Thursday, November 26, 2015

Policing in the time of Terror and Loot

It has been some months since Panjim was converted into a city of one-way streets. In other parts of the world such changes to street flow are accompanied by a change in urban design. In Panjim, however, the traffic police saw it fit to place ugly barricades as a way to tutor the populace as to which part of the streets were now off-limits.

For a while these barricades were manned by police. However, it has been a while since these new one-ways have seen police presence. As a result, the one-way system is often disrespected with impunity. At night this violation assumes scary dimensions, as people infringe the one-way rule at dizzying speeds.

This nocturnal overturning of the order only gets worse along the riverside streets. Here, tourists who have come to visit the casinos, drive through the wrong side of the streets causing grave threats to life and limb. They may be doing so because they are clueless and the city fathers have not seen it fit to place sufficient signage. In addition, the police are marked by their absence. Effective policing would have ensured that whether at night or day time, offenders are politely, but firmly, corrected and set on their track. Where the drivers are repeat offenders, a uniformly enforced system of fines would do much to ensure that traffic in the city is disciplined and not marked by the free for all that defines traffic in our state.

All in all, the police are markedly absent when it comes to enforcing a discipline that would benefit us all and make daily living easier and simpler.

On the flip side, the police were very much present when it came to enforcing a sham state of order over the initial days of the IFFI. The police went out of their way to arrest those protesting the arbitrary functioning of the Central Government. A few days ago the state administration was at pains to harass the Council for Social Justice and Peace which was co-hosting the alternate film festival organised by the students of the FTII. At the local level, operating under the cover of a selectively applied Sec. 144, the state administration disrupted the protest against the lackadaisical attitude towards the mysterious death of Fr. Bismarque Dias. Persons who gathered on 21 November to demand justice for Fr. Bismarque were unceremoniously placed under arrest and dragged away to various police stations.

Citizens who were wearing black and white, colours suggested for the protest, were selectively plucked out from crowds of people. These other people were allowed to violate the imposition of Sec. 144. Scarier still, one man was dragged off from the ferry boat. This action is scary because it demonstrates the state administration’s cavalier violation of basic principles of law and order maintenance; one does not arrest someone unless they are proving to be a threat or public nuisance. Worse still were the words of the Inspector who dragged this man off to jail; “Justice dita tuka f**ya” (I’ll give you justice, you f***er). Never mind the crude language that a state functionary has used against a citizen. What is shocking is the disregard for justice, and processes of justice displayed by that police functionary. While the case of Cipriano Fernandes who died while in police custody is still fresh in mind, it should be pointed out that the assault of detainees or those arrested by the Goa police is not an uncommon occurrence.

Juxtaposing the scenario of a lack of daily policing with that of extraordinary measures taken when the image-obsessed Government is hosting an international event should demonstrate just how misplaced their priorities are. This argument is not about policing priorities alone. Rather, it questions whether we know what the role of the State is in the first place.

Judging by the lack of policing or any form of rigourous attention to the kind of pressures that the casinos are placing on the urban infrastructure of Panjim and the safety of the people within, one can safely assume that the administration sees public resources and infrastructure as a milch cow to be exploited as long as it is giving. The state presides over the private loot of public resources and the police forces are on hand to terrorize the population; especially when they protest at the violation of the responsibilities that flow from the contractual relationship between citizens and state.

We, in India, live in a time where the State presumes that it exists for its own sake. The State demands our allegiance even as it systematically dismantles the rule of law and complicates the ability to lead an uncomplicated life. State organs are pressed to the service of its favoured elites, to support the populist circus that the regime understands to be good governance, and to smash the principled opposition to this perversion. But the citizens' relationship with the State is not a one-way street. The State is the result of a contract among citizens to ensure that life can be pleasant and fulfilling for all. The police should necessarily be facilitators of daily life. The police forces, like organs of the state exist merely to achieve that end. When these ends are not met, and the sole function of the police is to operate as the strong arm of a brute State then the State loses legitimate reason for existence.

(A version of this post was first published in the O Heraldo on 27 Nov 2015)

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