Time for police reform

The death of Rajbala, the woman who was seriously injured during the infamous midnight crackdown on Baba Ramdev supporters on June 4, is a massive blow to the democratic credentials of the UPA government. After all, the Delhi Police, who lathi-charged the supporters and took them by surprise, directly report to the Union Ministry for Home Affairs.

The hallmark of any government in a democracy is how it handles protests. It is no secret that Baba Ramdev's protest, no matter what anybody's views are on the agenda behind it, was peaceful. The versions vary on who attacked first -- the police or the protesters -- but it cannot be denied that Rajbala was injured in the melee that followed. And the chaos and the stampede were indubitably a consequence of the lathicharge.
Rajbala, 51, became a quadriplegic as a result, and was on life support for most of the 114 days she was in hospital.

That gruesome incident, and now Rajbala's death, point to only one thing -- the need for police reform. The state needs a specialised police force to deal with protests. Of course, there is the Rapid Action Force (a wing of the Central Reserve Police Force), created to deal with mainly riot situations. But how does the state deal with peaceful protests that could potentially end up becoming violent?

Indeed, the question is, should the state invest in a specialised force that would supercede the local police when it comes to peaceful (or violent) protests. The answer, by conventional logic, should be no. After all, who knows the local conditions better than the police? Will a specialised police force be able to understand the underlying sociology of a protest? These are questions that need to be asked soon, and the government needs to answer them quickly.

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