According to him, police functions could be entrusted to only those who were well acquainted with the local people and were dedicated to the cause of protection of society against law violators. He also refers to the secret intelligence practised in his time for the prevention and detection of crimes.
The ancient history of India further reveals that there was a well organised police force during the reigns of ancient Hindu rulers. The Gupta dynasty in ancient India was particularly known for its excellent law and order situation through a well-organised system of police. The chief of the police force was called “Mahadandadhikari”.
He had a number of subordinate officers called ‘Dandadhikari’ to assist him. Later on, during the reign of Harshavardhan, these functions were discharged by the officials called ‘Sandik’ Chowrodharnik and Dandapashik who were responsible for maintenance of law and order in districts, towns and villages.
The judicial officer was called Mimansaka whose main function was to decide upon the guilt or innocence of the offender and award appropriate punishment if the charge was proved against the accused. Deterrent penal provisions kept the law and order situation well under control. There was a separate branch of detectives working under the police establishment called the Guptachars.
The indigenous system of police in India was organised on the basis of collective responsibility of the village community. The law and order in the village was maintained through the village headman who was assisted by one or more village watchmen. Besides keeping watch in the village, these watchmen had to report to the headman the arrival and departure of all strangers and suspicious persons.
If a theft was committed in the village, the headman had to detect the eyes and recover stolen property, and in case he failed to do so, he had to make up the loss as far as his means permitted and the balance was recovered from the villagers. At times, payments were made to the leaders of the plundering tribes to prevent depredations by them.
The Moghul rulers in India also had a well organised police force for maintaining law and order in society. This system was, however, different from the earlier one. The police official called the ‘Fauzdar’ was incharge of the entire police force with a number of subordinate officials called ‘Darogas’ or ‘Kotwals’ working under him.
The policeman called the ‘Sipahi’ was the official of the lowest rank in the police constabulary of the Moghuls. The detective branch of the police was called Khuphia which assisted the police in criminal investigations. The chief police administrator of the province was called ‘Subedar’ or Nizam.
During the closing years of Moghul Empire, the military exploits of the emperors put the police administration into oblivion, and the rulers had to pay heavily for this neglect. The police system during the Moghul period was undoubtedly suited to the needs of a simple and homogenous agricultural community but it could not withstand the strains of political disorder and therefore, with the decline of Moghul Empire, the system of police administration also collapsed.
Consequently, extortion and oppression became the rule of the day and the zamindars, the headman and watchmen of the villages committed crimes and gave shelter to criminals with a view to sharing booty. The rule to restore the stolen property or to make good the loss was no longer observed. Even the highest officials indulged in corrupt practices and the tyrannical rule resulted in repression of the people during the last days of Moghul Empire in India.
The British Government in India retained the system of policing prevailing in each Province with modifications. According to the Regulations of 1816, village headmen were made ex officio heads of police also. They apprehended offenders and forwarded them to District authorities.
In petty cases, however, they themselves dealt with the criminals. The Police Commission of 1860 recommended continuance of the prevailing system of rural policing with minor changes. The other recommendations of the Commission were as follows:
1. The police functions were to be entrusted to civil constabulary separating them completely from the military police;
2. The civil police administration was to be headed by an Inspector General of Police for each Province;
3. The Inspector General would be responsible to the Provincial Government whereas the Superintendent of Police would be responsible to the Collector of the district.
4. The village police were to be under the supervisory control of the Superintendent of Police.
The Indian Police Act, 1861, an aftermath of the Indian mutiny of 1857, was enacted to “reorganise the police and to make it more effective instrument for the prevention and detection of crime” as laid down in the preamable of the Act. Certain provisions to contain public nuisance such as controlling of traffic, prevention of cruelty to animals and health hazards, drunkenness etc., were incorporated in the Act.
The Government of Lord Curzon appointed another Commission called the Police Commission of 1902 to suggest measures for reform in police working. Surprisingly, the Commission instead of suggesting any measures for reform in the existing rural police highly commended the prevailing set-up.
According to the Commission, “it was impossible to carry on the police administration only by regular police and it was essential to secure the aid of village community through the agency of Chaukidars. Any other alternative of employing regular policemen at villages could be too expensive.
The Police Act, 1861 was fairly comprehensive and almost half of it dealt with matters such as police powers with regard to public assemblies, punishment for certain kinds of offences on road, and the definitions of important legal terms used in the Act.
However, the Act did not conceive the police force as a service organisation and no structural changes were introduced in the police administration under the Act. The Act was applicable only to the British India and it did not extend to independent princely States where the age-old police organisation still continued to function.
Consequent to the Indian Independence in 1947, the colonial police set up was hardly suited to the radical changes in the Indian society but ironically, the same set up with little modifications here and there, still continues despite more than half a century after the end of the colonial rule in this county. As rightly observed by D.H. Bailey, the Indian police system which is developed on the basis of the Police Act, 1861, has three basic characteristics:—
(i) The police force is organised, maintained and directed by several States of Indian Union;
(ii) The Indian police system is horizontally stratified like military forces organised into different cadres; and
(iii) The police in each State are divided vertically into armed and unarmed branches.
Despite the new democratic, secular, socialistic, welfare and humanitarian values vouched for in the Constitution, the Indian police, by and large, follows the philosophy of Para-militarism associated with the mechanism of awe, threat and coercion.
In other words, the democratic philosophy of the Constitution hardly gets reflected in the organisation of Indian police. The police and society have drifted apart from each other thus weakening the sound foundations on which alone can be built an efficient and competent police system.
The Constitution of India provides that ‘Police’ is a ‘State subject’. It is therefore, for the States to maintain their own police force for maintaining peace and security within their respective territorial jurisdictions. There are, however, certain situations which authorise the Centre to intervene in the law and order problems of the State because the Centre is under a duty to protect the States from internal disturbances.
Besides the State Police Force, there are certain special police establishments such as the Border Security Force, the Railway Security Force, the Central Reserve Police Force, etc., which assist the general police in performing their functions.
There is yet another category of police wing called the ‘traffic police’ whose duty is to control the road and vehicular traffic and deal with the cases of ‘traffic-law’ violations. A new central force called the Central Industrial Security Force was set up from March 10, 1969. It was initially started in Durgapur Steel Plant and has now been inducted in almost all the major public sector industries in India.
Modem police is primarily concerned with detection and investigation of crime and apprehending criminals by making arrests. They are thus concerned with the protection of society against crimes and safeguarding the person and property of the people.
The police also deal with juvenile delinquents and enforcement of a variety of Acts and regulations such as licensing, sanitation, civil defence, etc. With a view to performing their duties efficiently the police has to associate themselves with public and seek latter’s co-operation in prosecuting the offenders.
The transformation of India from a police State into a welfare State after the Indian independence has brought about a radical change in the activities of the police. Today, India is passing through an age of political, economic and social modernization since the police has to spend a good deal of its time and effort in working with the people, the society’s expectations from this organisation have been steadily rising. As a result of this, the police has to assume a new role in the changed scenario.
The police which was identified as a law and order maintaining machinery of the State in earlier times is now viewed as a conscience keeper of the society. In modern time, when the State has undertaken the task of providing for the welfare of the community, the role of police in preserving and protecting the very basic needs of human survival and social intercourse becomes vital.
Despite a radical change in the role and functions of police during the last five decades of Indian independence, it is rather unfortunate that it still reflects in its edifice the British colonial philosophy and this historical background has always deprived the police from getting a high status as its counterparts possess in the western countries, where police is a ‘friend’ and without a sympathetic police officer, no other agency can ensure criminal justice to the law abiding citizens against the law-breakers.
In the backdrop of a comprehensive sociological, technological, economic, political and psychological change now underway in India, the values and ethics of police must also change so that it does not become an out-model because of the rapidity of social change. Accordingly, the police personnel have to play the role of initiators and agents of social change.
As of now, though there has been a lot of talk about the Indian police having emerged as a social service organisation in recent years but the fact remains that there has been no significant change in the people’s perception about the police image and tend to avoid or shun any contact with the police as far as possible.