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Indian policing: A dangerous contact sports

As I flip through TV channels to beat boredom on a lazy Sunday afternoon, I make a strange discovery. It is almost impossible to flip through Indian TV channels ranging from news to movies without at least one of them having a policeman gracing the screen.

There is a strong possibility that no people on Earth have police so deeply interwoven in their social fabric as us.

Policemen are everywhere on TV, in both real and reel life. In news, they can be found parading suspects on the road or posing with captured suspects. In movies, they can be found engaged in thrashing goons in the market to even removing “khakhi vardi” to fight the villain on equal footing.

In short, Indian policing has one unique quality. It is a contact sport played by individuals.

Indian police loves to engage physically. Their idea of policing is being represented as a person and establish authority as a human being. The fact that nearly every third movie has a policeman removing his uniform to fight is because we LOVE our policeman to stand up on his own and dominate physically.

A policeman representing the might of the state is not our hero. We want the one who is a standalone brute force of jungle law of raw physical power.

While movies can cash on Indian love for such heroes, in the real life, the contact sports of policing is unarguably the biggest hindrance to professional performance expected for a professional force that police of a civil society must be.

In theory, a policeman is not a person. The crime he is fighting, the criminals he is catching have nothing personally to do with him. He is just an organ of the state doing a job. So, there is nothing personal about him or his action.

A true policeman, thus, has to be complete professional with as little emotional or personal engagement with the human beings he is dealing with in course of his work.

As policemen are human beings, it is not completely possible for such an unemotional or professional performance all the time, but well-trained police, especially of developed nation does come close to it. And the way this is possible is by training policemen that policing as a strictly no-contact sport as far as possible.

Armed with a gun or a Taser and a handcuff, American policeman has little requirement to be rude or resort to physical violence to prove his authority. The normal objective of police action is to restrain and arrest with as little body contact as possible. This keeps the engagement between the police and criminal formal and professional.

An Indian scenario unfolds in a completely opposite way. Here the perpetrator and police start with personal verbal exchanges to establish superiority as two standalone humans. If police sees the need to establish superiority, it opts to engage in showing physical supremacy by resorting to unlawful violence.

The situation ends up such that, if uniform is stripped, it will be difficult to work out from the nature of exchange which one of them is a policeman.

If we return to Bollywood movies, as they do represent the true Indian that lives inside us, there is another startling fact worth noticing.

There is absolutely no doubt that Indian movies have evolved. A Saas-Bahu drama or a father-son exchange of Nineteen Sixties movie is completely un-relatable today. While all other traditional relationships have changed, what has remained unchanged is the Bollywood depiction of police.

Be it a black-and-white or 70 mm or today’s HD format, across the history, a Bollywood policeman has always saved the society by engaging in long physical fights that defy all the laws of physics.

The fact that Bollywood police has not evolved is a great indicator that our own understanding of police has not evolved. We Indians are yet to grasp the difference between a civil society police and police force working for an occupier.

As police behaviour is the greatest indicator of level of civil society, if we want to be where the developed world is, we need to transform our policing.

A real way forward to train police not to engage personally. A policeman trained to have as little verbal or physical contact and a greater focus on detainment and arrest may not be always very effective considering the huge numbers that our policemen have to deal with, but it is a change that is the need of the hour.

This change has another force acting on it. As mobile phones with camera and net-connectivity overwhelm the society, police behaviour is now constantly under the scanner. It is now even more important that police is trained to behave professionally and clean up its image.

Policing in India needs to move away from individual contact sport towards a zero-contact team sport.

I am happy to admit that I have managed surviving till now with minimum effort as all my intellect has be used to avoid doing anything meaningful. As I needed to while all the free time I generated in course of being lazy, science has been my favorite muse that I have enjoyed company of. As an effort to kill time (in a way, to get even with it) one fine day I decided to write a science column, more for my personal amusement than to attract readers. After getting educated about the attention span of modern readers from my editor, it became more like a challenge to tackle esoteric subjects in 600 words that I have managed to remain interested in for more than a year now. I do not want to add my worldly profile here as these are ideas that need to be considered only on the merits they carry and not as an opinion of a certain human being.

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