The Tribune - Spectrum

, August 18, 2002

Autobiography of a cop committed to human rights
Yogesh Snehi

Tryst with Law Enforcement and Human Rights
by Sankar Sen. APH Publishing, New Delhi. Pages VIII + 384. Rs 595.

Tryst with Law Enforcement and Human RightsTHOUGH the title suggests a treatise on law enforcement and human rights, the book is, however, an autobiography of Sankar Sen chronicling 30 years of his life as a police officer. At present Sen is a senior fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences. As an Indian Police Service (IPS) officer he held important posts ranging from Superintendent of Police (SP) to the Director of the National Police Academy (NPA). During this term he served in Vigilance, the Intelligence Bureau (IB), Border Security Force (BSF), Railway Protection Force (RPF) and later joined the National Human Rights Commission as its first Director-General.

The work is divided into 16 chapters with an introduction and an index at the beginning and end, respectively. It beautifully portrays the changes in style and texture of policing in India that occurred during the turbulent decades of the last century. The preface gives us an insight into the psychology of the author. It is a testimony to the sincerity of the author and sensitively narrates the agony and ecstasy of a senior law enforcement officer committed to the cause of human rights.

Sen draws the readersí attention to the deteriorating state of policing in India. "The nexus between police officers and politicians has wrought havoc with service discipline and morale of the police." Also highlighted are some disturbing developments, such as infighting and decline of professionalism as a result of poor pay and promotion prospects. The author tells us that an overwhelming majority of constables, who constitute the bulk of the police force, retire in the same rank. This gives a new insight into the problems that bedevil our police force.


There are other significant psychological aspects of these problems. The author feels that the public perception of the police and judiciary, which has branded it as unworthy of trust, shapes and influences police response. He observes that due to this policemen develop a sense of uncertainty and insecurity and suffer from self-pity, thereby making the use of force (custodial violence and brutality) more likely. This may dramatically transform the perception of a reader towards the police.

The author had worked with the Shah Commission for an enquiry into the declaration of Emergency by Indira Gandhi. He narrates certain interesting observations made by Justice Shah on one of the most unfortunate episodes in Indian democracy. The book also has accounts of his colleagues and the people who have inspired him.

The sociological insights of the author are surprisingly incisive. The work shows his sensitivity towards the problems of tribes, casteism and human rights. He thinks if the police refuse to investigate tribal cases such as the loss of a small amount of rice or a chicken because of the petty nature of such cases, it would cause serious economic hardships to tribals and would shatter their faith in the judicial system. The author is also critical of separate messing arrangements for constables based on caste. His association with the NHRC has affirmed his conviction that adoption of short cuts and illegal and brutal methods not only dehumanises the police, but also saps their skill and competence.

Despite all these concerns, the author reaffirms his faith in policing. He firmly believes that a sensitive and proactive police officer can command respect and confidence and render yeomanís service to the community.

He asserts that communal riots can be prevented if the law-enforcement machinery takes firm preventive measures at the first signs of approaching trouble. The book suggests enhanced vigilance on corrupt officers and proactive action against them, improved reporting and investigation, re-energising and re-orienting the force by selecting good leaders and improving pay scales, improving training and reducing stress.

The author, while narrating his days in the BSF, has highlighted the disturbing trend of influx of refugees from Bangladesh, which has caused a serious law-and-order problem. His understanding of diplomatic undercurrents at meetings between the BSF and the Bangladesh Rifles may draw a readerís interest. The recent emergence of private security agencies and their role in maintaining law and order is discussed in the epilogue.

The commendable reforms carried out by the author at the NPA and in the RPF make for interesting reading. Although there is always a subjective bias in every autobiography, this does not undermine the true worth of a work. The book can be of a particular interest to young officers joining the police service as well as their senior peers and members of the public troubled by the decline of law and order and erosion of human rights.