and innocent youngsters in order to contain riots which were stoked by politicians. Even 25 years later, the scars of Maliana and Hashimpura are far from healed. The cases are still hanging fire in a Delhi court while those involved in the killings got retired from the police and PAC with all retirement benefits.

These are not isolated incidents of brutalization. A cursory glance at the record of extrajudicial executions by the police (known as ‘encounter killing’ police parlance) in Uttar Pradesh is just a glimpse of turning the police force into the role of hired goons of the state. This trend is very much evident in Jammu and Kashmir as well as the northeast. This explains the tendency of most chief ministers to hold the home portfolio and retain the control over the police.

In this context Abhayanand’s presentation is clearly an attempt to make police officers conscious of the fact that they have a much greater responsibility of acting within the parameters of law and ethics than an unruly mob provoked by criminals or misguided politicians.
 

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