INDIA: Poor policing is an obstacle to human rights

The AHRC is publishing its 2008 annual human rights report on India. A pre-publication version of the report can be downloaded at

Yesterday, the government of India released the pictures of eight suspects who were killed in the Mumbai terrorist attack. Today, India along with the rest of the world celebrates the International Human Rights Day. The Mumbai terrorist attack that killed 171 persons is a reminder of the condition of India’s security apparatus, which includes the country’s policing system. In a country where a child can be abducted for a ransom as small as Rupees 100 [2 USD], the inability to prevent a well planned and executed terrorist strike is no surprise.

Anyone who know India will agree that the state of policing in the country is in an appalling condition. The police is one of the essential state agency that is required for a justice system to function properly. Poor policing results in the lack of security, defective crime investigation and finally in the denial of justice. Protection, promotion and fulfilment of human rights is impossible without an adequately functioning justice mechanism.

Serious human rights issues like the denial of the right to food, caste based discrimination, custodial torture, religious intolerance, child trafficking and extra-judicial executions continue unabated in the country due to poor policing. Each of these human rights concerns to be brought under control require proper crime investigation and an effective prosecution. Defects in investigation cannot be cured at the stage of prosecution.

The general public in India conceive the police force as one of the most corrupt government agencies. The public perception of police is that of fear. The impunity enjoyed by the police officers and the wide-spread use of custodial torture has created a huge gap of mutual mistrust between the police and the ordinary public. Bridging this divide require an enormous and conscious effort, from the police, administration and the people.

Often Indians are expected to believe that the relatively better functioning components of the justice delivery mechanism like the judiciary will step in to fill the gap generated by poor policing. Unfortunately, neither in practice nor in theory such a substitution will render any conceivable result. The ineffectiveness of the judgments delivered by the Supreme Court of India at the grass-root level is a good example to substantiate this.

Violation of fundamental human rights creates demoralisation, which affects the victim as well the person who violates the right. In India, it is the police force that is often exploited by the politicians and the rich for violating the fundamental rights of the ordinary people. The police reciprocate this exploitative regime by allowing them to be misused, so that the police officers remain unaccountable for their acts and can continue with their corrupt means.

The incapacity of the administration to guarantee the right to food, a non-derogable and fundamental human right that has placed India even below the standards achieved by some sub-Saharan countries is one example that demonstrates how the failure in policing results is serious human rights violation. In rural India, where the food subsides mean the difference between life and death from starvation, rationed food articles never reach those who are in need. The Public Food Distribution System (PDS) in India is plagued with corruption. Corruption in the PDS is a crime according to the Essential Commodities Act, 1955. Yet, hardly anyone is convicted under this law. The police officers who are deputed to investigate this crime are bribed by corrupt PDS shop licences not only to cover-up corruption with shoddy investigation, but also to threaten the complainants so that no further complaints are made.

Caste based discrimination is a crime in India. It was expected that caste based discrimination will be considerably reduced after the enactment of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. 20 years since the enactment, there has been no notable decrease in the caste based atrocities committed against the Dalit communities in the country. Caste based discrimination, one of the worst forms of human rights violation, continue unabated in India due to the failure in investigating and prosecuting those who violate this law.

The paucity of the police, wide-spread use of custodial torture and its unwillingness and inability to investigate crimes is not merely the fault of the police force alone. No government in India in the past 62 years have given priority for improving the condition of policing in the country. Politicians and high-ranking bureaucrats have in fact avoided to address this issue thus far. The reasons are obvious from the fact that an alarming proportion of Indian legislators are individuals facing criminal charges like murder, rape, arson and drug-trafficking.

62 years after independence India still is the breading ground for human rights violations. The government of India by this time has shifted from a defensive and denial mode to an offensive and oppressor mode against those who speak for the voiceless – the human rights activists. Once again, police is used to fabricate charges, threaten and also murder human rights activists and journalists who report cases of human rights violations in the country. The murder of human rights activists and an almost total prohibition of free media in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and the northeastern states like Manipur and Assam are examples of this phenomena. In this aspect, India is also a bad model in the region, particularly for encouraging its immediate neighbors like Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh, where similar intolerance against human rights defenders and the free media is the norm.

December 10, will be like any other day for the average Indian. No improvement in the living conditions will be expected by anyone in India since experience tells them that the government was not concerned about it so far and today cannot be different. As for the Mumbai terrorist attack, the politicians of the country are spending their time to device novel ways to make use of the incident for political gain aiming at the forthcoming national election. Indian administration on the other hand is doing its best in what it is good at – to continue the rhetoric that India is a democracy.

The AHRC is publishing its 2008 annual human rights report on India. A pre-publication version of the report can be downloaded at

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-311-2008
Countries : India,