Now what?

Gauri Lankesh was executed. What else do you call a bullet in the forehead? We know why. The question to those who did it and those with whose support they did it is, ‘Now what?’ 
The problem with using ‘ultimate’ strategies is that when they fail, you have nothing left. Ultimate strategies also indicate another fatal flaw, that you are desperate. Nothing is working. So, you try the last weapon in your arsenal, the most powerful which came with a warranty to destroy all in its path. You fire it. You wait. The explosion fades. The smoke blows away. The dust settles. But just as you are about to heave a sigh of relief, you hear a voice, then another, then another; just like the one you tried to silence. And you stand there, smoking gun in hand, empty magazine, wondering, ‘Now what?’

Sad to say this is not new. According to CPJ 41 journalists have been killed in India since 1992. As a culture we are not tolerant and benevolent as our PR likes to portray us, but are highly intolerant and vicious and brook no dissent to the dominant narrative.

Hegel said, “We learn from history that we do not learn from history.” If only we read and try to learn from history. But then those who killed Gauri and those who are engaged in manufacturing fake news or earning their living as internet trolls can hardly be blamed for reading.

History is replete with incidents of attempts to muzzle the voices of truth and justice. Anyone who reads history can only come to one simple conclusion, that ideas must be responded to by ideas. Arguments must be met with counter arguments based on facts and logic. Not by shouting, screaming, accusations, threats or bullets. But as I quoted Hegel, ‘We learn from history that we do not learn from history.’ That is why another quote which is attributed to so many people that I place it before you, crediting all those who may have said it, ‘Nations that don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it.’
 The purpose of all such attempts at intimidation, be it the tirade against Hamid Ansari or Amir Khan or the final step of the murder of Gauri Lankesh, is to create such an atmosphere of fear that people will censor themselves. Make such an example of those who refuse to be intimidated that the rest of them will learn a lesson. What those who propound that theory fail to ask is the final question, ‘What lesson will they learn?’
Take the situation today in this country. We had a nation which was quoted in the world in terms of its economic growth and its glowing future. Admitted we had our flaws, don’t we all? But we could stand in the middle of the chowraha (traffic intersection) and criticize the government without any fear of reprisal. Our Prime Minister was a scholar in his own right, an economist, a teacher and a man respected worldwide. Yet we could call him Maun Mohan Singh referring to his famous refusal to speak on different occasions without the fear of his devotees jumping down our throats. Freedom was the key word in our country, including the freedom to urinate in public, but that is another matter. Today that is the only freedom that seems to have remained if I am to go by a video that someone sent me of someone relieving himself in the Delhi Metro.
Today however, we have a situation where a young boy is murdered in a train filled by people including police officers and when the crime is sought to be investigated, there are no witnesses.
We have the father of an Air Force Officer, murdered on suspicion that he had beef in his fridge. We have a man slaughtered in broad daylight for transporting a cow for his dairy business when he had all the relevant permissions to do so. We even have officials of one state (Tamilnadu) officially deputed to transport cattle, assaulted and injured for doing their duty. We have a young man in Pune, lynched because he was wearing a cap. The instances of public lynching by what are called Cow Vigilantes are so many now that listing them is not possible here. The instances of online intimidation and abuse are myriad and instantaneous. What is remarkable and should be remarked on is not the incidents but the fact that they all go unpunished. No government can prevent crime totally. But any government worth the name must investigate it and bring the culprits to book. That is what a government is for. It is for governing. Not to dictate what people must eat, how they must dress, what they must and must not speak, who or what they should worship, but to govern the country in a way that citizens are safe. The government is not responsible for the incident but for what happens or fails to happen thereafter. That is what a government exists for. When crime goes unpunished, it spawns more crime. But of course, if the definition of crime is changed, then a crime is no longer a crime and the government is free from blame.
Safety and terror are both buzzwords today which are guaranteed to get attention. The problem is that today safety seems to be guaranteed for those who spread terror. While those who are being terrorized are not even allowed the freedom to mention it, no matter how mildly. Ask Hamid Ansari.
Will the murderers of Gauri Lankesh be apprehended and hanged? Will the murderers of Akhlaaq, Hafiz Junaid, Mohsin Sadiq Shaikh and dozens of others be similarly brought to book? Will I stop asking stupid questions?
When this government came to power in 2014, it did that on the promise of economic development. As the country with the largest number of people in abject poverty in the world, it is economic development that we need like a blood transfusion. That is why we elected this government. But what did we get instead?
Demonetization which destroyed thousands of livelihoods, impoverished those living on the brink, sank SME’s which are the backbone of society, wiped out the savings of the poor and did nothing to the black money and terror funding that it allegedly was aimed at. Anyone who knows anything about economics could have predicted this and many did. But this ‘surgical strike’ (not my coinage) on the economy was done with such swiftness that predictions had no meaning. Then came the implementation of GST. Another body blow to the economy that took down those left standing after demonetization. An initiative with noble intentions but the way it was done was to create confusion and despair albeit giving rise to a completely new multi-crore business of GST Advisors.
What we were promised was development, Sab ka Saath Sab ka Vikas. What we got instead was apartheid, oppression and for those who dared to raise their voice, intimidation and murder. What we were promised was Ache Din. What we are now promised is New India. What we were promised was elimination of black money, bringing back money from Swiss bank accounts and depositing money into the accounts of all Indians. What we are now promised is Cashless India. What we were promised was development for all Indians. What we are now promised is….

Well, as Hegel said, “We learn from history that we do not learn from history.” My question to myself and you is, “Do you want to prove him right or wrong?”

Close Encounters of the Terminal Kind

Ralph Chaplin said: “Mourn not the dead that in the cool earth lie, but rather mourn the apathetic throng, the coward and the meek who see the world’s great anguish and its wrong but dare not speak.”
A friend asked me for my opinion about the Bhopal ‘encounter’ which is in the news at present where eight young men, allegedly ‘dreaded terrorists’, were ‘encountered’. This is a cute term invented by the Indian media to describe what should correctly be called ‘extra-judicial killings’. And if you are among those who like to reduce everything to a single word, then you may like to experiment with the word, ‘Murder’. Truth and facts are boring and don’t sell papers or generate TRP ratings for so-called News Channels (which should be called by their real name – Propaganda Machine) but lace the truth with a dash (if required completely drench it) of fantasy, drama, excitement and fear and you can make a jaw-dropping, BP-raising, edge-of-the-seat, breathtaking clip of a cat catching a mouse. That is where the word ‘encounter’ came into being – murder being rather boring. And those who indulge in it on a regular basis were given the media medal of ‘Encounter Specialist’. I will leave you to arrive at what the logical, factual, straight and truthful word is, that should be used. No point in belaboring the point.
To give you an example of the monsters our media creates see this headline:  Why would anyone fear someone whose specialty is killing innocent, unarmed people? If that is a definition they feel proud of and their law-abiding brethren are not ashamed of, then pray what is the difference between this and the way you would define every daku (dacoit) of Chambal or every supari hitman gangster of the underworld? If honest police officers find such media descriptions insulting, then why do they remain silent? Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about ‘encounter’ killings: me leave such thoughts to those who should really reflect on them.
I decided to begin at the beginning and googled the term Encounter. Google, like Jeeves, gives satisfaction and so here is what came up.

I am not sure if those who had the encounter (or were ‘encountered’; such a useful language, English) would describe what they faced as, ‘we encountered a slight problem’, but fortunately they are not in a position to disagree with this definition, so we can ignore what they may have wanted to say.

So, what really happened in Bhopal?

God, of course, always knows. In this case those it happened to and those who facilitated that happening also know. But one lot is now speechless and the other lot are not speaking. Therefore, I am exactly where all of you are; with an enigmatic mystery to solve. Those addicted to mystery novels (I am, if Jeffery Arthur is the author) will be thrilled that one is unfolding before their eyes. I mentioned JA not by accident but by design. Because one of the most enjoyably infuriating thing about his writing is that the mystery is never completely solved. So, you gnash your teeth in frustration, curse him for being the cussed, devious man he is and wait with baited breath for his next novel, knowing full well that it is going to leave you in the exactly same state. We are all suckers for punishment. That is why I have read all his novels and pray for his long and productive life.

The Bhopal Encounter (it deserves upper case) is a mystery which will never be solved (at least for garden variety lizards like me) and will be followed by another and another as it was preceded by one and more.

Then why write anything at all about it?

I believe the Bhopal Encounter is a snapshot of what happens to democracies and what has been happening to our Indian democracy when those who make up the democracy decide to copout of the process. What defines and differentiates a democracy (India?) from a monarchy (Britain), a dictatorship (Egypt), an oligarchy (USA) or an anarchy (??) is the actions of its people. Democracy is not the name of a system of government. It is the name of a state of being that a nation of people choose for themselves. It is the name of a belief about yourself. It is the name of dignity of the individual. It is the name of justice where the law supersedes the individual (the opposite is the definition of feudalism). It is the name of self-determination, individual liberty, mutual compassion and concern. The system of government called ‘Democracy’, ensures all this. When its nature changes and it is no longer able to fulfill what the term ‘Democracy’ defines, it ceases to be a democracy and becomes whatever its actions display, no matter what its PR machine wants to portray to the world. People always see through the covers and know the truth because people listen with their eyes. They don’t care what you say, until they see what you do.

Democracy is defined by its three constituent institutions and by their separation; of the law makers, implementers and interpreters. Separation of the Institutions of the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary. “I am the law” or “I am above the law” are both feudalistic statements.  The separation is a safety measure to ensure that the democracy always remains a democracy and can’t be hijacked to become a dictatorship as we have seen happening all over the world, even though those regimes still call themselves ‘democratic’, because that is the buzzword to use. After all, how would, ‘The Undemocratic, Dictatorial, Fascistic, Murderous, Oppressive, Apartheid Republic of So-and-so’ sound? Not nice at all. So, they call themselves ‘Democratic’, while all the rest are fringe benefits that their citizens enjoy.

The ‘Encounter Specialist’, by his action (and all those who support that action directly or by remaining silent) collapses the three Institutions of Democracy, where he becomes the lawmaker, the law interpreter and the law enforcer. He decides who is guilty and what should be done to him. By his action, he declares that mere incidentals like evidence, establishment of guilt, judicial process, criminal code, sentencing and the legal procedure to ensure justice, are all immaterial.  He is the judge, jury and executioner rolled into one and by his action, hammers another nail into the coffin of democracy.
The question is not whether the one killed in an ‘encounter’ was guilty or not. The question is whether justice was done and seen to be done. If we declare that the killing of one by another who considers him guilty is justice, then we have legitimized every terror killing in the world. The man who drove the truck through the crowd in France thought he was doing justice. The person who killed the three Muslim medical students in North Carolina thought he was doing justice. ISIS thinks it is doing justice. Every Israeli soldier shooting Palestinian children thinks he is doing justice. Where do we draw the line, if we choose to obliterate it in one instance?

We either draw the line and say, ‘Let the courts decide who is guilty and who is not, based on evidence.’ Or we open the doors to anarchy and civil war. It is our call. It’s the choice of civil society, to raise our voice and say what we want; what we demand from our government; justice or anarchy? The ‘Encounter Specialist’ represents anarchy. The policeman/woman who investigates a crime and brings the murderer to the gallows, represents justice. Whose side are we on? Whose side are you on? I know whose side I am on. So do you.

So, who is guilty? Those who commit murder and call it ‘encounter’, those who order it and all those who sit silently and watch it happen. All of them are equally guilty of destroying the law, destroying the nation and destroying themselves.  Especially tragic is when those sworn to uphold the law and protect the innocent are guilty of violating that trust. There’s nothing more pathetic than a policeman committing murder at the behest of others. It violates and insults the uniform, the oath of office and the Constitution of India. It is the action of such of them that give a bad name to the entire force, where the term, ‘Police Martyrs’ sounds like an oxymoron. Those who really lost their lives honorably lose the honor they deserve. I remind myself that there are others who I know, who in this morass of shameless pursuit of personal wealth and pleasing political bosses, don’t even dream of sacrificing their integrity and stand, often alone, as shining lights proclaiming that honesty and truth are personal values which define us. And so, they are never to be compromised.

In the words of the song:

मझधार में नैया डोले तो मांझी पार लगाए,
मांझी जो नाव डुबोये, उसे कौन बचाए

What is the solution?

In my view the solution is very simple. Justice. Let justice be done. Murder is a crime. It is fashionable today to call for tougher laws. The fact of the matter is that our existing law is more than good enough. Murder is a crime and its punishment is death. What more can anyone do? The issue is not with the law but with the implementation of the law. When murder done by someone special is not punished, changing the law and making it tougher is not the solution. The solution is to bring the criminal to justice, by proper investigation of the crime and collection of evidence. It is not possible for any police force to anticipate a crime of random violence. Neither is it possible for the police to prevent such crimes from happening because we have no knowledge of hidden things. The only way to be forewarned about the possibility of such crimes is through Community Policing by building trust in civil society such that the Police Force is seen as their compatriot and friend. I know that there are a few officers who are working to this end. But one incident of extra-judicial killing destroys years of trust building.

It may not be possible to prevent every crime of politically motivated random violence but it is eminently possible to investigate a crime once it happens and catch the criminals. When there is a price that the criminal is convinced he will have to pay, then he will think many times before committing the crime. Instead of that, when innocent people are killed because the police is too lazy to investigate or is subservient to others and has accepted the role of hitman, then instead of fighting terrorism, you end up creating more terrorists. An extra-judicial killing is a dream come true for the terror group recruiter. Every real terrorist killed in a staged encounter gives birth to ten more recruits. Every innocent killed in a staged encounter gives birth to a hundred. The nightmare of the genuine law enforcer is the false encounter because it closes doors of cooperation which could have prevented future crimes.

My suggestion is that given the dismal record of police investigations, it is time for civil society to launch an independent investigation into these terror crimes and encounters. We need to set up a fund to pay for a top-class investigation agency to independently investigate the crime and collect evidence. This can then be given publicly to the police to take to a conclusion. I say publicly because if the police know that there is real evidence then trying to cover up is not so easy. Criminals must be punished and not rewarded, if we are serious about fighting crime. If crime pays, criminals will flourish. If criminals start paying, crime will end. The law must be respected and applied, no matter who tries to break it.

If we do that, then we would have taken the right steps to change the script. Once the script is changed, the results will be different. It is time for us to wake up and realize that polluting the water in the lake affects all those who live in the lake. Those who sit quietly will not escape the effects of pollution.

The time has come to speak and to act if we want to bequeath a world to our children that they will not curse us for. Stand for justice. Speak for justice. Or sit silently and support the terrorist, the murderer and the oppressor.

The choice is yours. I made mine a long time ago.

Accepting Freedom

Many years ago, I wrote a piece which I posted on my blog called, ‘Same Chairs, Different Bottoms’. Here it is for those who may not have read it. It is necessarily full of Indian (and Hindi) idiom which is not translatable so I apologize to those who don’t understand Hindi in advance. Also you need to know something of the history of India around 1947 when we became free of the British to appreciate the satire. But here goes.
I was in South Africa in August 2016, just before the Municipal Elections which are a big indicator of the mood of the nation with respect to the party that fought for and got them independence from apartheid, I can’t help but recall sadly our (India’s) own journey down that road. The inability to gain independence of the mind, while we got independence legally from a foreign ruler. It is for this reason that even today in India, a British national has more status, privileges and aura than an Indian, especially an Indian Muslim or Dalit.

The Indian National Congress which was the party that ‘got us independence’ if I may say so, lasted around forty years before it was ousted. Same evils of the euphoria of hubris that the ANC seems to be suffering from; the apparent belief that independence was the destination instead of the reality, that it was the beginning of the journey, even the race. Bringing a nation out of slavery is easy compared to making it own the responsibility of being free. Freedom is in the mind. Not in the law books. Free people behave differently because they believe that they’re the owners. So they don’t steal from themselves, they don’t abuse privilege, they don’t seek to enrich themselves at the expense of the nation.

That’s why in countries like Sweden you have the Prime Minister riding a bicycle to work and nobody even comments. It’s not a publicity gimmick like our Indian politicians do once in a while. It’s normal. Being PM is like being a teacher or a bus driver. All equally dignified and important. But that’s also because Sweden was never a colony, was never subjugated. But countries which have had oppressive governments for generations like South Africa and India have learnt a different equation with the government. India went from monarchy or monarchies to British colonial rule to democracy. Government was always alien. The few with the power to rule the many. To this day we use the term, Modi’s rule, Congress Raj, Collector’s Peshi (means ‘August Presence’…a Mughal Court term, used today for the District administrator). If you used the term ‘rule’ for Stefan Löfven they’d laugh you out of town. The titular ruler of Sweden, which is a constitutional monarchy is King Carl XVI Gustaf who has been King of Sweden since 1973. He is the 74thKing of Sweden, and also rides a bicycle normally. He’s a ruler like the British Queen, more a tourist attraction than anything else.

Democracy is supposed to be ‘government of the people, for the people, by the people’. At least this is what we were taught in school 45 years ago. But for this to happen, it is the people who must be educated and who must understand the meaning of ownership and exercise it. So whoever may be the political party in parliament, the power always belongs to the people of the nation who give it to a set of leaders to exercise it on their behalf for their (the people’s) benefit. It is the like the driver of a car. The car belongs to the owner. The driver drives it at the pleasure of the owner, as long as the owner employs him, to wherever the owner orders him and then when his day is over, he gets on his own personal transport and goes home. That is the actual meaning of government and ‘ruling’ party in a real democracy. It would never be acceptable for the driver of the car to take it home or to do with it anything at all without the permission of the owner. The driver will never be the owner of the car no matter how long he drives it. He will always be a driver. And be judged and rewarded on the basis of his driving and the care he lavishes on the car to keep it in pristine order. But today whether you look at the drama that’s called US elections or in UK or in the many other countries including India and South Africa you are looking at drivers whose real intentions seem to be to grab the car and dispossess the real owner.

Free nations have dignity. Self-respect is a characteristic of free people which prevents them from being corrupt. You can’t steal from yourself but when you see yourself as an outsider you can steal from the “Other”. Corruption is a sign that you don’t consider yourself to be a part of the nation. Corruption is treason. It is the most anti-national of acts. It is an act of war on the nation. But in all our countries, it is rampant, accepted, even aspirational. India and South Africa are not alone in this by any means. This seems to be the fate of almost every erstwhile colony which gained independence after a struggle. All are struggling from the phenomenon of ‘Same chairs, different bottoms’. They don’t seem to see the fact that it is the chair which must be changed. The change is not in the bottom which sits in the chair, but the mindset which defines what the chair actually means.

The change is by no means easy. It means that people must elect leaders based on principles, ethics, morals and character; not on tribe, caste or community. It means that leaders then have to behave like elected representatives, not like rulers, kings and queens. It means that they must be scrupulously objective, honest, non-partisan and just. It means that integrity, not anything else, must rule every transaction. It means that there must be no financial, social or other benefit in being a leader. It means that we need to take away every ‘benefit’ that we enjoy today when we are elected to office – yet want to be there only in order to serve.

It means that public servants must reflect, even meditate on the term ‘public servant’ and consciously accept it as their self-concept. They must act like servants of the public, not as their rulers. It means that we must remove all privilege that goes with so-called public service today in countries like India. It means that almost every reason why most people opt for public service today must be removed. Then only those who still want to serve will be there to serve; quietly, unsung heroes whose love will fill the hearts of those whose difficulty they alleviate. It means we need to create a generation which finds satisfaction from drying people’s tears and seeing their smiles.

It means that the public must behave with self-confidence, self-respect and fairness and not demand more than they are due; nor seek privilege over others based on caste, creed, community, tribe or social status. It means that the public must value and want justice, not injustice which they personally benefit from. It means that people must value the law and want to follow it even when it may be painful, because they know that it is good for everyone, including themselves. It means that the law must be superior to people. That crime doesn’t pay, criminals do. It means that if a crime is committed, the criminal will be punished no matter who he or she is. No exceptions. That is the meaning of rule of law and what differentiates a democracy from a dictatorship or feudal rule.

It means that the election process itself must be changed where it is the people who pay, not aspiring leaders. As long as elections involve fund raising by candidates, they will breed, even enforce corruption. Good leadership is the need of the people and we the people must pay to have good leaders. It means that campaigning must be dignified with candidates (and parties) speaking about what they have to offer. Not spend time in maligning and demeaning others. Elections must not be a circus nor a drain on the exchequer. Media must be restrained and report facts and give space to information. Not become the spokespeople for vested interests and peddle propaganda, innuendo and lies in the name of news. Media must be and keep itself free from external influence and be the conscience keepers and champions of the values of the nation. It means that accountability must be objective, absolute and unquestioned.

When we are able to accomplish this then and only then will we be truly free. Only then will we regain our self-respect. Only then will we be able to hold our heads high as a nation that has truly thrown off the chains of servitude. Slavery is in the mind. Subjugated nations become subjugated and remain subjugated because they accept these chains of the superiority of man over man based on external causes; race, position, power, authority or anything else. Equality means to treat yourself as equal to the other – not the other way round. If you say that equality means to treat the other like yourself, you are unconsciously placing yourself at a higher level and feel satisfied at ‘bringing’ the other to your level. That still means you are doing them a favor. So I prefer to describe it as seeing and treating yourself as equal to the ‘other’. In essence, it means eliminating the ‘other’. For in a free nation, all people are citizens; albeit with different responsibilities, but all equal to one another and all accountable to the nation which comprises of all of them.

Fantasy, you say? Well, I am a poor old man. Please indulge me. Or accept the fact that when you are far removed from reality, it looks like fantasy. Searching for justice, equity and dignity in our feudal, patriarchal nations, is the real fantasy. Change it or suffer.

The challenge defines the man – Pay parity for Police and Administrative Services

The foundational principle of job analysis for the purpose of fixing salaries is that compensation is directly proportional to complexity. The more complex the job, the higher the compensation. Complexity itself is defined as ‘the cost of correcting a mistake’. The higher the cost of correcting a mistake, a bad judgment, the higher the salary for that job. 

Complexity = High cost of correcting mistakes = Higher compensation

With this in mind, let us ask, ‘Which job is more complex? Whose job is costlier to correct? That of the LDC/UDC or the Police constable /HC? Whose mistakes are more costly to correct? Someone who checks or rechecks a file, or someone whose wrong decision can precipitate a riot or result in someone being killed?’

Our argument is not about how much the IAS (Secretariat Staff) get paid. Our argument has to do with the Police, be it the constable or his superiors, all the way to the top. We believe and state that the scales of pay that have been suggested by the Honorable Pay Commission have no relation to the degree of complexity of the job. We believe that this violates the basic foundational principle of compensation assessment.

More recently, the complexity of the policeman’s job in India has increased even more with the sharp increase in urban warfare, communal tensions, separatist movements (Assam), terrorism and Naxalism. Add to that cybercrime, industrial security and insurgency (Kashmir) and you have a mix the like of which does not exist anywhere else in the world. Needless to say, the job demands skills, dedication, integrity, judgment and patience of a very high order.

On the one hand the policeman needs to be decisive and assertive enough, not to hesitate to take the tough call. On the other hand he/she has to simultaneously have the courage, forbearance and communication ability to diffuse a volatile situation without anyone getting hurt. Naturally the cost of correction of mistakes by someone in such a job is extremely high especially because in some cases the mistakes made are not reversible. In such a situation, being ‘first time right’ is critical. This requires a high level of integrity, education and understanding, impeccable and intense training and complete dedication to the job.

Job is perhaps the wrong word to use in the case of the Police, whose work is really a covenant, more than a job. We define a ‘Covenant’ as follows:

“The Covenant is your purpose of existence. It is the reason you walk the earth. It is the need you fulfill a promise made to the nation and to yourself. It is the gap you will leave behind if you cease to exist. It is what you will be remembered for. The Covenant generates a sense of loyalty and binds all those who share in it. It invokes a sense of pride and belonging that transcends generations and holds its believers to a code of conduct that defines them. A Covenant is lived by, bequeathed to successors and the reason they will cry when you die.”

We don’t claim that salary is the only criterion that determines excellence. But it certainly is one of the primary hygiene factors that impact the heart and mind of the constable and the officer. Salary is not merely about making ends meet. It is an indicator of the worth that the job and by inference, the individual is held in, by its employer – in this case the GOI.

The famous seminal research on motivation called the Hertzberg’s Theory of Motivation ranks salary as one of the most important hygiene factors that impact motivation. Without a salary that is fair and equitable the incumbent feels less worthy and therefore is more likely to engage in activities that are not unquestionable. It is for this reason that policemen and women in developed countries like the UK and the USA are paid salaries that are not merely favorably comparable with other Civil Services but with the regular salary market.

Paying those whose responsibility it is to maintain law and order, fight crime and bring its perpetrators to book, instill confidence in the citizenry and in this pursuit, if required literally sacrifice their very lives, less than what we pay to a clerk working in an office is certainly not the best thing for the nation.

Police Ride Along

I was on holiday in Florida this September (2015) when I heard of the Ride Along program that several Police Departments offer all over the United States. This is an initiative to encourage Police Public Partnership so that people can see life from the other side of the fence and see what a Police Officer typically goes through every day. When I discovered that one of these was the Clearwater City’s Police Department which was nearby, I applied. The first cautious reaction was, ‘You are not an American citizen so let me check.’ My response was, ‘I am happy to become one temporarily if that is what it takes.’ I love my Indian citizenship to give that up but just for a one night stand, that was not such a big deal. As it happened, I didn’t become an American citizen even for a night but was invited to participate in the program. Here’s a link to the program so that I don’t have to explain all this stuff.

Now a word about why I was interested in this program anyway? As many of my friends know, I have been involved with the Indian Police – IPS in particular – as Guest Faculty on Leadership Development at the SVP National Police Academy, Hyderabad, AP Police Academy, Hyderabad and the SSB Academy Gwaldam. I taught my first course at the SVP- National Police Academy in 1991. Since then I have worked with IPS Trainees (Indian Police Service Officer Cadets) and Senior Officers (of the rank of Deputy Inspector General and Inspector General) as well as Commandants of the SSB and Trainers in the SSB Academy Gwaldam on Train the Trainer Programs. So I have a deep and abiding interest in policing. In particular of the need for Police Public Partnership in fighting crime. In today’s climate of terrorist activity, public participation becomes even more important. I am not talking about informers but of the need to build trust among the general public where they feel comfortable talking to a police officer, going to a police station or helping police to solve crime because they see police as one of themselves and not an alien force to be avoided by all decent people.

Why do I say all this? That is because of a statement that I heard from one of my own students at the NPA in 1991 when I asked the class, ‘What is the Police?’
One of them replied, ‘It is the coercive arm of Government.’

Now that was not an outrageous answer at all but rather succinctly defined the perceived role of the Indian Police both in the eyes of the public as well as themselves. I am not sure if one could get such a close agreement on role definition in any other profession so easily. The big question of course was, ‘Is this definition good to have? Is it how we (police officers – I’m not one) want to be perceived? Is this how we want people to think of us?’ The answer at least in my mind and the minds of many of my friends in the police is a resounding ‘No!’

How did this happen? Well, that is a long story but in short this is the legacy both of 150 years of British colonial rule where the Police was the tool of Government to enforce their will on subject people as well as our own feudal history as a nation where the police in our own states did the same thing. Police were feared. And policemen enjoyed this. Going to a Police Station was something only a criminal did and so was something which was (and is) seen as not something any decent person ever does. If you have to do it because you were the victim of a crime, you do it and then all your worst fears come true.

I have had the occasion to go to my local police station once. In my naiveté I decided to be Mr. Ordinary Citizen and lodge a complaint. All that I wanted to do was to get my complaint registered. After being rudely told to sit on a bench and then made to wait for over two hours, I decided to become Indian. So I made one phone call and the senior officer of the Police Station came looking for me, took me into his office, gave me a cup of tea and ordered the same Circle Inspector who made me sit on a bench, to register my complaint while I had my tea. When I was leaving and passed by the desk of the Circle Inspector, he told me in a very injured tone, ‘Aray Saab pehlay nain bolna kay aap kon hain?’ (Sir, shouldn’t you have told me earlier who you are?) Meaning that the fact that I got treated like an ‘ordinary citizen’ was my own fault because I am not an ‘ordinary’ citizen and should have made that known to him. The fact that I feel an ordinary citizen and am very proud of it, is obviously a sign of the early onset of dementia because who but a madman would want to be an ordinary citizen in India when you need not be? I learnt my lesson but thankfully haven’t had to go to a Police Station since and hope never to have that privilege till the end of my days.

So there I was in the United States and decided to see what it was like for an ordinary Police Officer. I was asked if I had any preference for the time of day I would like to go on a Ride Along. I chose 9.00 pm to 3.00 am. The officer, Paul Bosco told me, ‘You want to see all the drunks and druggies? No problem. I’ll show you.’ As it happened we didn’t see any but I had a very eye opening experience nevertheless.

My poor brother was landed the job of driving me to the Police Station at 9.00 pm and the even more unenviable job of picking me up at 3.00 am. Talk about accidents of birth. But he was nice enough not to complain about it.

We met Paul at the station. He gave me an introduction to the program; do’s and don’ts (basically all designed to ensure my own safety), a memento of a Deputy’s badge and I got into the police car – in the front seat – not in the back. You don’t want to get into the back of a police car, believe me. That is bad news. I was riding as his partner in this case hoping of course that he would never need me to really back him up. He didn’t and I am alive to tell the tale.
I am not about to give a blow by blow account of all that happened that night but just want to share some highlights which drew for me the difference between a police officer in a democracy compared to a police officer in a feudal colony which has not yet woken up to the fact that it is now a democracy and not a feudal colony. I want to mention three incidents.

1.    The officer stopped a speeding car. The whole thing was very exciting with the officer checking the speed on his laser scanner which gives an exact reading. The man was doing twenty miles over the limit so the officer drove after him with his flashers on. The man pulled over. The officer’s onboard computer gives him all details of the car and driver including the record of any encounters with the law in his entire life. It was great to see how technology makes life so easy. Then the officer walked over to the car and asked for the driver’s license and registration of the car. To my great surprise the man was not only angry at being stopped but when he realized that he was going to be given a ‘ticket’ he became abusive and used some very bad language. To my even greater surprise, Paul Bosco, who is built like a prize fighter, didn’t lose his cool at all.
He continued to speak to the man politely, gave him the ticket and sent him on his way. And there I was chuckling to myself and saying, ‘Ha! Lucky you are not in India bro!! You would deserve what would have happened to you there!!’

2.    As we were sitting at an intersection a can drove up and the driver leaned out and told Paul about some young people who were drag racing on the boundary of his territory which was potentially dangerous. Paul thanked him and told him that he was aware of this and someone had already been dispatched to take care of that. Then the man says, ‘Thanks pal. You guys are doing a great job.’ I guess Clearwater Police deserves that. It was a random unsolicited comment from a citizen who was just driving along and stopped to talk to the policeman because he saw a police car.

3.    We pulled into a gas station for what I like to call a ‘fluid adjustment break’ – put fluids in and put fluids out. This was past midnight and there were twenty or thirty motorcycles and their riders just hanging out, drinking sodas and chatting. As we came back out of the convenience store attached to the gas station and got into our car, one of the motorcycles was having some starting trouble. So one of the friends of the rider gave him a hefty push to get him started. As the bike rolled forward with the push the rider accidentally applied his front brake with predictable results. The bike almost went head over heels and then keeled over and the rider fell off. Paul says to me, ‘Just watch this.’ Then he turned on his loud hailer and says, ‘Hey guys, if you want training wheels tell me. I’ll get them for you.’

All the young motorcyclists were in splits, yelling with laughter. The rider who fell off got the ribbing of his life. And I saw all this in stupefied silence. I laughed of course but asked myself, ‘This is the relationship of a police officer with ordinary citizens?’

Last story, this is not part of the Ride Along but something that happened as I was about to return home to India. There was an announcement that some Islam-hate group was organizing ‘Protests’ at all the mosques they could, one of which was to be the masjid we prayed at. Florida is a state that permits people to carry weapons so it was expected that some of these Islam-hating people would come armed. Clear and present danger. What about the police? So I asked some people.

This is what I was told. “The police will be present. The Sheriff will be there. There will probably be a SWAT Car in attendance. Reinforcements will be a call away. They will ensure that nobody enters the mosque property. They will be allowed to stand on public land, roadside and so on but will not be allowed to enter the masjid’s land as that is private property. If there is any threat of violence from them, they will be arrested and charged according to what they may do. If they fire on anyone, the police will shoot back at them. The police will protect the one who is being harassed, not the one harassing. Even if he belongs to the Republicans or Democrats or whoever is in power at the State or Federal level.”

I was so intrigued that I almost changed my return ticket just to be there and see this in action. The actions of a police force, policing. The actions of upholders of the law, upholding the law. The actions of defenders of the Constitution, defending their Constitution and the Rights it grants all citizens. Such an unusual sight that would have been. Had it not been for the fact that I couldn’t afford Emirates ticket change penalty, you would have had an eye witness account.

Why am I sounding so surprised? I am sure no Indian needs any explanation. As for others, do your own guessing. I don’t like to wash dirty linen in public. It is my own country after all even if some of those who walk the corridors of power today want to debate that.

Indian Police must define its role. Are they upholders of the Constitution? Are they partners of the public in protecting them from crime? Are they members of the public playing an incredibly important and honorable role of protecting the oppressed, the weak and the poor? Or are they agents of those in power, enabling them to break the law with impunity; aiding and abetting crime by the powerful and protecting criminals because they belong to this or that political party which is in power. Indian police need to define what patriotism means. Does it mean loyalty to the nation and its law abiding citizens or loyalty to the political party in power?

We like to talk about Police Public Relations in the Indian Police Service. In fact the first course I taught at the SVP National Police Academy was about that. However in reality it is impossible for a member of the public to actually contribute to policing. Police is seen as something to fear and the distance that police officers maintain from the public confirms this impression and promotes alienation. The more senior the officer, the more intimidating he is and the more distant and difficult to reach. There is no system for the ordinary citizen to build a relationship with his local police personnel or any encouragement for him to do so. I am not talking about personal friendships with police officers. I am talking like the Ride Along program as an example. Granted that we can’t have an exact replica of that program in India because our police constables don’t ride in cars to be able to take anyone along but we need systems where ordinary people can contribute in different ways to help police officers to solve crime and make our living spaces safer.

For a start as a test of my claim that police officers maintain an intimidating distance from the people which discourages participation here is a checklist that you can give to the SHO of any Police Station to fill out. The results will be enlightening, I hope and encourage the seniors to do something about this.

  1.      How many prominent local people do you know personally?
  2.             How many of them without political affiliation and from minorities or Dalits?
  3.        How many of them do you visit socially at least once a year?
  4.         Do you invite them to any function at the PS – e.g. Independence Day flag hoisting?
  5.         If not, why not?
  6.        Do you participate, even if by simply wishing, in any festival not your own?
  7.        If not, why not?
  8.        Do you visit any schools, hospitals, NGO’s, places of worship in your area?
  9.        If not, why not?

You can add any more questions as you wish but I believe the results will be the same. Police don’t have a relationship with the public because they don’t want to.

If Indian Police really want to be partners with the public, then they have to define who they are and what their role is. You can’t run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. You have to decide where you belong and act accordingly. Jai Hind.