Police Must Reform Now. UAPA Against Umar, Others Will Break Trust
It seems that our Police truly believe that the pen (or camera / smartphone) is more powerful than bullets / bombs.
The Indian State may have the world’s third largest military, and paramilitary forces almost equal in size, and one of the ten largest economies in the world and nuclear weapons to boot, but when a Muslim man or woman speak their minds about the true state of the country, it shivers in its metaphorical boots. The very foundations of the country start to quake, and the unity and integrity of the whole thing is immediately in profound danger. Such is the state of affairs. At least according to the Police.
It seems that our Police forces truly believe that the pen (or the camera or the smartphone) is much more powerful than bullets or bombs.
- Umar Khalid’s speech, Masarat Zahra’s photographs, Amulya Leone’s slogans, and a TikTok video by three Kashmiri students in Hubballi have prompted the kind of disproportionate police response that is generally associated with authoritarian regimes with no concept of rule of law or constitutional rights.
- The Police largely operate with impunity in India. They are rarely taken to task by their superiors, courts or even civil society acting in a concerted manner.
- At a time when governments need to bank on the trust of the people, the Indian State has done little to ensure that there is reason for any trust.
Disproportionate Action Against Umar Khalid, Others Reveals ‘Casual Islamophobia’
Umar Khalid’s speech, Masarat Zahra’s photographs, Amulya Leone’s slogans and a TikTok video by three Kashmiri students in Hubballi have prompted the kind of disproportionate police response that is generally associated with authoritarian regimes with no concept of rule of law or constitutional rights.
That such actions have become increasingly frequent (with the silence of the judiciary), also tells you about the direction in which we are headed.
One response to this is the all-pervasive casual Islamophobia. A report by Common Cause and Lokniti found that one in every two Indian policemen believes that Muslims are “naturally prone” to committing crimes. The India Justice Report of 2019 notes that Muslims are barely represented in India’s police forces (excluding the then State of Jammu and Kashmir) with data no longer being maintained about their representation since 2013. When these two data points are taken together, they explain a lot of the Police’s recent behaviour.
Indian Police’s ‘Impunity’ & ‘Colonial Role’
A second possible answer is the virtual impunity with which the Police operate in India. They are rarely taken to task by their superiors, courts or even civil society acting in a concerted manner. It is the rare Police atrocity that results in a conviction of the police officer in question.
A third and perhaps the most disturbing answer is that the Police never really shed its colonial role.
That it is not really a force that is supposed to uphold law and order so much as support the regime in power even at the cost of the rule of law. This is true not just of the places where the Indian State is an occupying force (such as parts of the Northeast and Kashmir, and different parts of India at different times in India’s post-Independence history) but also in the mainland itself. That the Police sees the logic of its existence as being the need to preserve the power of the ruling regime and its adherents.
Even when the regime changes, there’s no change in its mission and focus.
Govt Has Done Little to Ensure Trust of People
It is usually at this point in most conversations and writing about the Police that one realises that reform is only possible at the hands of those who have the most to lose if the Police is reformed – the ruling regime. It is hard to see how any lasting changes can be brought about. Vast sections of the Indian population will continue to see the Police with fear or contempt and vice versa.
At a time when governments need to bank on the trust of the people, the Indian State has done little to ensure that there is reason for any trust.
A neat line can be drawn between the attitudes of the Police and the government and the attacks on medical and municipal workers who enter Muslim majority neighbourhoods to test and isolate suspected COVID-19 patients. It might also explain the instances of killings and attacks on strangers by those afraid of the spread of COVID-19 and mistrusting the State to handle it.
Large-Scale Police Reform Can’t Happen As Yet, But Here’s What Can Be Done ASAP
One hopes that there are enough cool and sensible heads in the corridors of power who see that it’s impossible to fight a pandemic without enjoying the trust of the population.
Bland tweets to assuage foreign opinion are not going to give much confidence to persecuted sections of the people that the government genuinely has their interests at heart, when actions on the ground are diametrically the opposite. While large-scale reform of the Police force must wait for a better day, the least that is needed is perhaps some perspective that protecting the ruling regime’s interests are worthless if the people and economy are going to get torn apart by COVID-19.
(Alok Prasanna Kumar is an advocate based in Bengaluru. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.