Redundant policing and rule of law

Aheli Moitra

In 1990, we visited an uncle in the police posted in rural Maharashtra. The journey was long, involving, in part, a ride on a bullock cart. Uncle’s family lived in a two room ground floor house adjoining the small police thana (station). Electricity was sparse and snakes rampant. It was an odd vacation with screams constantly erupting from the lockup. Police investigation was restricted to torturing information out. Torture, at the time though, was half sophisticated; its paraphernalia restricted to boots, ropes, water, leather belts and sticks. Rural Maharashtra then was a haven for dacoits, while a steady political movement was well underway. The dalits had already risen. Everything had to be curbed—without the army or sophisticated technology.  The rule of law (in its rugged form then) had to be tweaked if the police had to do its job, was the common perception in police administration. Killing alleged criminals in encounters were common in Mumbai at the time, and most police men in all of Maharashtra wanted to be posted there. The mafia and the risk didn’t matter because in Mumbai, as a police man, you could work with technology. And a proportionate hike in bribes. You could be the good cop and the bad cop. 

But technology didn’t keep the aforementioned uncle from nabbing five dacoits, complete with horses, some years after our visit. In the 1990s, police men were still chasing dacoits on horses in their rickety jeeps. Once the chase reached the sugarcane plantations, both the horses and jeeps had to be abandoned. There were no bullet proof vests, and weapons were not sure to perform, especially if you were the police. With some strategizing, and some mamuli shots from mamuli guns, the dacoits were nabbed, the uncle awarded by the government.  

Today, all those tortured, and likely to be dead, come with a set of rights. If they don’t know of them, there is an organisation to inform them. The application of the rule of law has necessitated the use of technology in police investigation. Going by reports on the lack of resources that the Nagaland police have to deal with, one can apply a corollary here: the lack of technology in police investigation has kept the rule of law from being applied in Nagaland.  

That the rule of law is brazenly absent here cannot be doubted. Small businesses operate in fear and loss. Big businesses have bought the crime to minimize their discomfort. Murders are normal and dead bodies easily forgotten; rape cases dissolve from collective conscience. No one knows which dark alley an investigation takes. Media is debilitated because the police is always elsewhere—forced to cater only to ministers and bureaucrats. As if the latter bunch has done anything to secure the common man, leave aside the woman.    With its 24,226 police, the umpteen number of Assam Rifles and IRB personnel, Nagaland reads like the most secure zone in the region (if Manipur doesn’t bag the position first). Yet it is impossible to have a democratic voice here. The background buzz of armed force of the state, and the power derived, finds completion in the armed force of the non-state. Corruption of governance remains protected. A joint collaboration of these “greater forces” has kept the civil administration weak, and will lead to its mass scale corruption in the future. 

Greater silence from the Naga people to demand rights, and the right framework for fighting crime, will only lead to more redundancy in governance and security.