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June 16, 2008 / calebdresser


Mindful of the delicate political nature of law enforcement after my experience in the Philippines, I was curious to see how things were done in India. I’ve observed some interesting things, though I still don’t have the full picture by any means.

The police wear khaki-colored uniforms with minimal accoutrement, though some of the more senior members have some gear – radios, belts, and the like. Most appear to be unarmed, and the handful that do carry weapons look like they got them from a lotto game at the antique shop. I’ve seen officers carrying Lee-Enfield bolt-action rifles on the street, fine weapons when they were first manufactured… roughly a century ago. I’d hazard a guess that those weapons were imported into India while it was still run by the British. A few officers carry stamped-steal submachine guns, and some of the guards at major bridges and roadblocks have what look like FAL assault rifles. Police travel in groups of at least two and usually four, although I have seen a couple on motorcycles. The whole setup seems to be designed to maximize intimidation, rather than to provide restrained civil protection.


People like William are why we need cops 🙂

I’ve gleaned a bit of the local perspective from talking with the handful of people here who have some English. From the perspective of a college-age friend of mine here, the main thing to know about police is how to stay away from them when you can and how to bribe them as cheaply as possible if you cannot. Apparently they will stop people sometimes for overloading or other violations, and ask how much money the driver has. If the answer is none, they will threaten to impound the vehicle, at which point it is advisable to “discover” some rupees in a shirt pocket according to your class, 60-80 for a college student, 500 or more for the more established. Sometimes a discreet call to a commissioner or mention of certain personages will change the situation, but usually it is best to carry a few rupees and keep a low profile.

Of course, police can be a good thing, too. Some districts in Delhi have special “tourist police” who are meant to help protect tourists from the more nefarious characters wandering that city’s crowded streets. As a foreigner, they are much more likely to help than harm me. Here in Meerut, they will also respond to civil disturbances, and are part of why domestic violence in the upper classes is limited – wives can call for outside support and mediation. Unfortunately, the situation is usually not so good in the less prosperous areas. According to some people, violence in the home is an almost daily occurrence. Despite the prevalence of Hinduism and Islam here, many poor men drink heavily and proceed to beat their spouses. Wives are usually too fearful of the police to call on them to intervene, even if it occurs to them. The problem is deep-rooted and multifaceted; lack of education is often blamed, as is unemployment of fathers and  the practice of having children in order to make them work and take their earnings. This all has to be taken with a certain degree of caution – the people I am talking with come from a class that prides itself on its education and respectability – but on the whole it is a picture that meshes with the sad situation in other places.


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  1. Joel / Jun 17 2008 11:59 pm

    I asked Avijit ( who is from India and who you met when you were at Brandeis) about the police corruption and social stratification problems you describe. He agreed that both problems exit, but both are getting better. Corruption was far worse 10 years ago, and now the government strongly opposes the caste system, and things are slowly getting better for those at the bottom. They do have a long way to go, but things are improving which is hard for you to see since you only observe one snapshot in time while you are there. There is reason for optimism, though progress is much slower than we would wish. It takes time to overcome more than 2000 years of tradition, but when you look at it in that time scale, progress has really been made in the last 50 years. Progress is even faster in our country. 10 years ago, few would have thought that the front runner in the presidential race of the USA would be a black man (or at least half black). So try to spend some time looking at how far mankind has come, as well as how far they have to go. You will feel better, you will accomplish more, and you will live longer.

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