Policing: Past, Present, and Future: Carnegie India and Tata Trusts presents a series of webinars that feature crucial stakeholders, experts, and policymakers, as they examine the Indian police establishment and its role in society and the criminal justice system.

Police, the world over, represents the civilian authority of the government and is one of the most public-facing ‘pillars’ of the justice system. While maintaining order and controlling crime are its core functions, basic social services also often fall in its purview. Both aspects have been in clear focus during the current pandemic, as the police has been deployed to ensure that various lockdowns––beginning with the first one on 24th March––have been upheld. In the initial phase of the lockdown, many instances of brutality on the part of personnel were reported. The police tried to ensure that citizens comply with what was seen more as a ‘law and order’ problem. At the same time, one must also consider the factors of personal anxiety coupled with dealing with unforeseen circumstances in their response. As the lockdowns progressed, the police incorporated a more empathetic approach. There were numerous displays of compassion on the part of personnel; even as thousands contracted Covid-19 and had to be quarantined or have lost their lives to it. This underscores the perils of their job, and the urgent need to fill in gaps.

In our first webinar under the Policing: Past, Present and Future series, N. Ramachandran, V.N. Rai, Vipul Mudgal, and Shireen Vakil discuss the unique set of challenges facing the police establishment today. The discussion, moderated by Rudra Chaudhuri, looks at how institutions, as well as personnel on the ground-level grapple with the fallout of an unprecedented health crisis. The webinar seeks to explore the role that long-held traditions of the police force, its internal culture, training, and practice play in how the police manages its public interactions. In what ways has the coronavirus pandemic altered a citizen’s social contract with the state, and what does this mean for the future of policing in India?

This webinar series seeks to build on the traction garnered by Tata Trusts' India Justice Report, a first of its kind comparative study of the capacity of the justice system across states. Read the full report here.

Discussion Highlights

  • India Justice Report: The participants highlighted that the India Justice Report ranks states, based on government reports and publicly available data, on the capacity of their justice systems as a whole. The Report comprises 78 indicators across the four pillars— police, prisons, judiciary and legal aid— with policing based on 20 indicators. The participants claimed that the Report explores the themes of diversity, workload, budgets, trends, human resources and infrastructure— under the four pillars. As of January 2019, national vacancies in the police are at 20% and only 6% of the police force is provided in-service training while the police personnel work for 14 hours a day, on an average, with no weekly offs. In terms of rankings among the big states, Tamil Nadu ranks the highest and Uttar Pradesh ranks the lowest.
  • Police Behavior during the Pandemic: The participants highlighted the duality in the role of the police— one as an agent of coercion and the other as an agent of social service. This duality in their role also requires duality in personalities, which explains certain instances of police brutality. Further, the participants claimed that during the pandemic, the nature of the police’s duties exposed various personnel to the virus, which adversely impacted operational continuity and police morale. The participants also noted that despite certain instances of police excesses, they have done remarkably well in enforcing the lockdown without having adequate preparatory knowledge or a clear protocol regarding the virus. The police have also been involved in various humanitarian endeavors such as distributing sanitizers, face masks, medicines, food, etc.
  • Police Training: According to the participants, police involvement in humanitarian efforts can be considered as policing by instinct, and not by training. Police training, as it exists today, fails to address and impart the range of emotions required to carry out sensitized policing. Participants noted that police training is strongly rooted in regimentation, militarization and weaponization. Further, it also lacks constitutional conditioning, community orientation and democratic sensitization. Along with these factors, participants noted that it is imperative for police personnel to be trained how to address, and counter, their social biases.
  • Police Reform: The participants observed that police reforms, in India, are viewed as a culminating event, rather than a continuous process. This perspective fails to account for dynamic law and order requirements, that vary from one disaster to the next. In order for the pandemic to be an inflection point for police reforms, it is essential to understand where India stands in terms of delivering justice, and accordingly plan a future course of action. According to the participants, this is a good time to reflect on how the state should carry out disaster management; of which the police should be a small part. Without these reforms, the country will suffer both economically and socially.
  • Lessons from Policing during the Pandemic: The participants put forth certain key takeaways from policing during the pandemic. First, they observed that in places where the police had a good relationship with the community, many instances of solidarity and trust were visible. Second, the participants underscored the need for clear and effective communication with the citizens, as a way to promote trust and counter fear and the spread of fake news. Third, they highlighted that leadership styles, i.e., clear communication and compassionate equations between senior police officers and their subordinates, play a key role in motivating policemen effectively. Fourth, the participants highlighted the importance of technology in improving the efficiency, transparency and accountability levels of police personnel. The participants also noted the need for a standard operating procedure for various sectors of the state and decentralization of the control room, during a disaster, so that the police are not overburdened.

This event summary was prepared by Dikshita Venkatesh, a research intern at Carnegie India


N. Ramachandran

N. Ramachandran is former Director General of Police (DGP) of Assam and Meghalaya. He is also the founder and president of the Indian Police Foundation.

V.N. Rai

V.N. Rai is the former director of the National Police Academy (NPA), Hyderabad.

Vipul Mudgal

Vipul Mudgal is the director and chief executive of Common Cause, a public interest organization striving for governance reforms through action-oriented research, advocacy, and public interest litigation.

Shireen Vakil

Shireen Vakil is the head of Policy and Advocacy at Tata Trusts, where she is responsible for the strategy development, advocacy, policy and programming in core areas of Education, Child Protection, Health and Nutrition, and Justice and Exclusion.


Rudra Chaudhuri

Rudra Chaudhuri is the director of Carnegie India. His primary research interests include the diplomatic history of South Asia and contemporary security issues.