New Delhi: Its motto might be “with you, for you, always", but more often than not, the police force of the nation’s capital has been found wanting, especially when it comes to protecting visible minorities—those who don’t easily blend in easily with the city’s teeming millions.

The past year has seen a sharp rise in the incidence of violence against people from north-eastern India in Delhi—from sexual harassment to rape and the murder of Arunachal Pradesh teenager Nido Taniam.

The issue is so serious that Narendra Modi raised it in election rallies on his way to becoming Prime Minister, terming such incidents shameful. And at the Sangai festival, Manipur’s annual tourism festival held on 30 November, he announced a central plan to draft young people from the North-East into Delhi Police, aimed at serving the twin purposes of providing jobs and making the capital’s police more inclusive.

Modi emphasized the importance of such a drive for national integration, but executing it may not be easy in a police force that has had to fend off charges of lack of sensitivity and even racism.

The overarching image of Delhi Police is that of a lathi-wielding, blunt-speaking beat constable from Haryana who is prone to expletive-laden bouts of anger. It is a characterization that has been reinforced by popular culture, although the police force recruits from across the country.

“Delhi Police has always had a pan-India character but last year there was special emphasis on highlighting this," says Dipendra Pathak, joint commissioner, training. Teams from the headquarters were sent to 10 cities, including Guwahati, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Chennai and Kochi, on a hiring mission.

The response, Pathak admits, wasn’t great. In fact, most of the police force’s recruits continue to come from Uttar Pradesh and the national capital region (NCR), which includes parts of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.

“This is no surprise. If you look at the state police, then you will find that the bulk of their force is also made up of men from the neighbouring states. Issues like physical distance are a great deterrent," says Pathak.

Delhi Police does have representation from states as varied as Uttarakhand and Nagaland but the number remains minuscule. The force hasn’t conducted any demographic study to show which state their recruits, or serving personnel, are coming from.

The absence of such data is an anomaly in a modern-day police force. Earlier this year, the Metropolitan Police Force in the UK, or Scotland Yard, which looks after the Greater London region, decided to recruit one ethnic officer for every white person enlisted in order to make the force more representative of the city it protects.

“The same example applies to Delhi as with every passing year the city becomes more cosmopolitan in nature," said Neeraj Kumar, a former Delhi Police Commissioner. “At the officer level we already have fairly good representation and ideally the constabulary should be from different parts of the country."

According to Delhi Police for North East Folks, an initiative by Delhi Police to ensure safety and security of residents from the North-East, 232 first information reports (FIRs) have been filed by people from north-eastern states till 21 November this year, up from 74 FIRs filed last year.

There is no specific law against hate crime in India but the Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, caste, religion, gender, etc.

“State-wise representation will ensure police action without any bias," says Raskan Jonah from Manipur, who is also a state representative with the Delhi Police. “This is a great step as it will instill a sense of confidence and equality in the people from the North-East."

One of the main problems people from the eight states of the north-eastern region face while dealing with Delhi Police is language, says Jonah. The beat constable finds it hard to follow English or the accented Hindi spoken by men and women from the North-East.

“We feel that police officers do not understand our complaint and the benefit of the doubt is given to the other party," he says. “The language barrier needs to be broken."

Apart from making the force more accessible, country-wide representation also plays a big role in the conduct of investigations.

“The nature of crime has changed considerably as distances have shrunk. It is not unusual for gangs from Kolkata to come to Delhi, operate here, send the money back through hawala (illegal money transfer) and fly out of the city. Having force members from different cities helps combat these moves," says Pathak.

He recalls a murder case involving a Nepali domestic help who had disappeared. The force had a Nepalese policeman who was sent to the village of the help to conduct a reconnaissance. “The day the boy (the domestic help) reached the village, we were informed."

Delhi Police is an 80,000-strong force and 1,500-3,000 vacancies come up on an average every year. Women make up a mere 8% of the force but with around 1,700 undergoing training right now, Delhi Police expects that to move up by one percentage point.

To be sure, Delhi Police has a long way to go before becoming inclusive.

“Even attempting to make the police force more representative is a good move but our fundamentals in terms of policing are skewed and to bring about a change, that needs to be addressed," says Devika Prasad, co-ordinator, police reforms programme at Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), a Delhi-based non-governmental organization.

The police’s attitude towards women, vulnerable members of society and lack of accountability all need to be addressed in order to ensure that the changes are not merely cosmetic, according to Prasad.

“The system has to change in its orientation," she says. “When laws change, how do you ensure that the 80,000 men and women on the ground understand the changes? Are they getting it?"

Since the December 2012 gangrape and murder of a woman in Delhi, there have been attempts made by the force to understand women’s issues better through monthly meetings between women’s groups and nodal officers. But the same initiative needs to be taken in other fields too.

“There are several challenges for the police as an organization and one has to ensure that all these attempts don’t become just a cosmetic exercise," says Prasad.

Close