Two things have happened over the past few days, which could take us into whole new territory on matters of individual safety in India.
First, the union home ministry ordered the CRPF to provide Z-level security to Mukesh Ambani, chair of Reliance Industries Ltd.
They did so because they see Ambani’s safety and security under threat from the Indian Mujahideen.
Second, the Aam Aadmi Party has announced it would set up Women’s Security Force in every college and every assembly constituency of Delhi.
They did so after the rape of a five-year-old girl in east Delhi and the subsequent police response to it.
The police tried to pay the girl’s parents money so they don’t reach the media.
The police also refused to search for the girl saying she might have gone ‘round the corner’ and would come back. After all this, an ACP slapped a girl protester in public.
Together, these two developments are big broad strokes.
The issue of better security for the people of India was the first point in the 2013 Manifesto for India.
Now, four months later, we can’t ignore it anymore.
In civilised nations, the police are answerable to the public. In India, they are accountable to bureaucrats.
This cuts the police off from the people. Indian cops think it is fine as along their bosses are happy.
The police treat ordinary Indians like Mayawati treats government officers: with scorn.
Let’s see the Ambani development first.
He is the first private citizen in India to be given official security when not related to a Z-security protectee [unlike Robert Vadra, for instance].
This is based entirely on a letter apparently delivered in February by the Indian Mujahideen at Ambani’s office.
In the letter, the Indian Mujahideen are said to have threatened an attack on Ambani’s home in Mumbai, the hideously extravagant Antilia.
If the Indian Mujahideen did deliver the letter, it was very thoughtful of them. Cartoonist Satish Acharya had something to say about this fanciful explanation here.
Based on the letter, the union home ministry ordered that two dozen CRPF commandos led by an Inspector-level officer would provide 24x7 protection to Ambani.
There will also be pilot and escort vehicles for Ambani.
The official order said this would be ‘on payment basis’. It is understood that Ambani would pay ₹15 lakh a month for being treated like a prime minister.
₹15 lakh for 30 days? That’s ₹50,000 a day for 24 commandos.
This is the bureaucratic equivalent of Marie Antoinette’s understanding of cake and bread.
At the very least, Ambani must be asked to pay ₹5 lakh a day.
That apart, it didn’t strike the home ministry that there’s barely a safe corner for the ordinary Indian.
It didn’t occur to them that they need to keep the millions safe.
Not just the man with the millions.
The 2013 Manifesto spoke of a separate People’s Police Force because the existing security forces seem to spend time providing security only to the rich or powerful.
But there may be another way.
Four years ago, England took a good look at how they might increase accountability in the police and make them accountable to the people.
Some of their thoughts might help us too.
The basic concept is to push the police from the politicians and the bureaucrats to the people.
India needs to the same now. Before all protection goes to the wealthy alone.
One way of doing this may be to have a safety council in each assembly constituency.
In January, we wrote of an all-India panel to monitor the proposed People’s Police Force.
It might work better if this happens at the constituency level first.
Delhi has five kinds of jurisdiction. There are the administrative areas overseen by SDMs, police districts headed by DCPs, corporation wards represented by councillors, assembly seats with MLAs and Lok Sabha constituencies cared for by MPs.
All this has resulted in a city rated among the most unsafe places on earth for women.
A better way might be to treat assembly constituencies as the political and police units.
Each assembly seat could have a 15-member safety council with the MLA, corporators, lay men and women from all communities, a magistrate and the local police head.
In the UK, they call the councils police authority.
Appointments up to the level of Inspector could be done by a selection panel in each assembly constituency.
In Britain, they recommended that selection be done on merit. In multi-ethnic India, we might need to see that meritorious people come from all communities.
The skills needed are non-negotiable:
- ability to analyse crime and related data
- ability to contribute to strategic planning [relate crime data with stated policing policy objectives]
- possession of key communication skills
- networking ability
- political understanding
- understanding the culture of policing [how the ranks respond to the public and to incidents]
Safety council members in each constituency will have to undergo training so they have the skill and competence to hire policemen.
Such training must be a standard and enforceable requirement. From this shall flow all else.
The prime duty of the safety councils would be the safety and security of all people in the constituency.
In conjunction with the police hierarchy, these councils will:
- monitor the local police force
- assess the performance of the police in reducing crime
- assess the performance in reducing fear of crime
- assess the performance in providing reassurance to the public
- monitor the progress of the police in accounting to the public and answering for their performance
The police currently refuse to accept complaints because they think it makes them look bad.
Handing it to the safety councils could help improve accuracy and integrity of crime data.
The police will still need to be part of collecting the data. They just don’t have to worry about the repercussions.
All this doesn’t mean the police will not interact with the public. They will need to do more of it.
At the moment, the police in India don’t plan. In the UK, they recommended that they have three-year plans with clear crime and social order policy.
If commissioners can have three-year fixed terms, this could work in India as well.
All safety council meetings must be held in public unless there is something truly delicate or confidential. This is rare.
Safety councils will also need to help with police budgets.
There is a possibility here that richer areas like, say, The Aralias [Gurgaon], Sunder Nagar [New Delhi], Anna Nagar [Chennai], Koramangala [Bengaluru], Banjara Hills [Hyderabad] or Colaba [south Mumbai] would have more money.
This would imply better policing because they can afford the latest worldclass equipment and facilities.
A rich safety council could partner with a poorer one and they could improve public safety in their localities.
Swift feedback, communication and updates are essential for the safety council model of policing.
Over time, all constituencies could have swank and appropriate policing and safe people.
If this is not how India wants to do it, then the Aam Aadmi Party model might catch on.
The party is showing smart instincts in responding to incidents.
As public anger rose over the rape of a five-year-old girl, the party thought fast.
They have planned a 27 April meet with eminent ex-servicemen and former bureaucrats to formulate a policy on women’s safety in Delhi.
They say they will set up Women’s Security Force [WSF] units in every college and assembly constituency of Delhi.
The Arvind Kejriwal-led party has described the WSF functions as:
- Engaging with the Delhi Police if it fails to ‘take cognisance in matters of crimes against women’
- Creating pressure on the Delhi Police by protests if it fails to act
- Facilitate admission to an appropriate hospital if a victim needs medical attention
They have offered an email option at email@example.com and direct registering at www.delhi.aamaadmiparty.org.
This is the future of policing in India.
If the current system doesn’t or cannot improve, initiatives will come from the suffering.
Kejriwal’s party says it will replicate the Delhi model in other states.
It has asked people to:
- Prepare to take up responsibility of their locality, meaning providing security to a woman in distress being unjustly treated by the police
- Inform their assembly constituency and college WSF teams in such a scenario so they all stand by a woman collectively
- Prepare to be reached if such cases come from outside their locality
The party says: “This is an initiative to instill confidence in the people of Delhi and one should rise above partisan loyalties to succeed in this endeavour.”
The party has concluded that ‘merely blaming police callousness or paying lip service about societal mindset is insufficient’.
The Aam Aadmi Party’s WSF is to become operational from 6 May all across Delhi with a functional central helpline number.
They say they are reaching out to hospitals in Delhi so they treat women in distress without fear or without looking to profit.
The party says it will publish a list of all hospitals willing to treat women in distress free of cost.
This is serious stuff. This is different from the tired response of the older parties.
The older parties have no solutions. The Aam Aadmi Party is thinking and acting fast.
The decision to protect Mukesh Ambani is a clear and unadulterated atrocity.
In the streets of India, particularly Delhi, a revolution may be brewing.
There will be no tears for the cops when that happens.
Also by the author:
Rajiv Gandhi and the muddlemen of Indian defence
Silly Vijender, sillier state
Parliament resolutions: What you need to know
The boxer, the drug dealer, and the yarn
Rahul Gandhi and the singletons in Indian politics
To hang a man: How to read Afzal Guru's death
Vijay Simha is an independent journalist and sobriety campaigner based out of New Delhi. His most recent journalism assignment was as executive editor with The Financial World, New Delhi, and tehelka.com.
He was a guest on Season 1 of the popular Indian TV show Satyamev Jayate, hosted by Aamir Khan.
Vijay blogs here and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.