It was just another day in Bulandshahr. Or so thought the brave heart Station House Officer, Inspector Subodh Kumar Singh on December 3, 2018. But before long, his body was sprawled in the dust, blood-spattered, shot in the head after a mob went on a rampage over allegations of illegal cow slaughter, pelted stones, set the police chowki ablaze and opened fire that killed two.
Reports suggest that Inspector Subodh had also been attacked by sharp objects and stones before being shot at. He could have been possibly saved had the agitators let the policemen take him to the hospital on time.
The Bulandshahr lynching sent shivers down the spine of all right-minded people and left us all in a grip of horror and dismay. The incident shows the entire nation in a bad light for its failure to protect an upright police officer from the stranglehold of a murderous crowd. If the strongest arm of maintaining peace in our country is thus lacerated by mobocracy, who ensures public order and safety to a common man — one is left to wonder with helpless despair.
According to sources, the slain officer had earlier investigated the mob murder of Mohammad Akhlaq, lynched over alleged possession and consumption of beef at Bisada village in Greater Noida’s Dadri in 2015. However, there were allegations that he was biased and was hence transferred to Varanasi in the middle of the probe, as per media reports. Hence, needless to say, suggestions are pouring in that there could be a lot more to the Bulandshahr mob killing than meets the eye.
The deceased cop, who leaves behind a young family, was ever-smiling, ever-ready to face challenges head on, yet fond of brokering peace. Even after the Dadri lynching, he went to the village every day to quell rumours and to keep peace. He held multiple meetings with representatives of both communities to make sure the situation did not worsen.
After Akhlaq’s death, a Muslim wedding in the village was at stake, and he ensured that it was not stopped under duress. On his last day, the late inspector did not fire a single shot at the merciless crowd in Bulandshahr. Yet all that was doled out to him was death, wicked and brutal.
It will be clichéd to plead that there is an acute shortfall in the police strength vis-à-vis the population level of the country. Data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) shows that India's ratio of 138 police personnel per lakh of population was the fifth lowest among the 71 countries included in the survey in 2013, as per the media reports.
The answer to a question in Parliament in 2018 revealed that, as on January 2014, there was a shortfall of 5.6 lakh police personnel against the sanctioned strength of 22.8 lakh. That is, about 25 per cent of the posts were lying vacant in the force. Hence, it is a matter of little wonder that the police are easily outnumbered in this country and are in a state of shock with sudden mobilisation of hundreds of protesters.
Moreover, police in India are not empowered to act tough, even in law and order situations that deserve to be handled with severity. They can use neither force nor weapon to handle the mass as a single wrong move can flare up any situation to a larger catastrophe. If a policeman fires, there are a series of enquiries and volleys of condemnation from various quarters without going through the merit of the case.
Caught in the web of an impaired system, their actions are viewed through the prism of politics in which reasons are lost without leaving behind a trace. Hence, as in the given case, one does not use a firearm even to defend oneself and is left to die a demeaning death in the hands of a merciless mob.
Twelve years on, many of the directions passed by the Supreme Court in its historic 2006 verdict on police reforms have been neither honoured by the states nor implemented by the authorities concerned. In the judgment delivered, the apex court had instructed central and state governments to comply with a set of seven directives laying down practical mechanisms to kick-start police reform.
The court's directives sought to achieve two main objectives — a) functional autonomy for the police through security of tenure, streamlined appointment and transfer processes, and the creation of a "buffer body" between the police and the government, and b) enhanced police accountability.
Police force is a power none wants to lose grip of. Though the apex court directions focused on setting up of a State Security Commission to ensure that the government does not exercise unwarranted influence on the police force, the latter still remains a putty in the hands of the ruling party, regardless of whoever holds sway. There are too many vested interests opposed to any structural change in the police set-up.
The need for reform is extremely crucial as the archaic Police Act of 1861 continues to govern policing, despite far reaching changes in governance. Veterans opine that the Indian Police System, tailor-made for the colonial rule, does not meet the demand of a modern welfare state.
Torn asunder by the recent happenings, the police force needs to be liberated from the grip of the vested interests and granted functional autonomy to enforce the law of the country without a bias. If India is to emerge as a global power, it is the need of the hour to restructure and update the Indian police system, inherited with colonial hangover from the British regime.
The bureaucrats have to give up lording over the police force and the interested politicians have to learn to survive without having the cops dance to suit their political game plans. The police force will be able to serve better the country and its people without the chaotic interference of vested interests, power play and prejudice.
Meanwhile, investigation into the Bulandshahr killing needs to be fast-tracked and the culprits penalised as soon as possible. Justice should be meted out without any further delay and indignity, or else indifference towards the plight of the cops will be brazenly in the nude, escalating frustrations that can transform even the most motivated officer into a cynic. The youth who join the police force driven by their passion to serve the nation should be better valued and treasured.
(Author is an ex-IPS officer who has served as Secretary Security, Government of India, and Central Information Commissioner. Views are personal)