In a climate where citizens are afraid to approach the police for help, the police’s role has shifted from that of peace keepers to something else which needs to be “reformed”.
Police reforms have for long been a stated priority of the authorities with several attempts by retired civil servants to implement them but somehow have never taken concrete shape.
Making a civil society intervention in the police reform debate, a group of people from South Asia have been debating the issue in a sustained manner. Recently, the Network for Improved Policing in South Asia (NIPSA) re-launched its website that acts as a resource base for people interested in the issue.
The colonial-era Police Act of 1861 enacted by the British still remains in force at the Centre. Following a 2006 Supreme Court judgment ordering police reform, a small spurt of new state Police Acts has taken place since 2007. As of 2013, 15 states and one union territory have passed new Police Acts.
Many aspects of these new Acts are not in compliance with accepted legislative models and standards and are cause for serious concern, according to NIPSA. There have been several official, government-appointed Commissions and committees tasked to examine police reform specifically with the most comprehensive recommendations coming from the National Police Commission (NPC), none of which unfortunately have been implemented. States are either not complying at all or complying by moving away from the Court’s framework. There is little willingness on the part of any government to put sufficient emphasis on human rights protection and strengthened accountability in the police reform trajectory, and in many respects, police accountability is being further destabilised through “reform”, states the website.
A regional network of individuals and organisations from Bangladesh, India, Maldives and Pakistan, NIPSA aims to make the civil society intervention in police reform debates and influence legal and policy changes towards better policing. They hope to persuade police laws, policies, structures and practices.
The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, a non-governmental organisation is the secretariat for NIPSA, coordinating the work of the Network which is made up of over 15 members over Commonwealth South Asia.
“Our countries, while varying in levels of democratisation, are all in dire need of democratic police reform within a human rights frame. The fact remains that each of these countries is resisting such a shift,” states the website. In 2010, a group of likeminded individuals and organisations came together to provide a forum for reform advocates to share knowledge, tools and strategies, exchange information and lessons, and ultimately to build a broader, stronger movement for democratic police reform at both the national and regional levels, it adds.