Lucknow Policemen Brawl: Men in Khaki and Graft Go Hand in Hand
There was a report three days ago that four traffic policemen in Lucknow fought in full public view over the sharing of booty. They were posted at a busy intersection and scope for extorting money from trucks and other vehicles passing by was infinite. Therefore, it was not exactly small change that we are talking about.
Nothing can be more shameful for the Indian police. The police hierarchy’s explanation later that the incident was one of a fight over clearing a traffic jam in the area is, in my view, mere fanciful after-thought. This was, however, a trivial episode if you reckon the never ending trail of events involving police corruption and indiscipline across the country.
Corruption Begins from Recruitment Stage
It is not as if corruption and indiscipline are the monopoly of the UP police. In almost every state this is the unfortunate spectacle over which many senior officers have no control, because there are many skeletons in their own cupboards.
Police corruption starts from the recruitment stage itself. While a few states have streamlined recruitment processes reasonably well, many others haven’t. This breeds large-scale corruption, if you consider that for every vacancy at the constable level, there are more than 10 aspirants. If an applicant to a police job has to buy his appointment, how can you expect him to remain honest?
If, however, he greases somebody’s palm to enter the police force, he does so only because of the knowledge that he can recover it on the job very soon.
Fetish for ‘Lucrative’ Postings
The next stage of police corruption relates to field postings. Instances include legion of superintendents and deputy-inspectors general indulging in irregularities to favour lower level officers prepared to pay up a specified amount to get a so-called ‘lucrative’ posting. This is most common in the city police in metropolises where certain locations are ‘bought’ through political contacts.
The revered and legendary former Mumbai Police Commissioner Julio Ribeiro wrote about this a few years ago, and he went unchallenged by the then Maharashtra government. The situation, unfortunately, is not very different in many other states.
Malpractices in Criminal Investigation
Police graft during criminal investigations is age-old. We have reached a stage where very few police stations will draw up an FIR without the complainant coughing up money to the station house officer. This venality continues beyond the reluctance to file FIRs, so much so, that the victim will often have to bear the expenses incurred by the police for travel, accommodation and food while in pursuit of an accused. The touted rationale for this misdeed is that government reimbursement of investigation expenses is abysmally low.
Perhaps the gravest of all forms of police corruption is the unethical help rendered to an accused. The dexterity with which a police investigator bails out a suspect or a victim-named accused person can hardly be exaggerated. This strikes at the root of good policing, and the practice goes unchecked, especially in cases where there is minimum media publicity.
In rapes and homicides, malpractices are galore because of poor supervision. It is not uncommon for rape victims being pressured at the instance of influential aggressors through dishonest investigating officers to withdraw their complaints or not complain at all. This is widely prevalent in the rural areas of many northern states.
Deeply Rooted Malaise of Corruption
- Corruption in the police force begins from the
recruitment stage since for a single vacancy there are thousands of jobseekers.
- Those at the mid-level such as superintendents and
deputy-inspectors are also embroiled in corruption as low salaries force them to
be on a look-out for ‘lucrative’ postings.
- Police officers often side with the accused and influence the ongoing probe.
- Women employed as officers have also been found to
indulge in corruption as they have used their official rank to harass spouses
- Senior policemen who could lead the way turn out
to be a failure as they are mere political stooges, concerned about their own
standard of living.
Women Too are Embroiled in Corruption
A final word. This is about the women who have been drawn into the police. It is unfortunate they have not lived up to popular expectations. Their misconduct while handling dowry cases has been abominable. The kind of corruption they indulge in and the intensity of their harassment of husbands and in-laws are beyond imagination. This has been going unchecked for decades with their supervisors doing little to cure the malady. Besides, the courts have done precious little to pull up errant policewomen.
I may be accused of either exaggerating police dishonesty or stating the obvious without offering any solutions to end police corruption. I do not plead guilty on either count, and especially in respect of the dimensions of the evil. You can question your friends on their own experiences. Barring a few, almost all of them would testify to their horror at a police station or during their interactions with policemen.
Bit of Idealism May Help
I would lay the blame squarely at the doorsteps of senior policemen who belong to the elitist IPS. The latter are not guilty merely of buckling under political pressure. The sin of many of them is a fondness for high living. Once you succumb to the lure of a five-star culture you can hardly discipline an errant policeman, who misbehaves with the public or extorts money from the innocent, unlettered and ordinary citizen.
There is no light at the end of the tunnel. You cannot blame the politician for all your failings. An IPS officer will have to be a role model for the beat constable. If he is anything other than that, the whole force takes the cue from him and misbehaves without fear. I may be old fashioned for preaching simple living. But then there is no other way the existing police culture can change. The Lucknow incident is only a symptom of the larger malady of the IPS’ failure to lead by the example of simple living and total integrity.
(The writer is a former CBI Director.)