History tells us that during an era when the zamindars (landlords) had the right to collect tax from the villagers, they used to appoint baton-wielding deputies to handle the 'disobedient' ones. It was still later, during colonial rule that the British supplied canes to the police to deal with unruly mob. But now despite long passage of time, why is it that the use of baton has not undergone much change? The answer may lie in that our ruling class has inherited, and maintain, the same attitude of the old zamindars.
That would also explain why, despite the apex court issuing orders several times for radical change in the police law, so far the rulers pretend not to have heard any of them. But the brunt of the burden from this neglect is borne most often by the common man. In the latest instance, the police conducted its reckless enforcement of law in Kadakkal, Kollam district, by hurling baton on a bike rider, who had driven on and was without helmet. Losing his control over the bike as a result of the baton hit, the bike crashed against a car coming in the opposite direction. There are reports that the policemen on duty took the seriously injured bike rider to the hospital and then disappeared. Following strong protests, the home ministry has taken action against the policemen responsible.
This baton-throw incident took place when hardly a week had passed since Kerala High Court came down heavily on police excesses on roads in the name of helmt hunting. With the order, Justice Raja Vijayaraghavan had also issued clear guidelines for vehicle inspections. The essence of that order was asking the officials to use modern techniques to prevent and detect traffic offenses, putting an end to the 'hot-chasing' after vehicles. Main items of the guidelines were that officials should not enter the middle of the road anticipating vehicles would stop, inspections should be by using digital camera, traffic surveillance camera, and handycam, and that the inspections should be limited to the pre-announced spots. Before the ink of that order was dry, a few policemen have thrown their baton over it. The response to it by police chief Lokanath Behera is that this was not part of government policy and criminal charges would be slapped on those responsible.
As promised, action has actually been initiated too which is welcome. But the point to remember is that this use of baton was not the first instance of the kind. In March last year, there was a similar mishap in Alappuzha. In Mararikkulam, when the police jeep chased and applied sudden brake across on the road to intercept a bike that had sped away without stopping, what followed was a disaster. The bike that lost control hit a lady and two people died including the lady. Although the officials including the sub-inspector were suspended, the case has not made much headway. Two weeks prior to the Mararikkulam accident, in Malayankeezhu, Thiruvananthapuram also a similar interception had happened. All these incidents took place while there had already been a circular in place from DGP that there should be no use of force during vehicle inspection. All put together, it appears as though those who stand by the road side are not modern policemen, but the lackeys of the zamindars of a bygone era.
As a matter of fact, there is no dearth of law or guidelines on dealing with the public. And none of the items in Justice Raja Vijayarahavan's order was new; they were all part of the guidelines issued by the state home department seven years ago. But unfortunately they all remained on paper. And this is not limited to vehicle inspections alone. Look at the 'Operation Thunder' conducted by the Vigilance Directorate last January. In the operation carried out on the tip-off that police officers had clandestine relations with alcohol, quarry and sand mafia, what emerged were shocking revelations. In the drawer of a sub-inspector in Kasarkode, 125 gm of ganja was found; it was a contraband that was not recorded as officially required. The same police station yielded contraband of valuables like gold and watch.
Similar items were seized from the drawers of bosses in over 50 police stations across the state. That operation also revealed a fact that in many stations, there was not a single case registered against sand smuggling. But 'Operation Thunder', that unravelled the nexus between police and mafia, did not have any continuity. Reports show that 1129 persons of the police force are accused in criminal cases. These figures, as well as the raids, tell the basic attitude of a major arm of government machinery, which is responsible for protection of people's life and property and bound to play a key role in administration of justice. The use of baton the other day was only a reflection of that attitude. We can only spare a thought for the common man with lowered heads.