The murder of a tailor in broad daylight in Udaipur is condemnable. True, police cannot possibly be omnipresent and prevent all such incidents, but there is always room for improvement. Many incidents occur out of the blue, but for several others, there are telltale signs that are all too visible, but which we either ignore or fail to spot.
For one, social media can be considered a reflection of the general disposition of individuals. As such, radical thoughts expressed on platforms need to be taken more seriously than we do now. Given the increasingly fragile community ties, a single wayward incident can lead to things spiralling out of control in a flash, leaving no time for the police or law enforcement to regroup or react.
Indian police have sufficient powers: arrests, preventive detentions, searches and seizures, cordon-and-search operations, ascertaining the identities and antecedents of suspicious or undesirable elements, securing bonds for good behaviour, and even confiscating or attaching properties as means of coercion to discipline the masses. Use of sterner tactics like bulldozers, lathis and even police firing in extreme cases, though disputable, is within the administrative domain.
Many incidents occur out of the blue, but for several others, there are telltale signs that are all too visible, but which we either fail to spot or ignore.
In the Udaipur case, the red flags were there on social media – on both sides. Trouble was discernible, though not imminent. The police also held community meetings to allay fears. But what other measures were undertaken?
Social media can be considered a reflection of the general disposition of individuals. As such, radical thoughts expressed on platforms need to be taken more seriously than we do now.
There can be penalties that act as precursors to actual arrest and incarceration for more problematic behaviours or offences.
Comprehensive, updated, unbiased databases on individuals involved in crimes, vandalism or disturbances to public security can be important deterrents.
Social Media Monitoring Can Help Spot Festering Problems
The ‘red flags’, however, need to be followed more scrupulously. Traditional methods of handling crimes or intelligence have to be strengthened, and the processes, mechanisms, institutions and laws about how we process information need a rethink.
Most arrests and detentions fall into a few basic categories: arrests for investigation and prosecution, preventive detentions, security for keeping the peace and for good behaviour (arrests for securing good behaviour). The last of these categories is perhaps the one invoked most often. Here, the power rests with executive magistrates, is quasi-judicial, and is mostly used to tide over petty disturbances by securing bonds for good behaviour. Arrests/incarcerations are exceptions rather than the rule. In practice, the power of the police under the CrPC is exhaustive, and is used extensively to maintain public order on a day-to-day basis.
Primarily, these are administrative interventions and need to be backed by further administrative empowerment and safeguards.
Social media monitoring could be an effective tool for not only monitoring trends among large populations and communities but also for understanding the predisposition of individuals.
Udaipur is a classic case. Most surveillance in India is considered ‘undercover’ business, done under the veil of secrecy, severely limiting the scope of the manner and utility of the surveillance. A substantial part of it cannot be used without compromising the ‘methods’, something most agencies are scared of. Streamlining the process and method of surveillance of suspects, accused persons and criminals is a definite way forward.
A New Take on 'Surveillance'
Our surveillance infrastructure and architecture are weak in terms of both manpower and technology. ‘Administrative surveillance’, obtrusive or unobtrusive, electronic or digital, and even secret surveillance, or of someone willingly subjecting themselves to monitoring, are a few alternatives, besides judicial orders. Dovetailing these with victim protection and surveillance programmes is essential.
There is a need to move beyond the realm of secrecy to openness and create an interface with law enforcement and legal-prosecutorial action.
In the Udaipur case, the red flags were there on social media – on both sides. Trouble was discernible, though not imminent. The police also held community meetings to allay fears and apprehensions. But what other measures were taken to ensure that either side does not cross the line?
Providing security cover to a victim or complainant is an option. But in a country where a policeman in toe is a symbol of status and not security, requests for security would quickly overpower the system. Moreover, our threat assessment methods aren’t robust and are prone to be swayed by non-professional considerations.
Similarly, if police were to start arresting all suspects, the system would be overwhelmed.
With arrests not being a viable option, we need to look at alternatives. Law abidance needs reinforcement – positively through rewards and negatively through punitive-regulatory measures. The range of regulatory measures, however, hasn’t perhaps been explored fully.
For example, in some countries, regulatory measures include punishing parents for the irresponsible upbringing of children. Community punishments – whether community enforced or traditional – are not uncommon in societies like Nagaland, where social control acts as a strong balance.
While technology has probably facilitated profiling-based regulatory measures, the concept is not entirely ‘new’ for India. Village crime notebooks, history sheets and ‘Dus Numbari’ are a few mechanisms that have fallen into disuse today. Technology, nonetheless, helps build profiles quickly. Comprehensive, up-to-date, unbiased databases on individuals involved in crimes, vandalism or disturbances to public security can be important deterrents.
‘Administrative penalties’ are alternate dispute resolution-cum-regulatory mechanisms. Detailed guidelines on offences and penalties can be formulated.
Udaipur Should Serve as a Lesson
With better technology, the realm of administrative violations can be expanded, standardised and decentralised, and police, magistrates or even municipal authorities can be given the power to intervene. Regulatory limits of fines could be defined.
These penalties could be precursors to actual arrest and incarceration for more problematic behaviours or offences. Over time, these would also help judicial officers arrive at informed decisions on antecedents when the ‘accused’ are to be handed ‘jail punishments’.
These deviations could be visited with monetary fines, or the accused being asked to subject themselves to surveillance – physical or technical for limited durations to help monitor compliance. Higher fines for non-compliance could be formulated, as also acts that would entitle a person to lesser punishments.
Detractors may find these measures invasive, but these are perhaps better than having to go through the ignominy of custody – whether pre-trial or post-trial, or preventive, or even for acts against public order.
Udaipur-like incidents should serve as lessons, rather than being merely a spectacle of daggers being drawn and brandished on media and social media, with no care for solutions.
(The author is an IPS Officer currently posted as DG Prisons, Homeguards and Civil Defence in Nagaland. He tweets @rupin1992. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)