One of the nagging problems which our country is facing today is, “police brutality”. It is an ongoing issue, which is reported almost every day in TV and news papers, debated in different forums and condemned in every conceivable way by civil society organizations. It is observed that members of general public fall prey to police brutality either directly or indirectly.
It has, however, not been specifically defined anywhere in the lexicon. What we generally mean by police brutality is, ‘mindless physical or mental torture or harassment to a citizen by police’. Precisely enough, malicious prosecution, unwarranted aggression towards accused or suspect in custody, unfriendly and indecent behavior towards the citizens are different types of police brutalities.
Death of an accused/suspect in police custody or a prisoner in jail, rape or molestation of a female visiting a police station or in police custody and use of force on peaceful demonstrations are some of the police brutalities often reported in newspapers and TV in India.
Now, where such abominable crimes are committed and who are the perpetrators? A police station, which is also known as a station house, is usually alleged to be the breeding ground of all sorts of brutalities and the police personnel working therein are the perpetrators. Majority of the deaths, rapes, molestation and physical torture in custody reportedly take place in the premises of a police station.
However, to eradicate the aforesaid malady from society, there is a need to make an in-depth study of the alleged place and people working therein . A police station is basically an unit of investigation where different types of crime, cognizable or non-cognizable, are reported by members of general public. Incidents of road, rail and air mishaps, accidental fire, unnatural deaths, flood, famine, other natural calamities and all other matters requiring police action or attention are also reported at the police station, which are recorded chronologically in a register known as the general diary or station diary. A police station is also used as a temporary detention centre for an accused/suspect before his/her forwarding to the court of law. The police stations in Odisha are manned by subordinate police officers , i.e, officers of and below the rank of Inspector. As per Police Manual Rules the command and control over the subordinate police officers are excercised by officers of and above the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police, who are also known as superior police officers.
We also need to know about the duties and responsibilities which are prescribed for a subordinate police officer working in a station house. Broadly speaking, the duties of a police officer in a station house are, to prevent and detect a crime within its local limits and maintain public peace and order. Apprehension of accused and absconders, regular surveillance over the movements of habitual offenders, execution of non-bailable and bailable warrants issued by a court of law, holding inquiries about missing persons and unnatural deaths, regulation of vehicular traffic and crowd during public meetings, demonstrations by political parties, trade unions, fairs and festivals and protection of VIPs and vital installations are some of the important duties of a police officer who is working in a station house. Besides, prisoner escort duty, participation in ceremonial parades at police headquarters and deposition of evidence in a court of law are some more duties which are prescribed by the Police Manual to the subordinate police officers . Several other minor duties are assigned to a police officer, like maintenance of records and registers, writing out reports and returns, etc
Basically, a police station functions on round the clock basis by the subordinate police officers. As per Police Act, 1861 and Police Manual Rules, a subordinate police officer is considered to be always on duty unless, he/she is absent on leave, duly granted by a competent authority. Wilful absence from duty is treated as a grave misconduct and makes him/her liable to be proceeded under disciplinary rules. The Police Manual has prescribed minor punishments like warning and censure in the service book of a subordinate police officer . Major punishments like black mark in the service book, forfeiture of annual increment, reduction in rank and removal from service are also awarded to a subordinate officer. The superior police officers are empowered to award one or more of these punishments to the subordinates. Besides, an adverse entry in the ACR (annual character roll) of a subordinate officer by a superior may entail stoppage of his promotion to the next higher rank. Even a charged officer is not entitled to get his promotion during pendency of a proceeding enquiry which takes years to come to an end. It acts like a tenterhook which could make someone depressive and vacillating. Though suspension from active service is not regarded as a punishment in the Police Manual, it is commonly used now-a-days by the authorities because of its devastating/deterrent effect on a police officer. With his powers and privileges curtailed and a meagre subsistence allowance, he is reduced to an outcast in his own fraternity.
So far as the state of Odisha is concerned, a subordinate police officer is entitled to take a day off from the police station, only when his/her leave application is duly sanctioned by a competent authority, as prescribed in the Leave Rules. The application is always routed through proper channel with necessary recommendation at different levels. The resultant delay in obtaining the sanction order is often worrisome for an officer. Broadly speaking, the subordinate officer is entitled for 15 days casual leave, 5 days special leave and earned leave, usually not exceeding 30 days in a calendar year. Except earned leave, the casual leave and special leave put together, are granted in piece meal, not exceeding 10 days at a time and there is every possibility of getting a recall order in exigency. Interestingly enough, the aforementioned leave are only applicable to Head Constables and Constables. Officers like Assistant Sub-Inspectors, Sub-Inspectors and Inspectors are very rarely granted long leave, because of their engagement in investigating crimes, which are to be completed within a prescribed time frame. Further, they are burdened with more responsibilities than the former ranks. Especially on festive and religious occasions in Odisha, one has to remain extra alert to ensure peace and tranquilityin the locality and facilitate peaceful observance of celebrations by the people. It renders a police officer tensed and fatigued, as on most occasions reinforcement or relief would not be available to him owing to shortage of staff. Again the same officer has also to attend to reports on incidents/crimes during or after the occasions, as the police stations are badly understaffed.
A subordinate police officer is duty bound to visit unwholesome places like brothel, dance bar, drug joint, liquor den, gaming house etc, which a law abiding citizen would ordinarily avoid to go to, for maintaining surveillance over the movements of criminals and antisocial elements and sometimes for their apprehension. It is observed that regular visits to such places only complicates his conduct and affects his scrupulous professional integrity .
A subordinate police officer is often found missing in a family get-together or a fiesta. He can barely manage to take a day’s meal with his family. Sometimes it even becomes difficult for him to take an ailing family member to a doctor for treatment. I, myself is very comfortable and happy as my wife is capable enough to look after the household chores by herself alone. Under such physical and emotional constraints a police officer gradually becomes a social outcast and develops a subculture within his fraternity to escape frustration and keep him amusing. In the process he becomes cruel and develops an indifferent attitude towards people’s grievances.
Surprisingly, when detection of crime and succesful prosecution of a case in a court of law require a team effort, the investigating officer, who is again a subordinate police officer, is alone held responsible for failure of the same. An unsolved crime or a acquitted case may put a blot in his service record. Hence, a police officer becomes very much apprehensive and desperate right from the beginning of reporting of a crime or an incident. In his frantic effort to solve a case, he sometimes exceeds the prescribed limit and adopt malpractices like applying coercive methods to obtain a confession from an accused, keeping suspect/accused in prolonged detention and so on. On many occasions police officers are also found guilty of suppressing cases which are reported to them.
It is very often alleged that police officers in order to ensure conviction of a case take recourse to short-cut and unscientific methods like obtaining statements of witnesses and accused under duress and manipulating evidence at the scene of crime, as more and more emphasis is being laid for speedy detection of a case. The inadequate training and lack of practice in scientific aids to investigation, has rendered them helpless before criminals who are now adopting scientific methods in commission of a crime with mathematical precision.
It is not my intention to justify or legalize the acquisition of such a bad trait or application of unlawful methods by the police officers. It is rather intended to draw the attention of intelligentsia, civil societies, media and the politicians, who are the so called guardians of democratic values and principles, to consider the aforementioned facts while voicing their criticism on police excess or inaction.