THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: A few days ago, a jeep full of police officers stopped in front of a supermarket in Thrissur. It was five minutes past the 9 pm deadline for shop closure as per COVID protocol, and the supermarket was about to close.
The officers showered abuses on the group of employees who were trying their best to put things in order before shutting down the shop after a hectic day. The abuses shocked the group and among them was the young daughter of Anil.
On Friday, while considering a petition filed by Anil, Justice Devan Ramachandran of the Kerala High Court directed the state police chief to initiate steps to stop the practice of police addressing the public in a derogatory manner using words such as 'eda and poda'.
"My daughter used to help the staff of a supermarket here. She was among a few women who were arranging things before closing the shop when the police hurled abuses," Anil told The New Indian Express. Upset by the inhuman treatment, Anil first approached senior officers including the SP. But, there was no action.
The Sanskrit couplet 'Mridu Bhave Drida Krithye' which translates to 'Soft in temperament, firm in action' is the guiding principle of the Kerala police. The logo carrying this motto is displayed in all police stations. But, majority of the officers forget the first part as and when they wear the uniform.
Last week, a man and his eight-year-old daughter were at the receiving end at Attingal when a woman police officer alleged that the man had stolen her mobile phone which was kept in the patrol jeep. Later, the phone was found from her bag and she was transferred to a police station nearer her home for two weeks as a 'punishment'.
A few weeks ago, an 18-year-old girl named Gauri Nanda had a bitter experience at Chadayamangalam in Kollam when she tried to intervene after the police initiated action against an elderly man, who was standing in a queue in front of a bank, for violating COVID norms.
The video clip of the incident that went viral carries evidence of an officer using indecent language to silence her during the heated argument.
Gauri told The New Indian Express that Chadayamangalam sub-inspector used an offensive word when she questioned the wrong action of the police. "Initially, I was talking to the police in a calm and composed manner. When the officer addressed me using a bad word, I reacted strongly," she said. The officer was later transferred from the station.
In 2015, the then state police chief TP Senkumar had issued a circular directing all policemen to refrain from using words like "Eda, edi, poda and vada" while dealing with the public. "I had issued the order after receiving several complaints against police behaviour. However, the behaviour did not change. We cannot change the police attitude overnight. It will take at least 8 to 10 years to condition the officers about the importance of behaving properly with the public," said Senkumar.
In fact, efforts to refine police behaviour had begun several years ago. In 2004, a panel of the then senior police officers in the state decided to introduce a communication module in the training programme for fresh police recruits.
Former state police chief Jacob Punnoose, who was a member of the panel, said: "When they interact with people, many police personnel still think they are part of a policing system under the British. It's really sad. Police personnel have to change their attitude or soon they should be forced to change."
Punnoose said there were specifically two reasons for the police personnel to behave in an impolite manner. "Firstly, when a person joins the police department and wears the uniform, he/she gets a feeling of being given a lot of power and starts behaving in a manner which is driven by this feeling. The second reason is that many police personnel in the due course of their service feel frustrated and psychologically drained because of stress and other factors associated with the job. They start venting their frustration on the people on the road," he said.
Addl DGP (Headquarters) Manoj Abraham said most of the incidents which are portrayed as indecent behaviour are just small protions carved out of long interactions. "It is seen that some officers use these words if the interaction turns into a dispute. It needs to be seen as an aberration. On the field, we have to deal with a lot of negative forces every day and that might be one reason," he said.
"The practice of using obscene words is often the reflection of one's stress and frustration which may result from occupational and domestic problems. Moreover, the cultural context in which one is brought up, including parenting style and communication patterns between adults you see during your childhood may also have a lasting impact on one’s tendency to use derogatory terms," said Dr Arun B Nair, psychiatrist, Government medical college.
Former chief secretary K Jayakumar, who had been the home secretary too, said the use of bad words is a technique followed by police to demonstrate their dominance in public place. The policing system is nearly 200 years old and the force has adapted several of the practices of the British police.
Use of force and techniques for psychological advantage over native population was part of the policing strategy then. "When we speak about change, we also need to understand that a system that’s 200 years old can’t be changed in 20 years. It will take time, but there should be a change," said Punnoose.
Senkumar also suggested continuous efforts to reform the behaviour of policemen. "While in office, I had instructed the policemen to first greet the public using the word 'Namaskaram'. Now, the officers are trained enough to greet Namaskaram when anyone calls the police station through the phone. Politeness will be part of the police if proper monitoring takes place," said Senkumar.
Justice Narayana Kurup, former chairman of State Police Complaint Authority, said that strong action against erring officers is the way to correct the improper behaviour. "I had recommended action against many officers," Kurup said.
He said that the authorities need to think from the perspective of the victims who are deeply hurt by the use of expletives and abuses. "We need to understand that words are sharper than swords," he said.
The ill-treatment by authorities who wield excessive power has a long-term impact on people, especially youngsters and children. "A person who happens to hear such expletives is often shocked, feels distressed and suffers from loss of self-esteem," said Dr Arun.
Manoj Abraham said police have accepted the HC verdict in its letter and spirit, and will take necessary steps. "We have issued several circulars in this regard. In fact, during training the personnel are told they should address people as 'Sir' or 'Madam'," he said.
Jayakumar said an intense training can help reform the force. "The government should start training for the police force to ensure good behaviour. Punitive action for a single case will not serve any purpose. Training should be conducted for the entire force. Responsible use of language is important and the police should be a civilised force," he said.
The Sanskrit couplet ‘Mridu Bhave Drida Krithye’ which translates to ‘Soft in temperament, firm in action' is the guiding principle of the Kerala police.
The logo carrying this motto is displayed in all police stations.
A majority of the officers forget the first part as and when they wear the uniform.
(With input from Kochi)