Mumbai Police recently appointed a team of housewives as undercover detectives, trained to spot and help nab rapists and molesters. While this move has been well appreciated by former police commissioners and experts, it also tells a very different story about the city’s police force and its resources.
Once considered to be a mine of information across Indian security agencies, Mumbai Police has been struggling to maintain a healthy information network. Earlier, the force would depend on the police-public relationship and a network of khabris (informers) to source its info. However, with the existing police-public ratio having dropped to one policeman for 829 people (according to the Bureau of Police Research and Development, under the Ministry of Home Affairs), the police are now searching for new operatives, such as street dwellers and locals.
This is not an isolated attempt, till date several attempts have been made to depute locals as police informers, but all past efforts have failed. In the past, cops had involved hawkers, shoe polishers, college students and social workers to act as their eyes and ears.
They had also appointed a group of locals, named the ‘eagle brigade’, to patrol the streets in crime-affected areas at night. The members were even given identity cards, but the initiative was hit by controversy after some of them began misusing their powers and tried extorting money from citizens.
A major concern that needs to be addressed is how the police will ensure the security of these informants. In the current scenario, while cops are still struggling to get the witness protection programme in place, the protection of this secret service team remains in doubt.
There are hundreds of cases in which acting as police informers proved costly for citizens, who are now forced to wait for justice themselves. Until the police department figures out a solution for these problems, it is probable that its ‘housewife secret service’ initiative will be as short-lived as the other schemes.