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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 42, New Delhi, October 2, 2021

Delhi Police: Search of an Image | Twinkle Siwach

Friday 1 October 2021

reviewed by Twinkle Siwach

Capital Cops:

The Unofficial Guide to Delhi Police

by Suvashis Choudhary

Har-Anand Publications Pvt Ltd

2021

Pages: 192

ISBN: 978-93-91504-01-4

The essay begins with the context in which we are describing Delhi Police. The first part of the essay talks about the historically evolving nature of the Delhi Police. The second part presents a discussion of the book. The third part is an analysis of the functioning of the Delhi Police and includes points of criticism.

The Delhi Police, in recent years, has come to be seen in quite a negative Media frame. This is at a time when media itself has been more than charitable to the government and its organs. This makes one ponder as to what ails the Delhi Police to be seen through such a negative prism. Suvashis Choudhary’s book, therefore, is a timely arrival as it at least makes the citizenry aware of the important role that the Delhi Police have played in the history of the city.

The book aims at building a positive relationship between the Police and the citizens in a manner that the author calls “Symbiotic and Synergistic” (p. 21). In this relationship, citizens, on the one hand, need to be aware of their rights and responsibilities as complainants, suspects, accused, witnesses, and recipients of Police Service, while they also need to learn about the ways to assist the Police in its law enforcement functions by providing information to the Police about crime and criminals on the other hand. Only such a relationship, the author seems to suggest, can help control the law and order situation in any city (p. 143).

Chaudhary begins with the premise, and quite rightly so, that Delhi Police is part of the law enforcement agency and an important agency of the criminal justice system (p. 15). Its principal policing work is said to be to ‘prevent and detect crime’ (ibid.). The author underscores the point that being the capital city of the Republic, Delhi Police also have additional responsibilities and he is right, as we know that the Capital city of the British Colonial state and before that site of the Mughal Empire, the Police in the city have historically been given certain additional responsibilities. Policing in Delhi, therefore, the author is right in saying, have evolved according to the needs of the city and its people. The rapid transition of the city from a medium city to a vast metropolitan city with large satellites opening it from all sides in the last couple of decades have also meant that the demand on the Police has taken an altogether different shape. How has the force been able to respond to the changes is a question that the author has well-presented and we discuss it further in the following sections.

I

The author provides us with a peep into the way the Delhi Police have historically evolved as an institution. The earliest recorded Police Officer was the Kotwal appointed during the reign of Alauddin Khilji (1296-1316). Later on, the Mughals who had set up their capital in Agra shifted the capital back to Delhi in 1648 also had the Kotwal to oversee the police administration of Shahjahanabad (p. 16), the capital city of the Mughals (one of the seven cities of Delhi). The station from where Kotwal officiated during the duty hours was called Kotwali. Kotwal was the chief officer who administered the city and according to the author, this arrangement continued till the arrival of the British in Delhi in the early nineteenth century (ibid.). Besides Kotwali, the book also talks about the Police Stations of Paharganj, Badarpur, Alipur and a Police post at Yamuna Bridge during the revolt of 1857. The Police Station at Chandni Chowk, however, became the nerve centre, where a large number of executions of the rebels took place after the revolt was suppressed (ibid.).

With the firmly established British rule also came the new administrative order including new codes and regulations for the Police. The Police Act of 1861 provided the basis for a modern policing system. In Delhi, five Police Stations namely Subzi Mandi, Nangloi, Mehrauli, Sadar Bazar and Kotwali were set up. We know now that the 1st First Information Report (FIR) was registered on 18 October 1861 (p. 17). As shared by the Delhi Police recently on a social media platform, the first-ever FIR as per ‘the new scheme’ was about the “theft of three large cooking vessels, three small cooking vessels, a bowl, a kulfi (ice cream), a Hookah, utensils, and some women’s clothes” from the house of the complainant Maeeuddiun Wald Mohammad, a resident of Katra Sheesh Mahal. [1] The FIR also calculated the loss to approximately 45 annas equivalent to Rs. 2.81 (then). The FIR was filed in Urdu, the main language of written communication of the non-elite. The upper classes would have used Persian, the language of the literati. The image was shared by the Delhi Police with a spirit of commemorating the commencement of the Indian Police Act, 1861, an effort to connect itself to its long history. Today with 163 territorial Police Stations and a total strength of 87,000 personnel of different ranks, including women staff, the Delhi Police can be proud of its historical evolution. This evolution also allowed it to retain its autonomy with the Post independent Indian government giving it its first Inspector General of Police (IGP) on February 16, 1948 (p. 17).

The force has been witnessing many new developments over time. Given the vast geographical area and the increasing rates of crime in the city, the need was felt for specialised units to complement the general police administration. Special Branch for intelligence collection, Crime Branch for the investigation of special types of crimes, Traffic Police for traffic control and an Armed Police for law and order duties, therefore, were created over time (p. 18). The Police Control Room (PCR) was set up with wireless technology. A distress call number 100 was shared with the public to contact for the emergency policing needs. Likewise, vigilance and communication teams were expanded. The author calls it the “outcome of the organic process of differentiation and specialisation” (p. 18).

As recent as in September 2021, changes have been made in the workings of the PCR van. [2] Earlier, the PCR van responded to 112 calls at the control room, headed to the spot and shared brief facts of the incidents with the District Police. According to the new developments, PCR vans are now merged with the District Police and personnel from the local Police Station will travel with the PCR van. Besides this, women officers are to be deployed in the beat team particularly around schools, colleges and in the areas having a heavy footfall of women.

II

The 1980s witnessed massive protests by women in Delhi as the Police Stations themselves became the site of crime. [3] It was a massive setback to the morale and image of the Delhi Police. However, over the years, the struggle also led to the humanisation force and a more gender-sensitive approach in the Police stations. [4] Notwithstanding these changes, one finds that women are still hesitant to register complaints of crimes of harassment and violence owing to hostile and insensitive attitude of the police in general. There has of late been an effort to use media to create a gender-sensitive image of the Police as it is understood that a negative image among the citizens is bad for both, the Police and citizens. This is extremely crucial as over the last century or so the Police Stations have emerged as the spaces where the Police meet those who voluntarily come to seek their intervention. Many feminist organisations, civil rights and human rights organisations have time and again deliberated and submitted suggestions regarding the criminal and the overall conditions which women in Delhi encounter. [5] The author’s effort is to bring to the notice of the readers how the Police itself benefits from many such civil society efforts and that there has been a mutual appreciation of “challenges and expectations” between the Police and the citizens (p. 145).

The most critical in this respect is the institution of the FIR or the First Information Report. An incident of crime is reported for the first time through this instrument. In the next step, the Police conduct the investigation and file a report in the court of law, which we know as the Charge sheet. In the third step, the case is put to trial before the court. The three-tier court system that we have in India, i.e., the lower court, High Court and the Supreme Court, is the next place where the Police interact with the judicial as well as a citizenry. It is here that it displays its professional acumen in the way it details how it has acted upon the FIR and has conducted the investigation and subsequently has also appointed a good and professional lawyer is appointed to take the case of prosecution further. [6] The law that binds legal sections on the nature of the offences and lays down the procedures to be followed by the criminal justice system are the Indian Penal Code (IPC) of 1860 and the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) of 1973 (p. 19). In addition to that, the Evidence Act of 1872 lays down the format of evidence to be used during the trial. The Delhi Police over the years, while working under this systemic universe, has tried to bring in innovations that include better facilities for the citizens to file their FIR. It now also has its online format to file and access the FIR.

Notwithstanding such creative efforts, the Police in Delhi also witnessed a serious violation of the Police codes, i.e., of extrajudicial killings, partisan investigations, submission of bad and faulty charge sheets, etc. The courts have been casting aspersions on its investigations time and again and the indictments in recent years have only added to the embarrassment of the Police force. [7] The Police, it seems, if one believes the author, is alive to the problem and has been trying to not only act against deviances but also seems to have realised that perceptions of its impartiality and professionalism are extremely important as the image of an unprofessional and partisan force ultimately harms the police force itself.

The author introduces us to reorganisation of the Delhi Police in response to the demographic and their attendant changes that the city had been witnessing. The Delhi Police Act of 1978 ushered in the Commissionerate system in Delhi to change the policing system as per the required needs of the law enforcement agency as the population grew and people settled in (p. 20).

The citizen-Police interaction also takes place in real-time. The author presents to us through the way the interaction takes place when the traffic police encounter a violator. Their mutual negotiation has been shown with a humane touch by the author. The author, himself a Policeman, narrates an incident of a traffic offence. He shows how a traffic offender is happy if he is allowed to go after paying a bribe (p. 14). This is to indicate that the traffic offender wants an immediate resolution of his offence by paying on the spot rather than being trapped in the amount of paperwork for the violation.

PCR vans have become a quite ubiquitous presence in the city in the past few decades. Emphasis on the working nature of the PCR van is quite significant in the way it captures the essence of the city and the local space by being stationed at strategic locations which include iconic and sensitive areas like India Gate, Parliament, railway stations, bus stands, and places of worship, besides streets nearby schools, colleges and residential spaces (p. 115). However, it appears like a perfect situation where crime is controlled. The author is quite conscious of the possible response of the reader to the pitfalls in policing and hence has tried to present to us the structure of policing which tries to reach out to the citizenry in order to serve them in the best possible way.

Delhi Police, like most Police forces, is also distinguished by its personnel, the lower and higher echelons. It has, therefore, time and again re-emphasised that recruitment is the most critical area of Police forces and as we know this has remained the most unprofessional domain of a modern institution in India. The author has talked about the recruitment of Delhi Police and the changing practices as well. The significant innovations in recording complaints, tracking complaints and uploading the complaints on the website for transparency have been emphasised (p. 33). These were also the needs necessary as per the changing times and with the coming of the news media platforms. Many such online portals are also mentioned for the public to lodge their grievances like Centralized Public Grievance Redress and Monitoring System (CPGRAMS), or LG’s Listening Post (p. 106).

III

In the conditions that we live in today where moral panic, i.e., violence in the air spread by media conditions the psyche of the citizen. [8] Cases like the one that took place in 2012 (Delhi Gang rape), bring the Police and citizenry close to each other in an uncomfortable situation. [9] Added by an overall situation of regular violence against women, it was not an exaggeration. The perception is that even in this case the crime could have been prevented had there been sufficient and alert policing. In the opening paragraph itself, the author, as if he is speaking on behalf of the Police, provides an explanatory note as to how in this case, the Police conducted a speedy investigation, identified the suspects, arrested them from different parts of the city and put the case to trial in a short duration (p. 12).

On the other hand, as if to complement the author’s brief for the Police, the Delhi High Court judgement has come in defence of the Police in conducting the time-bound investigation with proper detailing and evidencing of the case. The commendation of the proficiency in one case however gets tested on the general nature of crime situation in the country, which if one looks at the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data of 2020, becomes quite clear that things are not good for Delhi and its Police. The data indicate that the maximum number of rapes and murders were reported in the national capital. [10] Is it the case that an extremely professional force that is good at an individual case is not able to maintain a generalised crime-free society? This is an important question.

The author also brings out the situation where the lack of connection between the citizenry and the Police does not help either. He notes how citizens call out the unresponsive behaviour of the Policeman but, on the other hand, they do not come out to help, being a witness, or provide testimony (p. 14). The author believes that the tiff can be resolved if for one, the media, instead of projects the image of the Police in a balanced manner. Second, which is also the central agenda of the book, is the need for a general understanding of the inner workings of the Police organisation, and an appreciation of its structure, strengths, weaknesses and vulnerabilities by the citizens (ibid.).

An interesting dimension that somehow skips the author’s concerns is the language of the Police in Delhi, both its general dialogue with the citizen, its documentary practices, and the writing of the FIR. For a historically evolving Police force, Delhi has retained a lot of the Urdu and Persian style and vocabulary in its documentary practices which in many senses is quite difficult to appreciate by the population which has been distancing itself from its Persian inheritances. They now prefer simple and pragmatic languages like Hindi and English. With similar concerns, a petition was filed in the High Court of Delhi (Vishalakshi Goel vs. Union of India and Ors. 2019) over the use of Persian and Urdu words in the narration of the FIR’s and an exhaustive list was attached along with the petition. It found a friendly court which too directed the Police Officers to not use "much flowery language, the meaning of which is to be found out with the help of dictionaries". [11] The Police Officers were asked to use simple words which work well for the common people, whom they are serving and who do not hold "Doctoral degrees" in Urdu, Hindi or Persian Language (ibid.).

Similarly, the language and diction of a large chunk of Delhi Police personnel is quite often not comprehended by the sections of population who come to the capital from parts of Country, Haryana, western UP and Rajasthan (from where the largest chunk of the Police force is recruited now) and who do not understand either Hindi or the local versions. The author suggests that there is a good portion of examining the knowledge of the English language of the candidate during the recruitment drive of the Delhi Police (p. 66). However, a lot more has to be done in terms of the recruitment given the city’s status as both the national Capital and also a very educated city which requires a different policing when it comes to its social communication. One however is assured by the fact that English language practice in the Delhi Police force has been historically evolving and since it is the language of the law, the legal books, reading material and judgements, it will act as a bridge between the Police and a national and international population that inhabit the capital and interact with the police.

In many cases, the Delhi Police has encountered enormous obstacles that very few Police forces in the country face like in the last seven decades, it faced professional challenges in the cases like Geeta and Sanjay Chopra kidnapping and murder case (1978), the assassination of Indira Gandhi (1984), anti-Sikh riots (1984), murder of Naina Sahni (1995) also known as Tandoor Murder case, murder of Jessica Lal (1999), terrorist attacks on Red Fort (2000), Nitish Katara murder case (2002), Batla House Encounter case (2008), Soumya Viswanathan murder case (2008), Delhi gang-rape case (2012), N.E. Delhi riots (2020), and so on.

Now, one of the first issues is about the constant media glare on the Delhi Police in Delhi for it is the Police of the capital that comprises Parliament, President House, 4 central universities, various market areas, popular hubs, inter-terminal bus stands, railway stations, airport and thousands of streets. The cases here have large ramifications. For example, the kidnapping and murder of Geeta and Sanjay Chopra had a horrible echo across the country to the extent that the National Bravery Award was instituted in the name of the siblings, children of an officer of the Services. Similarly, the gruesome murder of Naina Sahni too shook the conscience of the country and the Delhi Police, as one of its officers recently retold the entire case history, had to brave many battles to exhibit its professionalism. [12]

Second, unlike Police forces in most places in the country, the Delhi Police also has to manage the multiple protests that take place in the city (p. 136-139). While it is the protests which provided the Indian Republic with its soul, it also has been a challenging task for the Police to face the citizens in such a form. It must be said to their credit that so far they have demonstrated their professionalism on most occasions.

However, in recent years, as the judiciary has quite often been pointing out, there has been a sudden decline in the professional behaviour and morale of the Police in the capital. To the surprise of the readers, since the book has just come out in the market, for some reason, there is no mention of the recent incidents of protests and violence in the city in which the role of the Police has been commented on by many including the courts. And, therefore, while the book conveys a lot, there is a lot more that needs to come out in the public sphere from the Police perspective. It would have helped, for example, if an idea of how Delhi Police conducted itself during the student’s protests, the anti-corruption movement of 2011, the ongoing farmer’s protests, the anti-CAA protests and the violence in North East Delhi in 2020. They are not discussed in the book. If anything, it is these images of Delhi Police’s engagement with its citizens that will be its enduring images for the times to come. The partisan approach of the Police, for example, on some of these occasions will not find the Police any friend among the conscious citizenry. It will require serious research to find out as to whether it was due to excessive politicisation or communalisation of the force or mere lapse of judgements of the Policemen on duty that had caused such serious damage to the Delhi Police’s professional role. One hopes that the image is restored sooner than later as the image of the Police of the capital also tells the world the way the Indian state ‘police’ its citizens.

Third, while there is an attempt to talk about Police and the public relation for ensuring peace (p. 136), the Police perspective of these events are shared in a personal manner (p. 137). The author then adds that these views cannot be generalised as this relationship is complex in many ways (p. 138). It is quite a strange statement by someone writing on a public institution and also endorsing many new instruments which have become the signals of the evolving nature of extremely coercive States, i.e., tear gas, water cannons, teaser bullets, as “acceptable” (p. 158). His defence is that they are becoming important for crowd management and effective policing. However, this new language of ‘management’ or ‘effective’ comes from a perspective that has emerged from a new discourse where the state is increasingly removing itself from the citizenry and becoming more coercive with a whole set of technologies to support it. The author, like many others, has been bitten by the bug of surveillance state with technological prowess, advocates for reliance on new technological tools to dismantle the crowd through “CCTV cameras” and “Artificial Intelligence (AI)” driven mechanisms (ibid.). We know, however, that these are already being practised by the Delhi Police. The Police, for example, seems to have recognised over 1900 faces of the Violence in Delhi in 2020 using facial recognition software. [13] The use of technology, however, does not take away the allegation of a partisan approach by the Police even in the case. Hence humanising the police must precede the overwhelming use of technology.

This, therefore, does not fit in with the author’s effort to portray a Police force that is conscious of its efforts to be seen in a pro citizenry role. There is thus a seeming disjuncture appearing between the author who wishes it to become more managerial, statist, and on his account, the Police’s own efforts to become more humane and more socially accessible. This also is in the light of the author’s emphasis on Police and public relations as any such effective policing also needs to understand how the citizen can be treated better even without such violence to their persona.

Notwithstanding these serious questions, the book should be of interest to academicians from the field of law, legal studies, police studies, crime or criminology studies, sociology, labour studies, and media studies. The book should also be added to the syllabus of police institutional training even in states other than the national capital as it gives a glimpse of the way policing has evolved and investigating branches have attained specific roles.

(Author: Twinkle Siwach is a Doctoral candidate at the Centre for Media Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She is completing her thesis on FIR and Media with a special focus on reporting of crime and its location in the Media universe in contemporary India. The author acknowledges Dr Rakesh Batabyal, her supervisor, for his valuable inputs.)


[1Author not mentioned ‘Delhi Police First FIR’, Indian Express, August 24, 2017.

[2Manral, Mahender Singh, Deploy women officers in all beats: Delhi Police Chief, August 31, 2021.

[3Menon, Ritu & Kalpana Kannibaran, From Mathura to Manorama: Resisting Violence against Women in India, Women Unlimited (an associate of Kali for Women), New Delhi, 2017.

[4Jaising, Indira, From Colonial’ to ‘Constitutional’, Gender Justice and Governance, in Indira Jaising (ed.) Men’s Laws Women’s Lives, Women Unlimited, New Delhi, 2005.

[5Singh, Kirti, ‘The Movement for Change: Implementation of Sexual Assault Laws’, IIC Quarterly, (Winter) 2012 — (Spring 2013), 39 (3-4).

[6Anand, Pinky & Gauri Goburdhun, Trials of Truth: India’s Landmark Cases, Penguin Books, New Delhi, 2017; Bhan, Indu, The Dramatic Decade: Landmark Cases of Modern India, Penguin Books, New Delhi, 2017.

[7Johnston, Jane and Alyce McGovern, ‘Communicating Justice: A Comparison of Courts and Police Use of Contemporary Media’ in Internal Journal of Communication, 2013 (7); 1667 -1688

[8Cohen, Steve, Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of the Mods and Rockers (3rd edition), Routledge, London, 2002.

[9Press Trust of India, Police use teargas, water cannons against protestors, Business Line, March 12, 2018, March 12.

[10‘Report - Crime in India -2020’, National Crime Records Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India.

[11“Vishalakshi Goel vs. Union of India and Ors.” In the High Court of Delhi at New Delhi, Order, August 07, 2019.

[12Pereira, Maxwell, Tandoor Murder case, Westland Publications Limited, New Delhi, 2018.

[13Sinha, Jignasa, ‘Face recognition software used in 137 of 1, 800 arrests in Northeast Delhi riots, says Police’, Indian Express, February 20, 2021.

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