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Transferring Prejudice to Other Places

Are police personnel trained to rise above caste and communal consciousness?

he Maharashtra government has transferred Indian publicised lynching of alleged cow smugglers all point towards
Police Service (IPS) officer Bhagyashree Navtake from the police in that state going with the flow of popular biases and
Beed district after a video of her boasting about how she prejudices. In fact, after a corporate company executive who
filed false cases against Dalits, harassed Muslims, and protect- was unarmed was shot in cold blood in Lucknow, colleagues of
ed Marathas, went viral on social media recently. Transferring the accused policemen wore black arm bands protesting the ac-
bureaucrats and police officers is considered a punitive meas- tion against them. This is a state that witnessed a verdict of the
ure. However, governments and powerful politicians can use Delhi High Court in the Hashimpura case. It came 31 years after
the mechanism of transfer in both ways—either to punish of- personnel of the Provisional Armed Constabulary (PAC) killed
ficers who displease them or to please the public who demand 42 Muslim men deliberately and threw their bodies into a canal.
action against certain officers. Navtake’s boastful statements The high court said in its ruling that the massacre “reveal(ed)
detailed her hate-filled prejudice against Dalits and Muslims. an institutional bias within the law enforcement agents.”
Two aspects arise from this episode: will the transfer diminish Considering that it is the agency that is frequently called
Navtake’s purportedly (as seen in the video) casteist and com- upon to act, mediate, arbitrate, pacify and compel in acts of vio-
munally prejudiced outlook? Despite the training manuals, can lence even in private spaces, disturbance of public law and or-
bureaucrats and police officers be above the prejudices and der, rioting and other disputes, the police force is the most visi-
hatred that infect the society around them? ble arm of the state. Its members—both men and women—deal
It is not difficult to understand that the police force, like other with members of the public and citizens daily. There are fre-
bureaucratic institutions, continues to be influenced by the quent public relations campaigns to portray the police as friend-
dominant ideology that is built up around caste, communalism ly and eager to “serve.” But how do the communities and neigh-
and patriarchy. The police force has got a dubious distinction bourhoods that they serve, view the police? Considering a mul-
of being deeply patriarchal and discriminatory against social ti-religious, plural society like that in India, how well are the
sections such as women, Adivasis, Dalits and minorities. police equipped to deal with plurality? More importantly, how
In an overall comparison of states based on socio-economic is their training devised to deal with prejudices and biases that
indicators, Maharashtra continues to be counted among the they grow up with?
“progressive” ones. That said, however, the woman officer’s Police reform is a subject that is much discussed but rarely
detailed harangue about her methods and treatment of the effectively indulged in by state governments. There has been no
accused from marginalised sections resonates more in the dearth of suggestions starting with those made by the National
state’s current situation. If one were to start from recent history, Police Committee of 1978, the public interest litigation filed by
the Khairlanji massacre in 2006 to the various acts of violence ex-Director General of Police of Uttar Pradesh in 1995 in the
against Dalits and culminating with the Bhima–Koregaon Supreme Court (which is still being heard), the Julio Ribeiro
incident, the dominant impression is that the police is biased Committee of 1998 and followed by three others—Padmanab-
against this section of society. Again, in 2016 during the muk haiah, Malimath and Soli Sorabjee Committees. In 2006, the
(silent) morchas by the Maratha community demanding the apex court passed six directives of which the fourth one says
repeal of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention that police training “must be designed to sensitise the recruits
of Atrocities) Act of 1989, there were many complaints and even to democratic norms to be observed in policing a plural society
a petition before the Bombay High Court alleging police inaction such as India.” Obviously, the training of the police men and
in cases of violence and arson against the Dalit community. In women involved in the countless cases of police discrimination
Uttar Pradesh, especially in the past few years, the police has against the marginalised, has clearly failed.
been notorious for either being aggressive or passive, depending A number of states, including Maharashtra, have passed a
on which religious community the accused hail from. Police model police act that has brought in some reforms. But these
“encounters,” which are actually cold-blooded targeted shootings, cannot work in isolation or in a piecemeal fashion. It will take a
the so-called Romeo squads that publicly shame and humiliate long time to iron out prejudices and biases from society at large.
young couples, particularly Hindu–Muslim ones, the vicious Perhaps, the police need to be trained to go against the grain of
campaign against the alleged “love-jihad,” and the highly such societal biases.
8 decEMBER 15, 2018 vol lIii no 49 EPW Economic & Political Weekly