A Heavy Hand: The Use of Force by India's Police (IAVA Issue Brief 3)

Dr Arvind Verma (edited by Aaron Karp)
Issue Brief

There are many circumstances in which the use of force by the police is considered a legitimate action. Indeed, even in a democratic society, police are distinguished by their legal authority to use force to coerce citizens (Klockars, 1985). Given the high potential for the police to abuse force, checks and balances are needed to minimize the use of force and make officers accountable when they resort to it.

India has approximately 2.4 million men and women in official policing (IISS, 2011; NCRB, 2011). Their work is regulated by the Indian Constitution, by statute and case law, and by the internal rules and procedures that regulate the use of force and govern the circumstances in which official violence is permissible. But there is growing consensus within India that police reform should be elevated on the national agenda.

A Heavy Hand: The Use of Force by India's Police looks into this issue and finds that:

  • Police are not sufficiently trained to deal with violence and challenges to their authority. Their salaries are low, with few perks, which helps foster a culture of corruption.
  • Reported incidents of police firing on civilians rose from 791 in 2004 to 1,421 in 2010. The number of civilians killed in these incidents fell, but reported injuries grew.
  • Indian law grants extraordinary discretionary powers of arrest to police officers.
  • Although there is no independent data available on police violence and abuses, frequent use of force is demonstrated by the occurrence of encounter killings—a severe symptom of police malfeasance.
  • The most important reforms for controlling the misuse of force by the police have come from the 1993 National Human Rights Commission.
  • Incidents of excessive use of force by police are unlikely to be addressed until major reforms in the criminal justice system are put in place.

Also available in HINDI.

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Keywords: IAVA Armed violence