Public protests and police in Manipur

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Police and security forces are the most ubiquitous and visible agents of the State in our country. The same is true of Manipur where we see greenery (SFs) and khaki (Police) everywhere. At the same time, the role and responsibilities of the security forces are quite challenging in this multi-ethnic, conflict-ridden and limited resource state. Despite the 24 x 7 service rendered by the security forces, conflicts and disorder of a large scale occurred in one corner of the state or the other. To put in a different way, though Police and security forces are everywhere, people have low faith and confidence in the law enforcement agencies of the state and often resort to mob justice, bandhs and strikes for any sort of deprivations, dissatisfactions and tensions.
No doubt, India has a tradition to express grievances through organized demonstrations and peaceful protests. But, this right to peaceful protest, enshrined in the Constitution of India as a fundamental right, is often expressed and practiced by the people of Manipur. In other words, in Manipur, this space for legitimate dissent is mostly occupied by the persistent mass protest and forceful demonstrations against the government authorities and its agencies. In this scenario, the role and responsibilities of the law enforcement agencies, particularly Manipur Police, are highly crucial.
POLICE IMAGE
It is very unfortunate that the presence of police force and security forces has no longer created a sense of confidence among the public. This lack of trust and confidence creates difficulties while ensuring public order and normalcy. In fact, the police are expected to be the most accessible and interactive organisation of any society.
Similarly, it is agreed that in the time of crisis and difficulty, when we do not know, what to do and whom to approach, a policeman and a police station happen to be the most appropriate and approachable place and person for us. However, instead of approaching police, different sections of Manipur society prefer rallies, agitations and strikes.
Furthermore, the high expectation of the public, while approaching any personnel wearing police uniform, is often defeated in the complexities of police jurisdictions and heavy dependence on rigid rules, regulations and orders. In this regard, police personnel socialization and their aptitude should be to provide police service to public as a client. Hence, citizen centric policing emphasizing on how to connect with people will change public perception about policing.
PUBLIC PROTEST
It is a fact that peaceful protest is an integral part of a democratic society. However, bandhs and general strikes are the most visible form of public protest in Manipur. This trend of calling bandhs for redressing grievances has seriously affected the socio-economic activities of the people at large. Taking decision in favour of bandhs against the larger socio-economic interest of the society reflect a poor sense of reasoning and lack of social responsibility on the part of the local leaders or Joint Action Committee (JAC) leadership. These leaders, overwhelmed by emotions, often considered bandh as a tool as well as solutions for any issues and dissatisfaction.
Likewise, the main concerns during agitations and demonstrations, often changes into how protesters are being treated rather than outcome of the issues and grievances raised. In fact, various issues and grievances of the people could be resolved and addressed through the law enforcement agencies, criminal justice and judicial process. However, people as well as their JAC leaders are finding bandhs and strikes as their favorite instrument to highlight the grievances and injustice in Manipur. In other words, Manipur people prefer going to streets for justice as a better option than going to law enforcement agencies. This, explicitly, suggest the deficits of public confidence towards police capabilities.
PUBLIC POLICE RELATIONS
Often, peaceful public protests in Manipur turn into violent protests due lack of mutual trust and understanding between the public and the police. Obviously, the reason behind this is the offensive image of the police. It would be useful to analyse how a mass protest turns into violent protest in Manipur. Let us examine the recent student rally marching towards the Chief Minister’s bungalow. To control the situation, police officers persuaded and advised the students’ gathering and their leaders for arriving at an understanding. However, some agitating students, embolden by increasing students’ protestors on the streets, overpowered police personnel and tried to force their way through barricades.
Under these circumstances, police resorted to minimum use of force to disperse the agitating students. As usual, being not satisfied with how they are being treated, the student protestors retaliated with stones and a tense confrontation broke out. Likewise, police personnel reacted angrily without control and order against the agitating students.
In this scuffle, scores of students sustained injuries and police finally dispersed the agitating students. Initially, the police reaction seems correct but this offensive reaction defeated their basic purpose and duty of maintaining and ensuring peaceful rally. In this way, the public-police relations deteriorated in Manipur.
CONCLUSION
The alleged rude, militaristic and corrupt image of Manipur police is the biggest hurdle to public-police relations. Actually, the training of lower ranks of police personnel is mostly focused on hard skills like combat skills, weapon handling skills and basic drills etc. Thus, adequate orientation of police personnel towards human relation approach and soft skills like ethics, democratic policing, negotiation and conflict management skills are quite essential for achieving effective public-police relations.
To this end, a sincere effort is needed to update and professionalized police force that ensure popular expectations of a democratic state. In this regard, the Prime Minister’s SMART Policing Model will adequately equip and modernise the police forces. In short, SMART means S for strict but sensitive, M for modern and mobile, A for alert and accountable, R for reliable and responsive and T for techno- savvy and trained. This SMART policing is modeled to enhance police capacities to deliver in a democratic state and professionally committed to the ideals of a welfare State. Similarly, a more responsive Manipur police and their sensitive approach towards public frustration will reduce mob justice and persistent mass protest in Manipur.
(These views are personal and not related to any organization. Ravi Longjam may be reached at [email protected])

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