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Seminar on Police Reforms & Human Rights at GLC

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Basundhara Banerjee

On 10th of December, 2015 as the world celebrated Human Rights Day, The Government Law College Mumbai, along with Hurt Foundation and the centre for Criminology and Justice, Tata Institute of Social Sciences Mumbai, organized a seminar on ‘Police Reforms and Human Rights’. The program was divided into 3 sessions:-

1) which was about “Police reforms and its Dimensions.”

2) pertained to “Police as the protectors.”

3) had an open discussion forum, as well as, outcomes from this workshop.

In the inaugural speech, Justice S. R. Bannurmath, Chairperson of Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission (former Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court) addressed the audience, on how police reforms and human rights are of a symbolic need – the police as a protector, have a major role to play in society, i.e. – prevention, detection, and maintaining public law and order. Especially, by respecting other individuals, as well as, themselves. Every society needs some sort of policing. And requires a proper enquiry committee to be set, and for the guilty to be punished, as well as proper action to be taken at the right time. The police have an active network within the law – a huge democratic setup on its own, to strike a balance between law and society.

He added , The police’s priority will be to reduce pendency. If the complaints remain pending for a long time, it will be a violation of human rights. At the same time, there must be a proper check of public servants, in terms of machines they are using. There must be a balance between the citizen and the police force and also between the police force and the machinery – both in an association and through combined efforts, have to guard human rights. The main idea is to provide justice at the doorstep, so that people of different districts and villages, can primarily lodge their complaint(s) or demand for any basic enquiry, at any nearby police station(s). Even after death, one’s existence can be questioned on the basis of human rights.

Sometimes, the police uses third degree torture to extract necessary data of the crime – again this may not be applicable to all (but none the less is a violation of human rights/law.) But, if we see closely, then we will notice that these people are related to crime, or in turn are the prime suspects, or such methods are employed for collecting important data. Then, there are cases of illegal registrations too. So, whenever a criminal activity has taken place, the first thing that needs to be done by the police is to actually ‘Register’ it. Bannurmath, also pointed out to the specific role that the media plays in reporting human rights violations.

In the key note address, Hon’ble Justice Hosbeth Suresh, pointed out to the fact that yes! Police have rights too; and Quaiser Khalid (Deputy Commissioner of Police) addressed the audience, on the role of the police as defenders of human rights.

Justice Suresh began by saying, “ we must know, whose obligations, are human rights?” The obligation to achieve progressively in full realization, is a central aspect of the States’ obligations, particularly in connection with the economic, the social and the cultural rights of the people, under the international human rights treaties. He added, “in order to clarify the meaning of ‘States’ obligations,’ these obligations are sometimes put under three headings: to respect (refraining from interference with the enjoyment of the right), to protect (prevent others from interfering with the enjoyment of the right) and to fulfill (adopting appropriate measures towards the full realization) of economic, social and cultural rights. All human rights are fundamental rights, thus they need to be protected.”

If the police force has that kind of authority to use human rights and exercise it properly in our modern day to day life, then surely they can take that kind of a charge in their hand. Police officers often bring up the issue of their own human rights, during human rights training, because they do not feel as if they are protected. Justice Suresh addressed the objectives that the police force needed to acknowledge, “gain an increased acceptance of others human rights, through the acknowledgment of their own.”

It is tough for the police to also maintain their own dignity. Since they are always available to demolish a crime against humanity, but who protects their humanity? Recently we have seen, a Haryana minister misbehaving with a lady officer. There are several laws in our country, enabling the functioning of the economy and accountability of the police force. Still, the police do need a voice of their own, and one which supports them. They do need certain laws that can stand for them. So can’t we evaluate the kind of work that the police does? Or the kind of support it provides as an individual body? But can it be done without government interference and influence?

“This is why, till date the police remains, as a force and not as someone who can also help” claimed Justice Suresh. Human rights commission laws needs to be revamped in order to give the police their much needed rights. “Since 1902 little has changed. The Police Act of 1861 still guides and governs our police system. There were several acts and reforms made post independence, in order to make police force independent from government. Still, Police force remain as the ‘subjects’ of Parliamentarians and legislators – with an allegiance towards ruling party. Till now, most of the states follow the archaic Indian Police Act 1861 with a few modifications.”

On the contrary, the atrocities of human rights by police need to be checked constantly. Police forces are working rigorously at the ground level, while maintaining a balance between the police machinery and the people. Thus the abiding of law and requirement of justice, in terms of equality comes into the picture

The 2nd session: – was on “Police as protector: a field demonstration.” Mr.Sangram Singh Nishandar,Deputy Commissioner of Police of Zone-6, explained how an initiative was taken forth by the police force in the Govandi, Mankhurd, Chembur, Cheetah Camp and surrounding areas, to identify and de-addict the drug addicts. And there after to rehabilitate them back into their society. These reformed individuals serve as role models, to such other people who are involved in drugs and other criminal activities, as to how they earn money through work and are living a life of their own and look up to these people, for inspiration.

DCP Sangram Singh, also mentioned that while interrogating, often a person states that “tab kya kiya tha, maloom hi nahin” (I don’t remember, what I’ve done at that time) as if they are living merely as a machine, and not as a human being. In a progressive program led by the police, the number of youth that have been identified for the program has increased. A number of awareness programs, counselling sessions, community building, support networks, and rehab. programs have been started and are increasing day by day. In this particular case, DCP Sangram Singh has given his vote of thanks to students of Tata Institute of Social Sciences as well as other NGOs, who are working extensively with the police to enhance the life of individuals formerly addicted to drugs, post their short stints in jail. Singh added, that it was heartening to see everyone coming together, working together, in order to break old mentalities and social constructions.

In the concluding presentations, students of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, brought home the point, on how society had refused to give credit to the police force. Society neglects to understand that the police, many a times, have to work for long hour shifts, do excessive paper work, have many commitments to fulfill, have external pressure and have diverse job profiles, and at the same time maintaining duties and priorities towards their families. Simultaneously, many do not get any recognition or awards instantly. Thus it is difficult for society to even think of the incredible patience, they keep in terms of dealing with much worse conditions than that could be imagined.

When talking about human rights, the most prominent consideration, is the relationship between private persons and the state. The first consideration is that the police are acting as state agents, and are therefore, obliged to respect and protect the rights of the people. Police officers themselves, however, often raise the question – Are they doing justice to their duty? The answer to this question, which somehow, they also deny to acknowledge, is a simple ‘yes’.

Though we have a fairly accommodative constitution, police friendly acts are yet to be introduced. Where the police will not be working alone as a separate ‘unit’ (only having a tag of a certain ‘state,’) with the misconception, where the people, see them as a malicious body of this society, and instead as a helping hand to reach out to.

(The event was organized by Rajiv Yadav, a criminal justice fellow at TISS, Mumbai who works on cases related to substance abuse with seven police stations in Mumbai. It was also facilitated by students of M.A in social work in Criminology and Justice, TISS, Mumbai: Donita Quadros, Arushi Gupta, Tarun Agarwal, Anand Banshkar, Md. Saud Siddiquee and Imran Rao)

(Basundhra Banerjee,  Student of Diploma in Community Media, TISS, Mumbai, Intern at The Sabha)

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