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An image that takes a beating

ANIL DHARKER

We may have met police officers who are upright and honest. The sad thing is that even when they reach the highest rungs of the ladder, they are unable to change the force from what it has become.

SUBIR ROY

THE Police Commissioner of Mumbai complained the other day about the depiction of the police in our movies. He isn't the first: other cops, at other times, at other places have said the same thing. What's their complaint? The movie cops have paunches, they have long hair, they keep their baton in their right hand and beat it on the palm of their left hand to show their authority.

And they always, but always, arrive on the scene of the crime when everything's over and done with.

So, then, what is the true scenario? The real cops we see have paunches (except the new recruits who look as if they have joined thin so they can get fat) but they don't have long hair. They keep their baton in their right hand and beat it on the head of a passer-by to show their authority. And they don't always arrive on the scene of the crime after its all over. In fact, many say that the cops arrive on the scene before. So are the Police Commissioners right when they say movies get them wrong? Yes, and they should be grateful. Because if the truth were to be told by the movies, they would only cut out the long hair, but they would add a whole lot of things they keep out because the film censors make them. Things like corruption and arriving on the scene before any crime is committed so that they commit it themselves.

Take the Ansal Plaza case, the shoot-out in the Delhi shopping mall basement where the local police killed two Pakistani terrorists. When a man said he saw the whole thing and it wasn't a shoot-out but cold-blooded murder, who did we believe? When the police brandished a post-mortem report which exonerated the cops from point-blank range killing, didn't we react by saying that the autopsy must have been fixed? The police force's problem isn't a problem of image. The police force's problem is what they are.

It's pointless saying that there are good cops and bad cops. The truth is there are too many bad cops. And any organisation which tolerates, and chooses to live with so many bent elements, is bound to take on the colour of the black sheep.

Know why the special anti-extortion cell of the Mumbai police was wound up? Because the cell, set up to counter the mafia's extortion demands, began to make the same demands themselves. Know why the so-called Encounter Specialists were transferred to desk jobs? Because they made pots of money by threatening the rich to eliminate them in encounters if they weren't paid off! And here's the most bizarre case of all. (But, sadly, not such an unusual one). A group of seven young men out on a picnic in a s u v, stopped by at a remote petrol station for a refill in the evening. As they left, they were chased by a police jeep, made to halt, and shot. Luckily (unluckily for the cops), some of them survived. The game plan was this: the policemen robbed the petrol pump of its day's takings, and blamed the picnickers for the heist ("They weren't picnickers," the cops said. "They were gangsters.") The survivors and the petrol station manager, however, have talked. But who knows if the law will ever catch up with the law? The problem begins with this lack of accountability. If you aren't very scrupulous and if you can get away with something, you will go ahead and do it. Did you watch the first three one-day internationals between India and the West Indies? Each one was interrupted by crowd trouble. And, yet, before each match (played at Jamshedpur, Nagpur and Rajkot) we read reports about the elaborate security arrangements, and the large contingent of security people who were on duty at the stadium. Television visuals, in fact, showed us the Cops on Duty: they were lounging around, the officers on chairs, enjoying the game, with huge, happy grins for Sehwag's bludgeoning bat.

We knew they were there to watch the crowd; they thought they were there to watch the match. When trouble erupted, they had neither seen it begin, nor had any idea who started it. Will any of them be disciplined? Or will they be punished by being sent to watch a football game? All of us, sometime or the other, have met police officers who are upright and honest with a heightened sense of duty, a remarkable commitment to their job and a strong belief in a value system. The sad thing is that even when they reach the highest rungs of the ladder, they are unable to change the force from what it has become. This suits the political establishment which uses every arm of the government for its own nefarious ends.

It's a human tendency to look for the silver lining in every dark cloud, the light at the end of the tunnel. In this case there's not even a glimmer of either. So where do we go from here?

Anil Dharker is a noted journalist, media critic and writer.

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