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In the recently-released film, Article 15, the Indian police is depicted as dysfunctional, prejudiced and corrupt. It was a depiction that won the film critical acclaim but also a depiction grounded in the truth, according to a new study on the Indian police. The study conducted by the non-governmental organization, Common Cause and the Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) suggests that India’s police force is severely hindered by inadequate staff, infrastructure, and budget but also riddled with prejudices.

The basic input for any police force is its people and its resources. On both these fronts, Indian police forces are struggling and India has one of the weakest police forces in the world. Within India, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Bihar have India’s most inadequate police forces, according to a police adequacy index computed by the Common Cause and CSDS team.

The police adequacy index captures police strength in terms of personnel, infrastructure, and budget allocations for the years 2012-16 (the latest years where comparable data is available) and reveals how Indian police forces are hamstrung on all these measures. For instance, Uttar Pradesh’s low score is driven by police vacancies while Chhattisgarh’s is a result of weak infrastructure. India’s best police forces are in Delhi, Kerala, and Maharashtra, the study suggests, though this is only a relative judgment.

The data shows that poorer states tend to have weaker police forces. The police adequacy index is strongly correlated with the proportion of the state’s population living in poverty (measured here using the multi-dimensional poverty index calculated by researchers from the University of Oxford), showing that the rule of law and prosperity are inextricably linked.

Inadequate resources have real and grim consequences. The researchers surveyed 12,000 police personnel across 21 states between February and April 2019 to find that 41% of police personnel have been in situations where they could not reach a crime scene because of lack of staff while 46% have experienced a situation where they needed a vehicle but none was available.

Beyond resources, Indian police performance could also be affected by attitudes within the police. For a start, there are significant differences in how the police believes it should function. Across India, 44% of police personnel believe criminals should be punished by the police themselves, via extra-judicial means, rather than subject them to a legal trial. Here, too, there is significant variation across states. For instance, in the insurgency-affected states of Nagaland and Chattisgarh, the proportion of police favouring extra-judicial means exceeds 60%. Bihar, with an infamous history of custodial deaths, follows close behind at 60%.

Another major attitude issue is discrimination against women and minorities. The report reveals that around one in two police personnel across India feel that men and women are not treated equally within the police force. Little wonder then that only 7.3% of all police personnel across India were women in 2016. Some states perform worse than others: the male policemen of Bihar, Karnataka and Maharashtra for instance, hold the strongest biases against women. These attitudes also spillover into how police handle gender-based violence. Nearly 40% of police personnel believe that gender-based violence complaints are highly likely to be false or motivated.

Unsurprisingly, women remain wary of the police force. Data from the previous round of the report published in 2018, which focused on the public’s perception of Indian police, revealed that 32% of women were distrustful of Indian police personnel (compared to 28% of men).

Overall trust in the police force remains low. This and other surveys have revealed that the Indian public is more distrustful of the police than the army, courts and government. One reason for this lack of trust could be India’s growing police-criminal-politician nexus. Over the last twenty years, India’s politics has become more criminalized and with it India’s police has become more politicized. The latest State of Policing survey finds that 28% of India’s police personnel had faced pressure from politicians in criminal investigations. Such undue influence could not only be eroding the public’s trust in the police but could also be driving the institutional neglect towards police working conditions and attitudes.

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