India’s police force has a poor reputation in the media. The Economist lists their corruption, brutality, and incompetence in a number of incidents that have occurred in recent times. They include the more minor signs of corruption such as a new rule in the state of Uttarakhand banning officers from carrying more than 200 rupees cash. However, shocking tales such as the forced confession of a lower caste bus driver for the murder of a 7-year-old boy in his school are also reported. Upon further investigation, it was found via CCTV footage that an elder student was the culprit. Other reports include officers being alleged of taking a “tea break” before attending a scene of a mob lynching, the Guardian reports. This correspondent even noted a lack of effective policing as a reason for increasing mob violence in India, in a report published in July. The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative highlighted these issues in its recent report showing that no state in India had complied with 2006 High Court directives for police reform. With a populace as large as India’s, effective policing is a necessary step towards a safe society.
Last month Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh highlighted the issues that police will face at the Second Conference of Young Superintendents of Police organized by the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD) according to NDTV. He spoke about the difficulty that the police go through, stating; “The workload on an average policeman is so much… at times they get meals only once in 18 hours times. You can understand the mental state of such a person… after all, every policeman is an emotional creature too.”
Indeed, while some of the blame for ineffective or negligent policing falls at the feet of individuals, the system of police administration coupled with poor policy-making and government attention has created many of these issues. This string of confronting incidents remain indicative of the institutional problems with India’s law enforcement. The Economist cites a number of matters, starting with the simple problem of numbers. India has not nearly enough police to handle its large populace; government figures put the shortfall at 600 000 officers. The U.N. recommends a ratio of people to officers of double what India currently has. Amongst the officers they do have, India has a shortage of highly trained police with around two-thirds of their numbers made up of constables who are sparsely trained, supported and possess limited powers, The Economist outlines. But perhaps the biggest problem cited is the influence of politics in the realm of policing.
The lack of reform in policing at state and federal levels despite High Court directions seems to indicate an unwillingness amongst political decision makers. It has been a matter of political debate but not action, with numerous commissions established since the 1970s to address potential reforms. Very few of them have made a significant difference. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is focused heavily on becoming an economic power and influencer on the world stage. However, for these ambitions to be realized India must invest in serious law enforcement reform. India’s people need to be safe in order to enjoy the benefits that such a position would reap and police play a vital role in this safety.