THE fact that police in Sindh acts as a handmaiden of a corrupt and power-hungry ruling elite is one that citizens have long had to live with. The response to the complaint cell set up recently by IG Sindh A.D. Khowaja gives some idea of the extent to which people in the province suffer from the law enforcers’ excesses. As reported in this paper, more than 450 complaints across the province have been received in the two weeks since the cell was established to investigate alleged misuse of authority and financial corruption by police. Given that awareness about this mechanism is not yet widespread, this is likely only the tip of the iceberg. The complaints, received through text messages, phone calls, faxes and emails, implicated officers across the spectrum, from constables to SSPs, and — according to staff manning the cell — have been forwarded to the relevant authorities for investigation.

The deluge of complaints is scarcely surprising when one considers that the law-enforcement agency functions under an outdated law dating from 1861. Aside from a plethora of shortcomings, this colonial piece of legislation mentions neither the police’s duties to the community nor even the term ‘custodial torture’. Instead, it envisages the force as a body entirely unaccountable to the people it is policing. With the promulgation of the Police Order 2002, it seemed that the police would finally evolve along more modern lines. Aside from measures against politicisation of the force, it encouraged police-community cooperation and mandated the setting up of public safety commissions to prevent violation of fundamental rights by police, including “rape, death or serious injury to anyone in police custody”. However, after the 18th Amendment, the PPP-led Sindh government revived the Police Act 1861. A complaint cell is thus a welcome step to bridge the gap between the people and the police. That said, the Sindh government’s deliberate and ill-intentioned curtailment of the IG’s powers may mean that the public’s voice remains a cry in the wilderness.

Published in Dawn, September 6th, 2017

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