It is not uncommon for killings of police personnel being reported from Naxalite affected areas in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand or Maharashtra, but the deaths of eight cops in UP at the hands of a criminal gang has come as a shock. Even though political trolls like Priyanka Vadra and Rahul Gandhi have wasted no time in mocking the Yogi Adityanath Government – in contrast to the more mature reactions of those with administrative experience such as Mayawati – the incident underlines the systemic shortcomings in a state where much of the practices are still rooted in the times of the British Raj. Symbolic of this is the presence of the antiquated .303 rifle in the hands of so many doing general duty in the force. The same goes for policing practices and tactics, which is reflected in the huge lack of specialisation. It is galling to see, for instance, visuals of even small third world countries where the police are better equipped and respond more professionally to challenges.
If necessary change doesn’t take place in administrative structures, it is a given that there are vested interests resisting it. In India, one particular reason is the layered structure of the police that gives ‘bada saheb’ status to the topmost cadre that almost on recruitment moves into bungalows and air-conditioned offices, while much of the force that serves as the (blunt) ‘cutting edge’ does the real work under the most challenging circumstances. The police are also among the government departments that have benefited the least from scientific and technological advancements. If Congress leaders take snarky pleasure from the failings of the police, it must not be forgotten that politicians are primarily responsible for the problem, both, at the national and state levels, and the malaise runs deep.
If the police force in the US is accused of being ‘militarised’, that in most parts of India is on the other side of the spectrum. It remains probably the only force in the world that cannot handcuff suspects and perpetrators without a magisterial order, courtesy a Supreme Court judgement, complicating their work manifold. That the lawmakers have not felt it necessary to correct this obvious handicap indicates what side they are basically on. While District Attorneys and their equivalents in most countries enjoy one of the primary roles in crime control, government prosecutors are miserably low in the hierarchy. This means investigations are conducted least of all on the basis of proving the case in court. And these are just the administrative basics – the condition of forensics, investigative specialisation, etc., is in a miserable state. In that perspective, the gunning down of the eight cops was a disaster waiting to happen. And there remains potential for much more.