In recent months, the world was filled with news of police brutality and misconduct across the United States capturing the attention of many people across the globe. However, this has failed in raising alarm to the rising cases of police brutality in India. India has been accustomed to unfair treatment, brutality, selective persecution, and biasness by the police. Police brutality has continued to be a menace with different communities being subjected to unfair treatments by the police.
There have been two outstanding cases in 2020 regarding police brutality in India; Pilchard lynching where police were part of the meek bystanders and violence by Uttar Pradesh Police against Indians who were protesting the Citizenship Amendment Act most of them being children. Apart from the two standout cases, there have been many incidences of police brutality in India where police have gone overboard and exerted excessive force on the people. With the lockdown measures put in place during the covid-19 pandemic, there has been indiscriminate use of lathes against persons purported to have violated the restrictions.
Furthermore, people providing essential services were not spared by the police. Recent reports suggest that there has been an increase in the number of people who dies in Indian police custody. Between 2017 and early 2018 India is said to have recorded over 1674 custodian deaths. A 2019 report on status of policing in India by center of study of developing societies shows that there is a distribution in trends of police prejudice. It shows that there is a major bias placed against Muslims.
Even with the complaints and concerns from human rights organisations in India, there is ample evidence that shows the rate of police deviance and brutality is increasing every month. The incidents of extortion, brutality and other crimes committed by police officers continues to rise. Most complaints that have been raised through National Human Rights Commission have been against the police officers. In addition, the number of complaints against police personnel that have been received by the police departments are high. Most complaints have ranged from excessive force or brutality, partiality, or bias among others.
Established Mechanisms for Police Accountability in India
However, there are established mechanisms that have been issued which help in ensuring the police are accountable for their actions. The internal accountability mechanisms and external accountability mechanisms are the various ways through which police can be held accountable in India. The internal accountability mechanisms are supported by the constitution under the Police Act of 1861, rules laid down in state police manuals and the state governments. The internal mechanisms state that there should be punishment on police officers who act in negligence or remiss while discharging their duties. The punishments include; fine not exceeding, quarters that does not exceed 15 days and removal from office of special emolument. Furthermore the police acts list the following as constituting to offences neglect or willful breach of lawful order or regulation and causing unwarrantable violence’s to persons in custody. The fines for these offences range from three months imprisonment or fine up to three months or a combination of both punishments.
The punishments have been divided into majors and minors. The major punishments that are accorded to guilty police officers usually take a lot of time because of the procedures involved in departmental inquiry which are cumbersome and tiresome. Even where charges have been proved, the offending officers never go to the courts against the punishment imposed. It is unfortunate that the police leadership in India has been highly eroded due to political interference and the lack of discipline in the police force. Furthermore, there is a promotion of tendency at distinct levels within the force where they seek outside patronage to be shielded against punishment. As a result, this is one of the major reasons for the reduction in the effectiveness of using departmental mechanisms for ensuring the police are accountable for their actions.
There are other external mechanisms aimed at ensuring police are accountable for their actions that constitute brutality. Judiciary or the courts make up one of the significant external mechanisms of ensuring accountability by the officers. A number of major judgments have been issued by higher courts in India where they have prescribed guidelines that regulate police officers on how to conducts arrests, interrogation and other stages during investigations, ordering the government to compensate in cases violence in the custody, commenting adversely for police exhibiting discrimination in handling castle grievances and communal conflict.
However, a major stumbling block in using the courts as a mechanism to hold police brutality accountable is failure in implementation of courts judgments. Furthermore, it is in rare cases that the victims have filed private complaints to the courts in seeking redress. The Supreme Court and the high courts are accorded with the mandate of listening to complaints on police officer’s violation of human rights. However, the accessibility of these courts is a limiting factor. Also, the often deal with cases that are egregious and those that have a high proof or evidence.
Another external mechanism used available is hen Human Rights Commission which was founded under The Protection of Human Rights Act 1993. The Human rights offers ways for holding the police officers accountable for their actions or misconduct. A notable commission under the act is National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). The commission has done a lot of tremendous work however, deficiencies and infirmities of the law that govern its functions has limited its efficiency. There are provisions within the act that frustrate its independence. The act bars the commission from enquiring of violations of human rights committed by armed forces. It also disrupts the independence of the commission because the manpower and finances are provided by the government. Lastly, the commission has no power in enforcing decisions. The media and Non-Governmental organisations can also act as vehicles for holding police accountable for their actions.
Back in 2006 in the case of Prakash Singh v. Union of India, the Supreme Court directed that different states to come up with complaints authorities at district levels. However there has been no implementation of the directives in the states. Weak implementation has been a major drawback in the fight against police brutality. However, the duties of police officers should be in conformation with the laws of the land and in respect to the fundamental rights.
The need for police reform is evident as well as urgent. The performance of police needs constant monitoring. Laws need to be strengthened regarding policing. Also, recruitment of police personnel’s needs an upgrade. The standards of training need to be structured and require vast improvements. Police-public relations is also an important concern in effective policing. Police-public relations is in an unsatisfactory state because people view the police as corrupt, inefficient, politically partisan and unresponsive.
One of the ways of addressing this challenge is through the community policing model. Community policing requires the police to work with the community for prevention and detection of crime, maintenance of public order, and resolving local conflicts, with the objective of providing a better quality of life and sense of security. It may include patrolling by the police for non-emergency interactions with the public, actively soliciting requests for service not involving criminal matters, community-based crime prevention and creating mechanisms for grassroots feedback from the community.
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Author Details: Prachi Shah (LL.M., The George Washington University Law School)