On an international flight returning to India a few years back, a passenger was being reprimanded by the flight supervisor for unruly behavior in a drunken stupor. Upon touch-down, the flight supervisor asked the attendant to “go get the cops” from the airport. As I disembarked along with other passengers, I noticed the harassed flight attendant frantically looking for policemen on duty at the airport. She ran from one airport staff to another at the disembarkation bay, but no one had a clue about who to contact for a minor security issue. There were no cops around at the immigration clearance that night. Of course, many years down, security at Indian airports has been significantly strengthened.
Another day, another year. I had been stuck at a traffic signal for over twenty minutes. As the lights turned green, I moved my car forward hoping to cross the junction this time. No such luck. I braked to a stop as two city buses were blocking my way coming from a by lane crossing the traffic signal. In the massive bumper-to-bumper jam, I gestured to a bus driver to allow me to move as my lights had turned green. He gestured crudely to fly over. Some distance away, I could see the lone traffic policeman trying his single best to tackle the traffic mob. A mask on his nose shielding him from the traffic pollution. With no help coming my way, I managed a ‘u’ turn on a busy stretch of crossing and took another route to my destination. I had broken a traffic rule by taking a ‘u’ turn in the middle of busy crossing, but not a soul from the law business came to stop me or the bus drivers.
Elsewhere in the glitzy millennium city, an IT professional is kidnapped for ransom from a busy commercial area, in broad daylight. More recently and more prominently, the kidnap and brutal rape of a young para-medic woman in a moving bus shook the nation, and the world alike. In spite of the global outrage at this brutality, rapes continued with abject apathy across India; in villages; in cities; in moving vehicles; at homes and at schools. There is a social angle to sexual assaults, but I would like to focus on the scarcity of security personnel. Bomb blasts are common incidents that occur in India at regular intervals, more so to commemorate the anniversary of dates significant to the governing political parties or to terrorist groups.
Where are the cops? In the recent years I have travelled extensively to several Indian cities. One common aspect to all cities were the missing security personnel.
Policemen on beat patrol in India are non-existent, in a way abetting serious and petty crimes in cities and towns. Shocking, considering the rise in serious crimes against women on the roads, not to mention repeated and imminent terrorist attacks that plague India.
The police department is extremely short staffed and stretched owing to the deployment of significant number of forces on guard duty for the high profile elitists. The only uniformed officials visible anywhere on the roads are the traffic policemen deployed on select traffic signals. The smaller by lanes of cities are hitherto left unmanned. However, we do see a rise in the number of private security guards deployed in malls, shopping complexes or private residential colonies.
The private security guards at the shopping malls, corporate offices or smaller shopping complexes are diligent in body frisking and checking our bags. But are these guards truly competent enough to manage a crowd at shopping malls in the event of any disaster; do they know who to contact in the event of a fire or a hostage situation?
Are we, the citizens, truly secure in the absence of any trained policemen? It is often reported that the emergency police number do not work or there is no response. Even if they do respond, there is considerable delay in enforcement arriving to take charge of a situation. What if an untoward situation occurs in a neighborhood, a scuffle; chain snatching on roads by youth on motorbikes; or the more recent incidents of brutal attacks on young women returning home at odd hours. Who will take charge of guiding people to safety? It will be up to the public to inform the police, thereby losing crucial time in an emergency.
For decades, eradicating unemployment has been a key election mandate of various political parties. However, with each passing election there has been little or no change in implementation of employment guarantee schemes. Developing and implementing modern policies and systems is the most significant need of the new century. In this particular instance, create a special task force of young officers to tackle minor and petty issues on the roads, malls or in the by lanes or every single village, town, city of India.
The new age, tech-savvy breed of governing bodies can bring about a significant change in governance by creating a Special Foot Patrol Police Force to man a pre-designated neighborhood area in cities and towns, across the country. For this special force, young unemployed men and women can be recruited as Officers on Beat Patrol. India has an impressive lineup of manpower waiting for opportunities. There are millions of youth in every part of the country looking for odd jobs. It would not be wrong to say that Indians have above average intelligence in comparison to its worldly brethren. It is up to us, the 21st century generation, to tap the strengths and abilities of the youth and open opportunities towards good governance.
Creating a Special Patrol Police Force for neighborhoods will enable efficient governance of public safety. This special force need not go through the vigorous training of a Police Academy but should get a generic training in maintaining law and order in public, disaster management and basic traffic laws. A uniformed approach should be compulsory as the public is usually intimidated by a figure in police uniform. This force should be connected by walkie-talkies to local police station and hospitals, to report minor incidents, petty crimes or other emergency situations. This major means of communication will help in curbing hoax calls to an already stretched force.
The presence of officers on beat patrol in every nook and corner of a city might even be a strong deterrent to roadside kidnappings for serious offences like rape, ransom or theft. This may increase the public’s confidence in our judicial systems.
Several developed countries like the US, UK and first world nations have Special Forces on Beat Patrol which tackles minor and petty crimes and incidents around neighborhoods. The Indian Police department can consult the security agencies in these developed countries on how to develop such forces. The services of retired local police personnel should be availed to train the unemployed youth for patrol duties.
The authorities may put forth the argument of “lack of funds”, but the “cash rich India” can definitely invest a small amount on the safety of its most valuable resource, the citizens.
These small, but significant, changes in governance will bring about a feeling of security to the citizens in our towns and cities, across India. If the common man can think of simple solutions to the giant safety issues plaguing India, then why are the mechanisms already in place sitting idle.
In the Elections 2014 the nation joined hands and voted for development and good governance. Security for all is a significant aspect of good governance and the new government has some tough tasks ahead to introduce modern systems and processes in India.
We the people of India claim our rightful share in world-class quality living standards and state-of-the-art infrastructure and mechanisms that ensure our safety. Let us be the leader willing to change for the better and allow our country to thrive.
(Also published on https://www.saddahaq.com/india-towards-good-governance)