Better manners

The home ministry tells police forces to show minimal professionalism in Naxal areas

After years of talking up a "development offensive" in Maoist-affected territories to accompany the security onslaught, a good cop-bad cop routine meant to repel the insurgents while winning over Adivasis, the Centre has now spelt out a standard operating procedure for the Central armed police forces. This document is deeply telling, not for what it instructs them to do, but for what it doesn't treat as implicit, what it cannot take for granted about the behaviour of the security forces. The guidelines include reminders not to stare at bathing women, to say "inconvenience regretted" while searching homes and properties, to not roam around drunk, and not to disturb decorative hangings outside people's homes. If it took this long to state the obvious about respect and sensitivity to the community, one can only imagine how persuasive the state's previous confidence-winning measures in the region have been.

Not long back, after the December gangrape in Delhi, there were reports on how the police were being given instruction in "soft skills", which included learning how to interact with complainants, show compassion to victims and treat everyone with courtesy. That elementary professionalism needs to be taught in special courses is revealing of how badly we need a shift in the policing culture. The founding character of the Indian police was a colonial one, meant to control a population and answer only to the establishment, rather than that of a civilian police force that protects the rule of law and responds to the community. These tendencies are exacerbated in high-pressure situations, like Naxal areas, or in anti-terror operations.

While police forces around the world go through sensitivity-training, learn to search within and correct for racist, misogynist and other stereotypes, the battle here is even more basic to make the police realise it is on the same side as the people.

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