Participants at the event
The Guild for Service, headed by Dr. V. Mohini Giri, led an energetic discussion at the UN House in New Delhi on policing, the laws and policies that govern them, as well as the systemic issues that need to be reviewed and revised.
An array of activists, researchers, policy experts, students and others attended the seminar to help evolve a concrete framework of action. They included Dr. Syeda Hameed, former member of the Planning Commission; Shamina Shafiq, member of the National Commission for Women; Ved Marwah, former Governor of Manipur and Jharkhand and former Delhi Police Commissioner; and Maja Daruwala of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.
The Commissioner of Police (Delhi), B.S. Bassi also attended along with several colleagues to listen to the views and suggestions offered and to respond to citizens’ concerns.
In democracies, the police must act to advance public safety while treating people with respect, UNIC New Delhi Director Kiran Mehra-Kerpelman said in her address.” They must also be accountable, for while they have the power to coerce, they are also bound by laws that restrict and control the arbitrary application of those powers.”
“Much of this depends on the quality and implementation of laws and policies, the extent of independence that police forces enjoy and, let us not forget, the conditions in which they are expected to function, and function effectively,” Ms. Mehra-Kerpelman added.
“The starting point for any reform, it seems to me, is to evaluate the superstructure within which the police operates, and then to address systemic challenges, rather than evolve short-term solutions.”
Ms. Daruwala provided a comprehensive backgrounder on attempts to undertake police reform, including firm directives given by the Supreme Court of India. “We can’t judge police performance simply by crime figures,” she emphasized.
The Supreme Court directives address some of the core issues of policing, including the need to separate investigation and law-and-order functions and the need for a Police Complaints Authority – crucial to ensure accountability.
Quite apart from whether these directives are followed or not, Ms. Daruwala said, the police can themselves take steps to improve their functioning and efficiency and to be regarded as a friendly, receptive force. “To begin with, we need police stations that are welcoming,” she said. “We need to have a policing plan, and we need the police to be insulated from political interference.”
A number of speakers recounted experiences that pointed to the need for greater sensitivity on the part of the police, not merely senior police officials but also the constabulary. Many urged that training and awareness programmes focus on the disconnect between citizens and the police.
Several speakers also drew attention to the less than adequate conditions that police personnel live and work in. “If a constable is overworked, goes back to an inhospitable dwelling and has no time for his family, how can we expect him to give us a patient hearing?” asked one member of the audience.
The Police Commissioner promised to take all of the concerns into account, and also invited them to inspect the systems, training programmes and day-to-day functioning of the police. He also welcomed social audits of the training curriculum. “My plan and objective is to continue to keep people safe,” he added.
The seminar concluded with all the participants resolving to foster mutual respect to bring about better police-community relations. “Let us cooperate with the police and let the police ensure that citizens can walk into police stations with confidence,” said Dr. Hameed.