‘People-friendly policing’

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Kashmir’s Inspector General of Police (IGP) Swayam Prakash Pani Sunday called for “people-friendly” policing.  Addressing a gathering of policemen and officials at District Police Lines, Handwara, Pani stressed on the officials and policemen to adopt a “people-friendly attitude” while discharging their duties so as to improve the police-public relations, which eventually could help police in better understanding of the problems faced by people and the speedy disposal of their grievances.

This is not the first time that such a call has been made. Earlier also the ‘men in Khaki’ have been urged to try and improve their rapport with the general public. But unfortunately, thus far not much has actually changed. Instead, like any other society ravaged by decades of conflict, the role of police here has always been at the centre-stage of a controversial debate.

Now see, on one hand police is pumping in millions to rebuild its broken rapport with the general public, while on the other hand, the same police resists giving up its ways and means of unnecessarily harassing and tormenting the general public. A simple suggestion is — instead of wasting money on so-called police-public measures like organizing sporting events  and other public relations exercises, it would be worthwhile to use this money in sensitizing the cops on how to deal with general public decently as is required in a civilized society, and expected from a professional and civilized police even in the face of grave provocations.

One of the fundamental differences between liberal democracies and more totalitarian societies is that liberal democracies are more tolerant of dissent and protests. Totalitarian regimes, on the other hand, treat all dissent and protest as criminal. The state and its police here will have to understand this distinction. While boasting of being a liberal democracy, state cannot have its police behave like in a totalitarian society. No doubt the politically-troubled situation in J&K puts extraordinarily high pressure on the police as they have to regularly deal with what they call  “law and order” situations, sometimes very violent ones involving stone-pelting clashes, for example. However, with some amount of education and refinement of approaches, even the street protests that take place regularly here could happen with little or no tension between the parties.

There could, and should be some liaison, communication and negotiation between police and those wanting to organize or indulge in a protest if both sides approach the problem with some creativity, and lay down ground rules and then obey them too. Needless to say that this way both sides could easily avoid what are avoidable damages to the parties as well as to the public property. Fallouts of violent confrontations between the sides, say in terms of public anger and alienation, will also be minimized. This would be an added bonus indeed!

Police will have to understand that there are two ways or perspectives about its role and mandate. One perspective considers police basically a politically neutral force that acts primarily to enforce the law and protect the public. The other more radical perspective considers police as a repressive force that is instrumental in the maintenance of an “unjust” social system. Blame it on the kind of politics Jammu and Kashmir has witnessed over the years, and together with the police’s own follies, public perception of police here generally favours the second perspective.

For the general health of the state, this perception has to change, and it cannot change merely by attractive speeches from police top brass or Police-Public Melas, sporting tournaments and other civic action programmes unless and until there is a visible change in the police behaviour  — the change that is discernible to the general public as they deal with police even in routine matters on daily basis. In modern nation-states, the power of police and their mandate to use force against citizens is justified under the Social Contract vision of society. This theory views the police use of force as necessary to maintain order and maximize collective good by maintaining a safe and workable society. Under social contract theory citizens are understood to voluntarily surrender some of their power and rights and delegate them to the state and to the police force. The police are seen as a politically neutral force that uses its powers to enforce the laws within the confines of a defined set of rules. This theory sees police as a protective force against crime and social disorder.

Now the question is: are police ready for its set of responsibilities under this theory?

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