The Police Force is damned if it does, and damned if it doesn’t. Nothing illustrates this more than its vigourous response to the Jamia Millia Islamia violence in Delhi, for which it was roundly condemned. It ‘exercised restraint’ in the JNU case and had to face flak once again. For some reason, there is this belief that universities are ‘sanctuaries’ of the kind that existed in the olden days, where no one could enter without the permission of the presiding Rishi or Abbot. It is, indeed, a convention that academic institutions exercise autonomy in disciplinary matters but, once the line of criminality is crossed, all these considerations fly out the window. The famous response of a police officer to ‘legal expert’ Javed Akhtar set the entire issue sarcastically in perspective.
India’s poorly performing judiciary does not seem to have a handle on reality, either. While it has prohibited the cops from handcuffing perpetrators even if they are violently resisting, it expects international standards of performance when it comes to delivery. Sprinkling salt on the wounds are the unnecessary commentaries that take place in hearings. This was the case on Tuesday when a Delhi court, probably unconsciously, mentioned Pakistan regarding the Jama Masjid protest for which ‘Bhim Army’ Chief Chandrashekhar was arrested. Had a politician made such a Freudian association, there would have been hell to pay. The government and legal fraternity needs to raise the bar so that this practice is reduced to the minimum.
Ideally, the scope for police involvement in managing political protests should be a formality at the most. This would release its personnel and capacity for the real task of controlling crime. After all, citizens of a democracy should be capable of gathering in a peaceful manner. After more than seven decades of Independence, the conventions in this regard should have been well established. Unfortunately, the tendency among political parties to incite sectarian and other passions often leads to violence and damage to public property, even threat to human life. Even governments provide patronage to such elements – conditions in West Bengal at the present are an excellent example of this. It becomes important, therefore, for the laws to be made simpler and clearer on the role the police are expected to play. Police officers ought to be aware of the options – the creation of police commissionerates in UP will grant responsibility to those who are ultimately held accountable. Otherwise, the job becomes very difficult to do and only the blame game results.