Social media is lately overflowing with scenes of Indian police beating up civilians. These violent scenes are now undermining public-police relationship to a level that can destabilize our country and hence need serious consideration.
Violence is a perfectly natural and well-evolved behavioral tool used for deterrence, dominance or destruction by all animals. A lioness will use violence to deter a male from murdering her cubs; a male lion would fight a sub-adult male to show him his place in the pride while a male will kill another male to take over his pride. These events are violent but, interestingly, when looked at closely, each is a measured use of force.
As the use of force costs precious energy, no animal indulging in it fares well if it is wasteful. This is the natural controlling mechanism that keeps violence in check. Violence in nature is just a transaction and thus market forces of nature keep it at bay. Disproportionate violence is a wasteful expenditure of force and hence evolution has purged it from nature.
Unfortunately, when we move to human world from that of the animals, we find that violence has lost its natural-ness. As we see in case of Indian police, it has become a confused statement now failing to serve its purpose.
Before we start assuming that Indian police has no real idea about use of appropriate force, we must admit that nowhere in the world are the numbers so adversely stacked against the police. Our massive population makes it critical for the police to act fast and hit hard, often at a disproportionate scale, to prevent a crowd from building to an unmanageable size. But, there is still room enough to tweak this response using better understanding of violence as a tool for human-control.
Violence, like any transaction, has a tendency to scale up or down as per the feedback it receives. This feedback-dependence of violence is the real handle to control this whole process.
What is really missing in Indian policing is use of physical immobilization. While handcuffs are quick to appear on streets of USA, we rarely see them put to use in India. What handcuffing does is putting a stop to the feedback that will escalate violent reaction and thus it is actually a far more effective tool than the violence-aggravating beating that Indian police resorts to. When handcuffed, the frame of mind of the person changes and violence-circuit in his brain switches off instantly. The transformation is almost magical as, once the feedback stops; storm in the brain vanishes just as quickly as it had appeared.
In case of crowd control (where handcuffing is impractical), breaking the feedback loop is more difficult because physical immobilization is not easy and hence our police is prone to use brute and overpowering force. Unfortunately, this is more like using fire to stop fire as, if miscalculated; use of force just feeds the feedback and causes more violence to occur.
What we need is strategic change in sequence of action. If we start with technological options such as tear-gas or such other irritant that overwhelm the senses of crowd, it will prevent the violence feedback to build. Use of physical violence must be a secondary choice only to curb small incidences where power supremacy of police is decisive.
If we need a peaceful India, we desperately need to invest in crowd control technologies that hit the feedback loop and cut it well before it flares up to unmanageable scale. We need a research establishment actively looking at this problem and develop tools for our police as police is the real backbone of the state and if it is not strengthened in time, we are a doomed nation.