Saturday, September 20, 2008

india's police

In the midst of the hoopla surrounding the killing and capture of several men suspected of involvement in last week's terrorist bombings in Delhi--discussed here in the Hindustan Times--I had a frank discussion about India's police forces and their preparedness for today's sophisticated criminals with a senior police officer with whom I've developed a passing acquaintance.

Interestingly, he was more critical than even I have ever been (in my practiced India-basher mode). Apart from being poorly trained, poorly equipped, and undermotivated, he said (not in those exact words), the police sees itself as "against" the army, the intelligence bureaus and the various other security forces. One reason for this is that these other outfits are better funded, and enjoy a better reputation in the press and among the public--a phenomenon he attributed to the fact that nobody knows what they do and they have little interaction with regular folks. Adding to their troubles, they are very poorly paid (I think this is the general consensus), which contributes to the problems of corruption and laziness that account for their poor reputation among the public.

Several years ago, I read an interesting essay by longtime India hand Trevor Fishlock (in his book Indiafile) that presented some interesting arguments for how to reform the police forces. I'm frequently guilty of the "foreigner trying to fix India at the cocktail party" fault, I confess, and sometimes this blog falls into that category. But I won't go too deeply into my two-drinks-down solutions now. However, I would like to venture the question: What administrative policies / practices separate the Indian Army and the Indian police? By most accounts, the army enjoys a good reputation with the public, and is generally considered to be honest and competent (except in militancy-plagued areas). The services supposedly are still able to attract fairly skilled & educated recruits, and supposedly they're free of much of the religion-and-caste based animosity that causes problems in other organizations.

If there are any obvious reasons for this apart from the nebulous "tradition," perhaps there's something to be learned that can be applied to the police.

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