Police on policing

Print edition : October 25, 2019

IPS probationers at the passing-out parade at Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Police Academy in Hyderabad. Photo: NOAH SEELAM/AFP

Policemen deployed at Nilackal base camp on the way to Sabarimala, a file photograph. Photo: AP

Based on interviews with 12,000 personnel and their families across 22 States, the Status of Policing in India Report 2019 covers a gamut of issues such as their own working conditions, their attitudes to people and police violence.

The image of the uniformed police in India, the largest democracy in the world, is increasingly becoming synonymous with repression rather than protection from injustice. The police are construed as a tool of the ruling classes, an arm of the state meant to protect the interests of the ruling classes; the use of force is part of its mandate. If the law is meant to be equal as given in our constitutional democracy, why is there such discrepancy in its application and less respect for it in the eyes of the public? A greater sophistication in methods used by law-implementing agencies does not necessarily lead to a greater sensitivity among police personnel in dealing with people.

The Status of Policing in India Report (SPIR) 2019, jointly authored by Common Cause and the Lokniti programme of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), New Delhi, looks at some of these issues in the context of the Indian police system. It follows up on its report of 2018 by exploring new dimensions of the conditions of police work through the lenses of both police personnel and their family members.

While the first report was about the attitudes of people towards the police and the disproportionate presence of undertrials from Scheduled Castes (S.Cs), Scheduled Tribes (S.Ts) and sections of the minorities, the second SPIR is about the working conditions of the police, their attitudes towards the public and how their approach is affected by the lack of specific training (on how to deal with people). Most of the training, the report found, was reserved for the upper strata of the police force. Of the police personnel interviewed, only about 6 per cent who belonged to the lower rung of the hierarchy had received any training at all. Despite a positive correlation between the presence of women police personnel and the reporting of crimes against women, the fact remains that women constitute a meagre 7.28 per cent of the total police force.

The report offers policy-oriented insights into the conditions under which the Indian police force operates. The issues cover shortcomings in infrastructure, working conditions, and the nature and character of the contact that the police have with the public. Based on interviews with 12,000 police personnel and 10,595 family members across 22 States, the report covers a vast landscape of issues, including attitudes of the police towards minorities and the phenomenon of police violence. It also contains interviews with members of the lowest rung in the police hierarchy who are often the first point of contact with the general public.


For a country that aspires to be a superpower, the infrastructure in police stations is far from encouraging. As many as 70 police stations in the 22 States surveyed did not have wireless devices, 214 did not have access to telephones and 24 had neither. About 240 police stations had no access to vehicles, and not all police stations had access to computers. On an average, police stations were found to have six computers, but in States such as Bihar and Assam, this was less than one. There were several vacancies in posts reserved for S.Cs, S.Ts and Other Backward Classes, while in States such as Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, the vacancies in posts reserved for S.Cs were as high as 53 and 60 per cent respectively. The filling of these vacancies, it is felt, would have a positive impact on the reporting of crimes against S.Cs and other marginalised sections.

Only in Kerala, Nagaland and Delhi, more than 90 per cent of the sanctioned posts had been filled. While Nagaland had more police personnel than the sanctioned strength, the corresponding figure in Uttar Pradesh was not even 50 per cent. Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and West Bengal are the bottom-most States in terms of the percentage of sanctioned posts filled. The surveyors of the report were told that there was an urgent need to address the shortage of personnel.

Less than 12 per cent of the officer-rank personnel had been transferred before completing two years in their posts, which was better than the frequency of transfers almost a decade ago. However, transfers continued to be frequent and common in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. In Prakash Singh vs Union of India, the Supreme Court, in its judgment in September 2006, instructed the Centre and the States to implement a set of seven directives, one of which was to ensure that key police officers were guaranteed a minimum tenure of two years in order to reduce transfers and postings arising out of political interference. The SPIR noted that premature transfers occurred more during election years. In Rajasthan, 98 per cent of Senior Superintendents of Police (SSPs) and Deputy Inspectors General were transferred in 2013; in Haryana the figure was 32 per cent and in Jharkhand it was between 28 and 53 per cent in election years.

The report’s overview of infrastructure, including inadequate basic forms of communication and vehicular transport, concludes that a top-down approach is responsible for the situation. Inability of States to mobilise resources had led to situations of overstocking in some cases and gross deficits in others. Few State establishments had vehicles to tackle emergencies such as robberies, dacoities or terror attacks.


According to the SPIR 2019, both police stations and the police system fare poorly in the barometer of assuring diversity. S.Ts and women are less likely to occupy officer-level posts, though according to the survey the situation is worse for women. Despite a Ministry of Home Affairs directive that 33 per cent posts in police stations be occupied by women, the overall percentage in most stations was not more than 7.3 per cent, except in Tamil Nadu where it was close to 12 per cent.

More than 50 per cent of the reserved seats had not been filled in most States, and in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana the figure was higher than the vacancies in the overall staff strength, which is clearly not a healthy indicator of diversity. There are no official data on the representativeness of the police in terms of diversity. The percentage of Muslims in the police force has also not been officially collated. The SPIR 2019 records that police personnel are overworked, with a majority of them clocking in as many as 14 hours a day. Quoting a study of the South African police regarding how the caseload affected work and other aspects, the report states that the overburdening often led to less time on detective work, poor evidence gathering and analysis, inbility to secure convictions, court delays, and so on.

The caseload was particularly higher for women police personnel dealing with crimes against women and children. Around 52 per cent of male police personnel did not have a weekly holiday. In Maharashtra, around 80 per cent of police personnel had had a weekly off while those in Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh denied getting any.

About 40 per cent of the family members of the police personnel interviewed for the report said that police personnel spent much less time with their families. As many as 43 per cent of the police personnel agreed that the workload was affecting their physical and mental health. Over 60 per cent of the family members of the police personnel revealed that officer-ranking personnel were more prone to anger and irritability, abusive behaviour with family and alcoholism. Almost a quarter of the junior police personnel reported that they were asked to run personal errands for their superiors. A good proportion of them reported that their superiors used abusive language, a common trend across all States except Kerala and Odisha. The report found that the use of abusive language was the highest in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh. Nearly 37 per cent were willing to give up their jobs for another profession despite the relative security of employment in a government job.

One reason for the high degree of dissatisfaction could be attributed to political interference in police investigation. Nearly 30 per cent of the police personnel interviewed said that pressure exerted by politicians was the biggest hindrance to police investigation. One in three interviewees reported having experienced political pressure and three out of five revealed that transfers were the most common outcome of not complying with such pressure. This was despite the second Administrative Reforms Commission having recommended that crime investigation should be insulated from political interference and day-to-day law and order functions.

Women police

More than half of the women police personnel interviewed said that they were not treated on a par with their male colleagues. The majority of them were deployed in “in-house” tasks, such as maintaining registers, dealing with the public, filing first information reports, and so on. One in five women personnel interviewed reported the lack of separate toilets for women and one in four said there were no complaints committees against sexual harassment. Nearly 48 per cent reported not getting a single day off while 29 per cent said they got a weekly holiday.

Societal bias

The report found police personnel to be biased against certain sections of society. Only less than half of the police personnel surveyed felt that S.Cs and S.Ts were treated unequally when compared with other caste groups. One in three felt that religious minorities were not given adequate representation, and this feeling was more accentuated among Sikhs. Of those interviewed, 14 per cent felt that Muslims were “very much naturally prone” to violence while 36 per cent felt that the propensity was “somewhat” high. One in five police personnel believed that crimes against S.Cs and S.Ts were false and motivated, and that migrants were naturally prone to committing crimes. More worryingly, two out of five police personnel felt that children between the ages of 16 and 18 in conflict with the law should be tried as adults.

The report also addresses the attitude of police personnel towards extracting confessions by the use of violence. The report found that the higher the level of education, the greater the acceptance of the use of violence to extract confessions. The lower rungs of police personnel did not find such measures acceptable.

Although striking work and unionising are prohibited under the police service rules, the report says that in June 2016, policemen in Karnataka threatened to go on strike in protest against poor pay, abusive treatment by seniors and lack of fixed weekly offs. In 2015, as many as 55,000 Home Guards in Bihar went on strike protesting against service conditions.

There is no denying that police personnel have issues of their own that need to be addressed in order that they function without bias towards the general public. While the report rightly examines the biases and the overall lack of training at all levels, including gender sensitisation and work-related stress, it does not explore the reasons for the police’s tendency to harass the public or the low levels of confidence among people who need the police the most. The impression that the police have no independent agency and that they act on the behest of the powerful is not without basis. Class, caste and gender biases are deeply rooted in Indian society and to rely on some “training” is not sufficient to address these historical prejudices. These contradictions cannot be overcome by technology alone and need a conscious application of the notion that the arm of the law ought to act in favour of the weak and the vulnerable rather than those in power.


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