A FEW shockingly disgraceful videos of our police force surfaced recently. In one, a police officer beats numerous women. In another, a police officer bullies and hurls abuse at a frail old woman.
I wonder what heart would not have grieved at the sight of the innocent insulted by those who are supposed to protect us from such brutality. What heart would have not been filled with antipathy for the policemen and sympathy for the victims? What heart would not have prayed that the innocent and elderly never come face to face with the police and receive such rough treatment?
The use of force against the weak and innocent is terrible enough, but against honourable elders, it is not only vile but callous. For those who dishonour the old cannot be expected to return good with good, kindness with kindness, care with care and love with love. Solon, an ancient Greek sage, once remarked that those who dishonour the old must be disenfranchised.
The behaviour captured in these videos violates the code of conduct of the Punjab police. This code of conduct, available online, states: “Officers should treat members of the public and colleagues with courtesy and respect, avoiding abusive or derogatory attitudes or behaviour.” It also says: “Every police officer shall keep his temper thoroughly under control, shall act with courtesy on all occasions and shall not allow his composure to be disturbed by the behaviour of others towards him.”
What heart would have not been filled with sympathy for the victims?
This code of conduct also draws a line clear enough as far as the misuse of authority is concerned: “No police officer may inflict, instigate or tolerate any act of torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment nor any police officer may invoke superior orders, on the pretext of a threat to national security, internal political instability or any other public emergency, as a justification of torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.”
Such is the code of conduct for police officers. It is quite obvious that the behaviour of some officials in the videos violates that code; their conduct is anything but decent.
The job of police officers comes with responsibility as well as authority. As a citizen, one expects that the police use their force not against the weak and innocent, but in defence of citizens from any harm they may face. The mindless use of force can only proceed from heartlessness and disregard for the law.
The video in which a frail old woman is being insulted by a police officer is particularly concerning, for the event occurred right outside the IG’s office. One would think that if there is one occasion where police officers would have to be polite, it would have to be under the watch of their highest officer. For if they are not noble near his/her office, one shudders to imagine what is going on in police offices located far from the highest seat of the force.
The police force needs an overhaul. Frequent display of brutal acts can demoralise its remaining able and noble officers. Moreover, it points to a culture of little accountability and misplaced incentives.
No great workforce is feared or respected by insulting their clients, which is the general public, in the case of the police. Instead, respect is earned by taking care of the public and protecting their honour. Vile acts, if not stopped, indicate that such behaviour is considered acceptable in the workforce. It also then appears as if rewards in such a workforce are based not on how well its members treat the public but how fast they produce results, even unreasonable ones, at the cost of due process.
When the law is often violated, demands by the populace to hold the criminals accountable increase. Now that the use of smartphones and social media is widespread, such demands increase far too quickly. This, however, cannot be an excuse to deal with suspects or others violently. Valour must be displayed whenever citizens face threats, for it is only then that honour and fame are achieved.
Banning smartphones at police stations is not the solution. Police officers should take the same view of the rights of citizens as they want their seniors to take of them. It is about time that our police force looked inward and corrected itself by improving its hiring, curriculum, and training methods. Its system of rewards, punishment and employee evaluation is also in need of an overhaul.
As a nation, we too need to do some soul-searching. For instance, it would do us well to remember that when people are not nurtured well at home and at school, they can cause trouble later. Importantly, in such times, it is not regulation and reform, as crucial as they are, that are of the most help, but the action taken by our leaders. For that action can set our course right, correcting wrongs and reviving hopes.
The writer is a freelance contributor.
Published in Dawn, September 17th, 2019