With the Black Lives Matter movement gaining momentum in America post the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, liberal Indians have been relentless in criticising the American policing system and the subsequent inaction on the part of the Trump administration. However, the stark similarities in regime between right-wing India and conservative America hint at the idea that institutional neglect of policing systems is not an issue that is restricted to American borders. During lockdown itself India has seen several instances of grave police misconduct and brutality against migrant workers, daily wagers, vegetable vendors, street vendors and the working class.
The most recent example of police brutality in India can be seen with the case of Jeyaraj and Benicks – a father and son duo who were inhumanely killed in police custody at Sathankulam police station in Thoothukudi. They were beaten and stripped naked, their blood-soaked clothes were sent back to their home all while their lawyers were refused entry into the police station. Eyewitnesses stated that they saw Benicks lying naked in a pool of blood. The doctor at the hospital that the father and son were taken to was pressed by the police to provide a medical certificate stating that Jeyaraj and Benicks died of ‘fever’. What is even more appalling is that RJ Suchi, who brought the incident to light on mainstream media platforms, was asked to take the video down by the police. This incident, amongst several others like the thrashing of Dalits by the cops, has highlighted the fact that police brutality is an inescapable issue in India.
Police brutality in India is not an issue that has been deliberated with the degree of urgency that it commands until very recently, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been prevalent in Indian society for far longer. From April 2017 to February 2018, under the Modi government, The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) recorded 1,674 cases of custodial deaths in 334 days. That amounts to over 5 deaths per day. Even though most of these deaths were registered as suicides or medical instances, the Jeyaraj and Benicks case gives us precedent to believe that what is said on paper is not necessarily the truth.
In the ‘Status of Policing in India Report 2018’, conducted by the Centre for the Studies of Developing Societies and the Tata Trusts, a survey conducted showed that maximum respondents knew victims of police torture.
Why is police brutality not talked about?
In the Policing Report survey it was found that majority of the respondents were unaware of police excesses. The fact that instances of police brutality are not showcased by the media due to the muzzling of the press is a major contributor to police excesses not being discussed.
The report also stated that 67% of all Indians believe that there is nothing wrong with the police being violent towards criminals. However, the law clearly states that unnecessary physical abuse of criminals is not legal:
- Section 49 of the Indian Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) – there must be no more restraint than is justly needed to prevent escape.
- Article 21 of the Constitution – no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to a procedure expressed by law.
Most people in India assume that there is nothing wrong with what the police are doing. The idea that the police are superior to citizens and must be obeyed out of fright also contributes to the populace’s inability to voice their opinion against authoritative police action.
What is the problem?
- A survey of 12000 police personnel across 22 Indian states done by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies found that only 6.4% of the police force on an average has been provided in-service training over the last 5 years. However, just over 1% of the police budget expenditure is allocated for training.
- Police recruitment standards in addition to training are also inadmissibly low. For example, 119 of 122 IPS officers from the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Police Academy (SVPNPA) in Hyderabad failed in one or more subjects. Despite failing, the officers graduated and are now probationers in their respective cadres.
- At present, there is no formal qualification required to become a police officer in India, and academy training is mainly drill based. More funds need to be allocated towards teaching officers the law and informing them about what they can and cannot do.
- Half the respondents of the Policing Report survey also believed that the police is lazy and unmotivated. The survey conducted of the policemen concluded that police personnel essentially want improvements in two areas: increase staff or training, and improve infrastructure.
Therefore, having established what India needs: better training for police officers, the question now is – how can we achieve that?
What should the government do?
Considering that India has a sworn officer count of 198 per 100,000 of the population – the fifth lowest in the world – it is safe to say that an idea such as defunding the police and disbanding them partially is not a prospect India can viably evaluate. In fact, what the Indian policing system might just need is the proper allocation of governmental funds. More money needs to be directed towards restructuring a training programme that is not just drill based, but actually involves study of the law. Furthermore, training needs to be more widespread, normalised, and periodic amongst police personnel.
Currently, most Indian states spend only 3% of their annual budgets on the policing department. For the current financial year the total union budget allocation for the police department by the ministry of Home Affairs was 1.05 lakh crore rupees (15 billion USD) which is barely 2.5 times the policing budget of just the state of New York. Furthermore, 90% of these budgetary allocations are spent on salaries, and only a shocking 1% is spent on training. India needs to spend more money on police training.
While it is somewhat “understandable” that state governments are unwilling to adjust their budgetary allocations to suit the policing department considering that police misconduct is not being openly addressed as a political issue, it is unforgiving that the government is not completely utilising funds that have already been allocated for the modernisation of police forces.
The Ministry of Home Affairs has been providing resources to state governments under the Modernisation of Police Forces (MPF) scheme. However, data from the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) has shown that the utilisation of funds under this scheme is devastatingly low. In 2015-16, states utilised only 1330 crore rupees out of their grant of 9203 crore rupees.
The current expenditure on police training by the Indian government is just over 1050 crore rupees. Proper utilisation of the MPF fund would enable the policing departments of states to increase their fund bandwidth exponentially. States would be able to spend 7 times as much as their current allocation on training of police personnel. Funds can be utilised to remodel training methods such that they include the study of law so as to prevent cases of misconduct.
To summarise, increasing and ensuring proper training that encompasses the legal aspects of policing and differs from the conventional drill-based training through apposite employment of the MPF fund will prove to be beneficial for India.