Ahmedabad Police Commissioner‘s office has recently invited Gujarat University to engage in a third-party audit of cleanliness levels of the police stations under its control. Though it is a small bit for news, for me it holds a key to THE most crucial reform India needs.
While India has rarely bothered to cognise the role played by police in a democracy, from psychological standpoint it is actually the police behaviour that defines the look-and-feel of a state.
The main reason why we are still struggling to be a civil society of a democratic nation after seventy years of sovereignty is because Indian public looks at police as a criminal organisation representing an oppressive state, and not a service provider constituted by the state to serve its citizens.
As citizens go to the police with a preconceived image expecting rude and aggressive behaviour, most public-police interactions are doomed at inception because they unfold into either the citizen being too scared or too aggressive.
The deep-rooted-ness of this psychological stigma can be seen from the facts that we rarely make a Bollywood movie without a policeman playing his stereotypical role of half-goon half-hero. It clearly indicates that policeman in India is a central figure in public psyche, and hence he holds the real key to building a civil society that a mature democracy can’t live without.
While policy reforms have a role to play in improving police-citizen relationship, my personal experience has made me propose a tool not tried too often, and that is linking young students with police in a manner that they can experience the ground realities of Indian policing, not as a user but from an objective frame.
Thanks to openness of Ahmedabad police, I have often mentored teams of IIMA students to work with police, and the most common outcome of students-police interaction that I have observed is a shocking realisation by young Indians about the horrible conditions in which a policeman lives and works.
I have always seen that students who walk into a police station and those who walk out at the end of the assignments are not the same.
There is a transformation not just because of students become aware of the problems faced by police but more because they realise how wrong they were.
It is only when an IIMA kid works on an assignment with police that he/she discovers that a police station has no budget for even basic administration costs or there are 137 different forms with huge amount of duplication to be maintained by each station while having outdated computers and a network that sucks.
I have noticed that even more shocked are the students who work with constabulary, the real bulk of Indian police. The living conditions of these men are abysmal. Their lives are so stressful that most of them end up having lifestyle diseases, addictions and serious psychological problems.
It is only when a young Indian gets up close and personal with a policeman from a frame other than police-public stereotype, a human connection is made.
Today our policeman has lost his core identity as a human being not only because the psychological stresses of his living and working conditions have rebounded in making him an unpleasant person to interact with, but because society shows no empathy or even recognition to his problems.
While programs like know-your-police aimed at really young kids exist, they are aimed at dispelling fear of police, but what we really need is understanding for police and for that the real target group is students.
We need to engage the young citizens from the academic institutes to work on problem statements of police. From this frame of access, these young citizens will be able to forge a more meaningful connection of understanding with police that we desperately need for the sake of our nation.