Need to reform

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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. No wonder then that in totalitarian or authoritarian states the government forces (police, paramilitaries and even military) display a consistently repressive and frequently violent approach towards dissent and protests.

Now the state and “security forces” here will have to understand this distinction. While boasting of being a liberal democracy, state cannot have its armed forces behave like in a totalitarian society. No doubt the politically-troubled situation in J&K puts extraordinarily high pressure on them – they have to regularly deal with what they call ‘law and order situations’, almost on daily basis manage street protests, 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 government forces and the activists. For instance, there could be some liaison, communication and negotiation between police and protest organisers and police may even assist in facilitating the protest by, for example, managing traffic along the route of a march. 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 — an added bonus indeed!

There are many examples both throughout history and in contemporary times of government forces behaving in a repressive and violent manner towards protesters in Kashmir. Countless instances are full of evidence that put government forces in dock for their unsophisticated and repressive protest management techniques. Actually government forces will have to understand that there are two ways or perspectives about its role and mandate. One perspective considers them as basically a politically neutral force that acts primarily to enforce the law and protect the public. The other more radical perspective considers them 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 government forces’ own institutional follies – public perception of them here generally favours the second perspective. For the general health of the state, this perception has to change, and it cannot change merely by organizing Police-Public Melas, sporting tournaments, ‘Bharat Darshan’ tours and other civic action programmes unless and until there is a visible change in the behaviour of the men in Khaki and olive greens– the change that is discernible to the general public as they deal with them even in routine matters on daily basis.

In modern nation-states, the power of police (and other government forces) and their mandate to use force against citizens is justified under the Social Contract vision of society. This theory views the use of force as necessary to maintain order and maximise 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 its security forces, who 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 them as a protective force against crime and social disorder. Given the widespread belief in the social contract theory of police and the partisan nature of media reporting, the general public is often uncritically supportive of police behaviour even where such behaviour involves high levels of force and coercion. No wonder that on certain occasions, police violence against protesters is seen as legitimate even where it goes beyond the bounds of “reasonable force”. However, at a place like Kashmir, which has seen unreasonably high incidence of repressive policing, the social contract theory is not adequate in explaining and justifying the role of police and other security forces — neither in relation to political protests nor the routine policing. Government forces will have to rethink its strategy – and reform its behaviour to avoid the negative consequences of repressive policing by taking care of the factors that influence the type of tactics and attitudes which provoke and justify repressive behaviour.


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