Of late, there are many stories related to government departments, especially the police, and they revolve round the negative role they are assumed to have played in a given situation. Why? There is some background to it.
The British allowed unfettered powers to the police to repress our legitimate independence struggle and, the police enjoined upon themselves the powers of rustic justice on the spot without going through the legal processes. This brought them into direct conflict with the public which resented such powers. Both the Police Act of 1861 and the Indian Penal Code of 1860 continue to be in force even today! However, Independence did not alter the police mindset and they, in some instances, continued to behave in the same manner as they did in the past. The basic fear of the common man is of the inherent and legitimate power to confine any person both legally or on trumped up charges for 24 hours and, of course, criminals fear the police lathi too.
This leads to animosity towards the police. Even the worst of criminals desire to be pardoned and when the police overlook their plea for leniency, these criminals develop an antipathy towards the police. Negative minds bond in such cases and even if only a handful with an unpleasant interface with the police come together and amplify their voices, the rest with their pleasant experience with the police will have no voice as they will never get together.
The humane side
Many individuals and organisations, including governments all over the country, perform many good deeds beneficial to the people in the course of their duties, and sometimes even beyond the call of duty. There is no dearth of outstanding police work. But, unfortunately, because of the negative branding it has always been receiving, the sacrifices and the contribution towards providing a safe society goes unacknowledged. Thousands of policemen lost their lives while on internal security duties in Kashmir or Punjab, or the Maoist affected states. This is not remembered because of the unfortunate acts of some individuals in a given situation.
Criticism is essential in a democracy but repeated criticism, unless constructive, is not going to help anyone, least of all the persons who are criticised. While mala fide and grossly negligent acts need to be condemned or acted upon, errors of judgment or bona fide mistakes and acts for which the individual is not directly responsible should be looked at with more understanding.
No doubt, serious ills plague the police but is there any institution which is devoid of them in some degree or the other? There are systemic failures and we all contribute to it one way or the other. We bribe because we want to get out of a self-created situation — breaking a traffic rule being one simple example. It is a combination of our greed and someone’s willingness for exploitation.
If public servants are apathetic, it is because they rarely get a pat on the back for the good services rendered on many an occasion but which rarely even get noticed.
It required the supreme sacrifice of 20 policemen in the Mumbai terror attack of 26/11 to convey that despite the negative portrayal of the police, they are actually heroes willing to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the nation. Thank God, the public at large have overwhelmingly recognised this. Today the internal security is at stake. It is time for everyone to alter their mindsets and bestow more faith and confidence in the security agencies.
Pat the police occasionally but not always highlight their shortcomings alone and you will see a sea change in their response and behaviour. Admonish and mock them constantly, they will sink into further despair pulling everyone along with them. The society can ill-afford that. There is need for another pledge that each citizen will respect and follow the law in all cases and respect the law enforcer. The police will respond with greater resolve to attend to the needs of the citizens.
(The writer is Additional Director General of Police, Gujarat.)