About a year ago, the Manipur Police organized an interaction with the media and a few representatives of public organizations to discuss ways to bring the public and the police closer. Sadly, nothing on the ground that we see and live with suggests that the Manipur police are doing nothing in terms of real and tangible efforts to build bridges with the public. The number of police personnel has gone up by leaps and bounds over the years and just as proportionately, the amount of disgruntlement and angst amongst the public over their way of functioning. The nature in which Irom Sharmila was picked up and carried off by personnel of the Manipur Police is only the latest example reflecting not just a callous attitude towards the common people but the lack of training and awareness about the situation they find themselves in. While their counterparts in other towns and cities are taking to interactive mediums to communicate with the public and following it up by taking steps to inspire confidence in the police, with a recent example being the ‘track corrupt police officials’ drive in New Delhi on a social networking medium, Manipur Police has become the butt of severe criticism on social media with their high handed nature.
The Police Department might well argue that its personnel have become ‘more sensitive’ for there was a time and no dearth of visual images either of the lengths that it has gone to beat down agitating women and students, the trigger happy overdrive with rubber bullets and tear gas and even the use of sticks to fend off people on the streets and roads to get ahead of everyone. In fact, the last decade has seen a more brutal police force not just in terms of the number of shoot outs and killings that it has been a part of, but in their every day interactions with the public as well. One sees it everyday right in the heart of town where police and traffic personnel rain down blows with sticks on vendors sitting by the road side or on autos crowding the movement of traffic. A more sensible approach would be to impose legal fines on both street vendors trespassing on public space and autos operating without proper documents, which would then go to the state treasury. Instead, street vendors and auto drivers serve as easy fodder for greasy palms and daily pocket money for many police and traffic personnel on duty in the market areas.
The attitude that accompanies police personnel on duty while checking the required papers of young people out on the streets is another telling example, with popular jokes on how gas card can fool police on duty into believing them to be identity papers. The joke of course takes on sinister nuances when they bully young people in public, humiliating them by asking them to turn into hopping frogs and such. The question then is to ask what are the higher ups doing to address the turn of events as they see around them. But given the way things are unfolding, there does not seem to be much that the Police Department is doing in terms of stemming the nature of its reputation vis a vis its relation with the public. And that in turn says a great deal about those heading the Department and those in authority of power.
A police agency that operates on the premise of brute power and extreme policing runs great risk of alienating itself from the environment it works in. Additionally, it would give ground for people to vent their ire and hatred that can in turn provide fertile ground for more anti social and criminal behavior to make their appearance felt. No amount of public relations overdrive in the form of flyers and posters extolling the Police Department in the state can ever take away the remains of its brutal nature from the minds of the people. The earlier the Department realizes this, the better its ties will be with the public.
Leader Writer: Chitra Ahanthem