Men in khaki dent Punjab image (Punjab Newsletter)
By Jaideep Sarin, Chandigarh, March 8 : The men in khaki, it would seem, are hellbent on denting the image of police - and even the state - as happened during the 1980s and early 1990s at the height of terrorism in Punjab.
The latest images of Punjab Police personnel savagely beating up a helpless young woman and her father have again left the country shocked. In the clip, repeatedly aired by national and other TV channels, the police personnel were seen chasing, slapping, abusing and even hitting the 21-year-old victim with a baton.
What triggered this, according to the victim, was her complaint to the police about being sexually harassed by some taxidrivers outside a marriage venue in the frontier district of Tarn Taran, 50 km from Amritsar.
Though Punjab Director General of Police Sumedh Singh Saini said that "whatever the policemen did was wrong", he and the top brass went on the defensive, saying that the video clip, shot by a bystander on his mobile phone, did not depict the entire incident.
Saini even claimed that the police personnel, two of whom were suspended and a magisterial probe ordered into the incident, "had their own view about the entire incident". But he did admit that his men had no business to assault the woman the way they did so in full public view.
The Tarn Taran incident is not an isolated one involving the Punjab Police. In recent months, its personnel and officers have done enough to smear its image.
Last December, a teenaged girl who had been gang-raped committed suicide in Patiala district after the area police officers continued to harass her over the incident and were even pressuring her to compromise with her perpetrators. A police officer was dismissed from service and arrested following the suicide.
In Patiala, a woman who was accused of stealing a purse, was slapped and beaten in full public view earlier this year. She was holding a child in her arms but that did not stop the policemen who insisted on taking her to the police station. Strict directions of the Punjab government that only women police officers should deal with women and that women should not be called to police stations went unheeded.
In Faridkot, the town came to a standstill for days together after Punjab Police botched up the kidnapping and rape case of a minor girl, allegedly to favour a local gangster from a wealthy family with links to the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal.
Two senior police officers then did something that even violated Supreme Court guidelines. They not only identified the victim but even showed her "marriage" photographs to the media to prove that she was not kidnapped but had eloped.
In Amritsar's Chhertta area, a sub-inspector in uniform lost his life last December after he resisted a local gangster and ruling Akali Dal leader who was sexually harassing his young daughter. The gangster shot the police officer dead in full public view. The area police, barely a few metres away, failed to turn up on time despite being informed of the incident.
All this reminds one of the manner in which the police had run amok in the 1980s and early 1990s - all in the name of putting down the terrorist movement to demand Khalistan - a separate state for Sikhs.
"It is high time that the Punjab Police themselves got some policing lessons on how to deal with common people. The VIPs and police officers are protected by state security, leaving the common man to the mercy of police officers who think they are a law unto themselves," a retired Punjab Police officer said.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org