Policing the world’s largest democracy of over a billion people with myriad castes, creed, colour, language, age, gender, beliefs, status, needs, history is like striving to win a “Mahabharata” almost daily.
Every day, the cops need Lord Krishna on their side.
Because every day, Indian Security Forces—Civil Police, Special Armed Forces, or the Olive Greens, Blue or White—are facing rising external challenges which are determined to weaken India’s accelerating economic growth and growing influence around the world.
With a free and competitive media airing 24×7 views, sometimes well-informed, at times partial and judgmental, heat can sometimes be generated among the public. This further fuels the news and the cycle goes on. The intention behind such news is both authentic as well exaggerated. A lot depends on the manner in which it is expressed and projected or even interpreted.
Such are the increasing, extraordinary challenges for Policing in this country today of “a billion views”.
Indian policing is not the same as it was few decades ago. There is a wholesale change. It still ranges from tackling minor crimes like the loss of goats of the poor to the now lethal proxy war attempting to overthrow our elected governments by attacking the temple of Indian Democracy, the Indian Parliament and more.
Police persons recruited years ago and senior in age, and others young and recently appointed who are first responders, work with no fixed hours of duty or right to leave. They are at times unarmed and not even fully equipped with latest technology.
Every arrest the police makes in dealing with a law and order situation is a decision which is fraught with its unique consequences dependent on who the police has arrested. A known VIP or an influential community member? Or from an organised unionised body?
To arrest or not arrest in any situation, including a volatile one, demands maturity and strong sense of justice.
Let me take up the JNU case: The arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar, President of the All India Students Federation on a complaint lodged by a Member of Parliament, Shri Mahesh Giri. For the student, the case is made out on seditious acts as per the section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code. Which is as follows:
‘Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection toward the government established by law in…shall be punishable with life…’
Kanhaiya’s arrest has caused a huge divide on the basis of widespread airing of acrimonious debates through all sorts of platforms. Was it seditious? Should he have been arrested?
The answers have been yes, and no.
I believe what we need to understand is the registration of an FIR under sections of law is changeable. For instance, in many cases, a heinous crime becomes less heinous based on the investigation and evidence available. Murder becomes culpable homicide not amounting to murder, or a rash and negligent act etc.
Kanhaiya’s arrest can become linked to non-seditious charges dependent on the assessment of evidence by the courts. The job of the police is to investigate and place the matter before the courts to judge. The police registers and collects evidence, then chargesheets based on proof.
The police being criticized or verbally accused of a hasty arrest may be a group’s perspective, but when such voices get louder, it spreads serious mistrust.
My personal concern is why not explain the law alongside to balance?
The court, before extending police custody, examines the evidence and satisfies itself of the need for more time for the police to question the accused. Or the courts can throw out the case right in the beginning and discharge the accused.
Now a bit on what happened inside the courts. The question being asked is: “Why were lawyers not arrested for the disruption and attacks?” The “Police is going soft or being pressured,” were some allegations.
To this the Police Commissioner BS Bassi has repeatedly said that he did not want to escalate the situation at court at that time. He wanted to minimise collateral damage. He knew all of the attackers were getting recorded. His investigating team can always go back to that evidence, which is strongly admissible.
The point being made is that he chose a lesser evil.
By doing this, the issue of advocates’ misbehaviour has remained between courts, advocates and the Bar Council. We wait to see how many are served notices of contempt of court. And how many will have their licenses suspended.
I believe that if the arrests of lawyers had been made from the premises of the courts, the issue would have become Advocates vs Police, with the former demanding a judicial probe into use of force by the police, which would definitely have been needed as no arrest in such a situation can take place without it.
I believe the police has walked on very thin ice in the JNU case. It has gone by the law. Investigation will reveal more and sections of law will be applicable accordingly. The courts will have access to evidence and will rely on the wisdom of past judgments. But always remember that each case is unique in its own way.
I am of the view that many recent happenings in educational institutes can be prevented if they have a system of regular communication in place that is open and confidential. As early interventions will be like stitches in time to save nine.
Politicians could then focus more on developmental politics.
But I wish to say in conclusion that this country needs to make better investments in systems of early prevention in educational institutions, legal rights and responsibilities. Also, on policing, take all possible measures which restore trust. Have more courts which expedite trials, so that certainty of punishment becomes a deterrent.