Two cheers for police

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Whatever else may be said of the Manipur Police, brutal, corrupt, inadequately trained`¦ there is one thing which cannot be said of it and indeed everybody in the state must be thankful for `“ despite all the troubles of dangerous ethnic hues the state has been witness to in all these years, the force has steadfastly refused to be communalised. The force has been brutal, and this needs to be a matter for the police brass to reflect on and come up with remedies, but even here, it has been brutal in equal measures in dealing with any kind of trouble, anywhere in the state. The credit for this must first go to the professional leadership of the force. They have ensured that the average policeman remains loyalty strictly only to their profession and to the uniform they wear, and not to any parochial appeals. It also tells of the professionalism of the organisation that this leadership is not confined to any particular community, and indeed are from practically every community in the state, including importantly from those which suffered casualties. In Churachandput in the current crisis for instance, the SP as well as the DC of the district, are from the dominant community of the district. If there is a saving grace even in tragedy, this coincidence must be it, for it is imaginable what interpretation the entire episode would have been open to had any of these two important administrative leaders been from some other community, particularly from the valley. If this professional neutrality even in brutality were not to be so, Manipur could have been in total disaster and despair beyond redemption by now.

Especially in the wake of the agitations in the valley districts for the introduction of the Inner Line Permit System or an equivalent restrictive law against population influx, and now the agitation against its introduction in the hills, again especially the Churachandpur district, there have been many allegations the Manipur police has been partisan. Indeed, the slogan `rubber bullets for the valley and live bullets for the hills` coined by the Churachandpur agitation is an articulation of this perception of partisanship. It is true that only one young man was killed in the valley agitations while nine met death in Churachandpur, though it must be added only six died of bullet injuries. The casualties are extremely unfortunate and tragic, and there cannot be anybody who did not wish the situation had not turned so ugly and sinister. Still for many reasons, the charge of partisanship is unfair for the police, for the nature of the agitations in Imphal and Churachandpur were very different. In Imphal, the unruly mobs were burning tyres on the streets, haranguing wayfarers, pelting stones at riot control police teams etc. By contrast, on August 31 night, the engaged mob in Churachandpur were on a rampage, burning houses, attacking the police and DC`™s residence etc. The fact that two people ended up roasted alive in the arson attacks are an indication of the nature of the violence on the night. It may be recalled, when mobs were as violent in Imphal, say for instance on June 18, 2001, in all 18 people were killed in police and CRPF firings. It may also be recalled that at Mao Gate and Ukhrul in earlier incidents, mob confrontation with the police had also resulted in two deaths each. These are all sad and condemnable, but it must still be said that in its brutality, if not anything else, the Manipur police has time and again been by and large equitable and ethnic neutral in its law enforcement responsibility. Two cheers for this. The third we will reserve when the police learn how to be less violent in mob management. The police must strive to correct its ways in the years ahead, but hold on to its professional ethnic neutrality at all cost. The force must also absolve itself of its current extremely damaging image of being corrupt and bribe hungry.

But there are other factors behind the police earning its image of brutality which are not altogether within its control. Myriad, complex, violent civil unrests have made Manipur a very violent society, reciprocally shaping a violent police force. Peace in the `peace zone` of the hill districts is hardly non-violent, and in the `war zone` of the valley districts the less said the better. Parallel governments and underground kangaroo courts still abound everywhere in the state, and hardly a day pass without blood crimes. The khaki also remain a terror when it comes in the shape of police commandos, or as caricatures when it is adorned by rickshaw-harassing, vendor-intimidating constables, or when its officers inspire images of corruption, wallowing in dubiously acquired, hideously opulent wealth. Something must be done to rescue the khaki and return `to Caesar what is Caesar`™s`. This uniform was once respected and we hope the concerned authorities would be committed and motivated enough to work to have it win back that lost respect.

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