TODAY -
Indian police need overhaul: Rights group
Source: Hueiyen News Service / Agency

New Delhi, August 04 2009: India's poorly trained and overworked police detain people illegally, torture and kill suspects and refuse to investigate crimes against the politically powerful, a human rights group said Tuesday.

The police system of the world's largest democracy needs a major overhaul to raise it to international standards, with large investments needed for training, the recruitment of new personnel and the repeal of outdated laws, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch.

Calls for urgent police reform increased in November after 10 gunmen rampaged through Mumbai, taking over two luxury hotels and holding the financial capital of the country hostage for 60 hours.

Two of the gunmen raided the city's main railway station, overpowering more than 60 police officers, who were armed with batons and antiquated rifles.

The newly elected Indian government promised police reform, but previous governments have made similar pledges over the decades and failed to deliver.

"India is modernizing rapidly, but the police continue to use their old methods: abuse and threats," said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

"It's time for the government to stop talking about reform and fix the system." A call and e-mail seeking comment from the Ministry of Home Affairs, which is responsible for internal security and policing, were not immediately returned.

The report detailed specific cases of police abuse.

In one instance, a man accused of rape died in custody and police then charged the rape victim's family with his murder to cover up their own misconduct.

In another, a man said he fainted after being beaten with wooden sticks by police, who then hung him upside down and poured water into his mouth and nose.

K.P.S.Gill, a former police chief of Punjab state who has written widely on reform, said the problem was wider than just the police force.

With a shortage of judges and many criminal cases delayed for years, the entire criminal justice system needs to be fixed, he said.

"The resources in the country are not that large and there are unlimited areas crying for attention, so (officials) have to make a selection of what they would spend how much on," he told The Associated Press.

"Policing doesn't figure very high on the list".

Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 80 police officers and 60 victims of police abuse as well as experts and activists, documenting routine abuse and corruption among the nation's police force.

Police officers spoke of carrying out "encounters," where they kill a suspect and claim the victim died during a shootout, the report said.

Police often detain people and torture false confessions out of them, and file false charges at the request of local politicians, the report said.

Overworked police often refuse to open cases filed by the poor, the marginalized and those of lower castes, while they routinely dismiss allegations against politically powerful criminals, the report said.

At the same time, police themselves work under terrible conditions that make it difficult to do their jobs effectively, the report said.

They work as many as 16 hours a day, rarely have days off and live in tents or cramped and crumbling barracks, the report said.

They have little training in conducting investigations and the force is severely undermanned, with only one officer for every 1,037 people, far below the global average of one for every 333, the report said.

Meanwhile, police faced intense pressure from superiors to quickly solve cases, the report said.

The police force has changed little since India gained independence from Britain in 1947 and remains geared toward keeping the population in line, said Naureen Shah, who wrote the report.

"The police count on the public's fear, rather than their cooperation to keep order," she said.


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