Individual liberty is the most important foundation on which a democratic society is built. Every citizen is free to do what he or she pleases, as long as another person's freedom is not curtailed by such actions.
We elect a government to ensure that everyone can exercise freedom and individual rights in a fair way, so that the freedom of all people is expanded. In order to ensure that our freedom is exercised fairly without curtailing the freedom of others, there will have to be reasonable restrictions. These are determined by laws made by our elected representatives.
Any person elected or employed by us, the people, is likely to abuse the power given by us. Therefore no individual can be fully trusted with the power to control our liberty in the name of public good. All powers of individuals elected and employed by us or on our behalf are therefore derived from the constitution or written law. No one can claim any power other than what we have given him under the constitution made by us, or the laws made by the representatives elected by us.
Every single individual in the country is bound by the same laws to the same extent as everyone else. No one can claim any special powers except what the law gives him.
All our elected representatives, and appointed officials are public servants. They are not our rulers or masters. It is we, the people, who are the sovereigns in a democracy, and all these persons, from the President, Prime Minister, Ministers, MPs, MLAs, Chief Ministers, officials at every level, armed forces, police, mayors, municipal chairmen, sarpanches - every one of them is a servant of the people.
All of them discharge responsibilities entrusted to them by us, and derive their authority from the laws made with our approval. Therefore they are accountable to us and the institutions built by us.
In case of laws relating to individual liberty, whenever one person's liberty has to be curtailed by law, it is done through a public servant appointed for that purpose. Such a public servant must discharge his responsibility strictly according to law. Usually the police are entrusted with the responsibility of protecting the citizens, and curtailing the freedom of those who exceed their limits and cause harm or inconvenience to others.
In all such cases, courts must decide whether or not such curtailment of freedom is necessary. That is why all arrests must be approved by the courts or reported to them at the earliest. That is also why the courts have the responsibility to decide on the punishment to be given for breaking laws.
The police, as public servants, have responsibility only in criminal matters. All such matters are defined by law. Civil disputes or disagreements between two individuals or groups on matters relating to money, property, contracts or damages must be decided by both parties in civil courts. Police have no responsibility in such matters.
Whenever a person violates a criminal law, the police will have to act to protect the other citizens from him. All of us have a duty to assist the police in discharging their responsibilities. Police normally are responsible for the following functions:
- Public order and riot control
- Crime investigation
- Traffic maintenance, patrolling etc.
- Protection of public property
- Security of certain individuals
Ideally, all these functions should be separate and each should be under a different agency. However, at present there is only one police force discharging all these functions, causing avoidable confusion and at times injustice.
While many of our laws relating to police are seemingly fair, we have not built suitable institutions and instruments and instruments to ensure that individual liberty is respected and protected.
Most people are not aware when citizens can be arrested and how they should be treated. We are often confused when we have to deal with the police while seeking their help or protection. Most of us are afraid of uniformed policemen.
Crime investigation should be utterly impartial, and should be rigorously monitored by independent agencies to ensure that innocent persons are protected and guilty ones are brought before courts for trial.
The duty of the police is to investigate the crimes and produce the accused persons before courts along with evidence. The punishment is awarded by the courts. The police do not have the responsibility or power to punish people.
Use of Force
Police cannot use force against citizens except when it is necessary by law. Such instances when force can be used are as follows:
- In all such cases, the use of force must be fair and judicious, and must be proportionate to the need. There must not be use of indiscriminate or brutal force against citizens.
No citizen can be assaulted, beaten up or tortured by any policeman or any other person. It is a crime to do so under any circumstances, except when force is used legally as explained above. The police have no right to impose any punishment, no matter how grave the crime.
The police cannot, under any circumstances, maim or kill any citizen except while using force legally as explained above. If a citizen is killed or maimed, it is a brutal crime, and whoever does it, be it the police or another citizen, they are criminals and must be punished by a court accordingly.
The government or any politician or influential person has no right to interfere in the crime investigation or influence the police in the discharge of their duties. Unfortunately, because all functions of police are discharged by a single force, and police are controlled by the government of the day, there is a tendency to use them for partisan and private purposes. This should be firmly opposed by citizens.
Politicians and governments tend to drop cases against their friends even when there is evidence, or implicate their political enemies even when they are innocent. Pressure is brought on police to arrest or harass or hurt citizens who oppose them.
People should be ever vigilant to prevent such abuse of power or position by all public servants. We should bring pressure collectively to improve functioning of police and to make proper institutional arrangements for more efficient, fair and impartial policing.
Understanding of simple principles of democracy, and awareness of basic laws and procedures is important for you as a citizen. Only by such knowledge can you protect yourself and the community around you.
If you need any assistance or information, please contact your local Lok Satta unit. If there is no unit, please form one in consultation with your district branch or apex unit.