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Tamil Nadu custodial deaths: When top cops 'ignore' brutalities, don't inspect detentions

By NS Venkataraman*
The murder of George Floyd in USA by a policeman in open area, which was approvingly witnessed by a few other policemen caused concern not only in USA but the entire world. While some politicians and activists in USA and elsewhere interpret this murder scene as due to racial conflict, the discerning observers view it as an incident reflecting the behavioural pattern of policemen. 
Such brutal behavioural of policemen, even policewomen, has been heard all over the world, but many times it is not well publicized, unlike in USA where media freedom is at the highest level.
Such incidents of police brutality have been reported frequently in India also, with two people having lost their lives due to police brutality in Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu recently.
All over the world, hundreds of studies have been made, reports and recommendations have been submitted about methods of inculcating humanism amongst police personnel. However, nothing worthwhile has happened at the ground level/ as indicated by the increasingly frequent reports about police brutalities.
Most of the brutal acts of the police have been carried out by the lower cadre of the police force (known as constables, head constables and sub- inspectors in India). These people are not much educated, and derive their lessons from their bosses, particularly officers holding top posts.
It is often said that criminals can be deterred only by brutal treatment from policeman, and any soft approach towards them would make the criminals get emboldened, and such unrepenting criminals would be a threat to the law abiding citizens and overall peace and harmony in the society. There are many apologists of police who hold this view.
A responsible and duty conscious policeman is the need of the hour to maintain law and order in society in a healthy way. However, if the policeman would think that he has the liberty to attack and injure any suspect in the process of investigation, this would lead to undesirable consequences and public protest that cannot be easily controlled.
What is required is a proper balance between various strategies in investigating issues by police personnel, instead of thinking that use of brute force is the only way of extracting truth from the suspects. Check and control of police behaviour is absolutely important.
While many measures have been talked about and some have been implemented like installing CCTV cameras in police stations etc., it is obvious that only symptoms are being treated instead of the disease. More fundamental reasons that lead to such police behaviour should be identified and steps taken to implement them.
The best way of reforming the police at the level of lower cadres who carry out such brutal acts is to reform the top police officers, who should make themselves as role models for the entire police force.
The fact is that there are not many such role models at a higher level of police force, with the net result being that the police are more feared than respected, particularly by people belonging to lower income groups and vulnerable sections of society.
It is well recognized all over the world that politicians are a fountain head of corruption and nepotism. It is also known that many top police officers collude with politicians willingly or unwillingly in corrupt deals, attack on adversaries etc.
Top police officers do not resist misdeeds of politicians. They often succumb to politicians' demands, however unethical they may be
Top police officers do enjoy constitutional guarantee by way of service protection in the case of victimization in countries like India. However, they do not resist the misdemeanour of politicians and they succumb to politicians' demands, however unethical they may be. Many of them hobnob with ruling politicians to get benefits for themselves, allowing political interference in the police force.
The fact is that reports have appeared in India that a number of top police officers are misusing the power by engaging police men in the lower cadre for personal and domestic work, even after retirement. Most of the top officers do not visit police stations or jails for inspection frequently and have been ignoring the brutalities of lower cadre policemen on several occasions, unless they are widely reported.
There may be a few exceptions among top police officers but they are few and far in between.
It has been reported in India that a lady Chief Minister of a state entered a police station and ensured that the suspect would be released from the police station in her presence, since the suspect belonged to her political party.
Several members of parliament, legislative assemblies and ministers have exhibited such behaviour all over India, clearly indicating that politicians often prevent the policemen from discharging their duty. While policemen at the lower cadre level are unable to resist these politicians, top police officers too remain silent without reacting or protesting.
Seeing the behaviour of the top officers, policemen in the lower cadres think that they can do anything and get away with it and think that they have the powers to use brutal force against those whom they consider as offenders even before judicial proceedings begin.
Like it happens in the top police administration, corruption and nepotism has become the order of the day amongst the lower cadre police personnel also.
When policemen assault anyone in a police station, only constables or head constables are punished, or sometimes merely transferred, while top police officers are not even touched, as if they have no responsibility in the matter.
It is high time to realize that reform of the police force and administration has to start at the top level and not from the bottom.
---
*Trustee, Nandini Voice for the Deprived, Chennai

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